Human rights victory for Kurds

TURKEY

In a landmark decision, Turkey's parliament voted last Friday to legalise teaching of the Kurdish language. Human rights activists hope this may pave the way to full mother-tongue education for the country's 12 million ethnic Kurds.

After a rowdy all-night session of parliament, all parties voted in favour except the largest - the rightist National Action Party. They condemned those supporting the change as "traitors".

The new law will allow Turkey's 375 private language schools to offer Kurdish along with English and other tongues.

"This is positive," said Hasan Kaya of Istanbul's Kurdish Education and Culture Institute. "Until now even the existence of the Kurdish language was being denied." But, while welcoming the change, Kurdish groups want the government to go further and allow Kurdish-medium state schools.

Kurdish was outlawed in Turkey following the 1980 military coup.Its leaders denied that people such as Kurds even existed. Despite the fact that Turkish and Kurdish are very different - the former is a Ural-Asiatic tongue, the latter Indo-European - as late as last year prime minister Bulent Ecevit felt able to declare that there was "no such thing" as a Kurdish language.

The new move comes alongside a package of measures designed to bring Turkey into harmony with the European Union, which it badly wants to join. It also comes at the effective end of a 17-year conflict between Kurdish guerrillas and the Turkish army, in which more than 35,000 people have died.

Many pupils and parents began protests against the ban on Kurdish education at the end of last year. Some are still in prison.

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