Saturday, November 14, 2009

Help end decades of conflict

After months of dialogue, the Turkish government announced a plan on Friday to help end the quarter-century-long conflict with a Kurdish separatist movement that has cost more than 40,000 lives.

The plan will be debated by Parliament, but the fact that it is being discussed at all is considered to be a landmark. For decades, Kurdish political parties were routinely banned, and the ethnic identity of the Kurds was not openly acknowledged, though they make up almost 15 percent of Turkey’s population.

The government’s plan would allow the Kurdish language to be used in all broadcast media and political campaigns, and restore Kurdish names to cities and towns that have been given Turkish ones. It would also establish a committee to fight discrimination.

This is the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is feared by some as a stealth Islamist.

Such measures, many of which have been required for entry to the European Union, were inconceivable in the early 1980s, when aggressive state policies prohibited use of the Kurdish language and other cultural and political rights for the Kurds. That helped empower the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party, known as the P.K.K., which presented itself as the defender of Kurdish rights.

The group, which has been fighting in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, has lost much of its popular support in recent years because of its violent methods. But it still has 12,000 militants hiding in northern Iraq along the Turkish border.

Turkey’s leading opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, denounces any direct or indirect contact with the P.K.K., though it agrees on cultural rights for Kurds as long as they agree to be identified as Turkish citizens and are educated in Turkish.

Is this a moderate party?

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