’Talk rights talk, walk rights walk’

Top European officials have urged Turkish leaders to press ahead withreforms to improve the rights and freedoms of Alevis and Kurds.
by Fulya Özerkan

‘The government must undertake some of the reforms. It must move forward on the Kurdish issue and it must move forward on giving the Alevis more room to maneuver,’ Hannes Swoboda, acting president of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on the sidelines of a reception late Tuesday.

The expectations from the government for more rights for Alevis, a liberal sect of Islam, and Kurds have ended in real disappointment. Three years after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised to resolve the Kurdish problem, his rhetoric today has shifted into a nationalist slogan, ‘Love it or leave it,’ dimming hopes for the willingness of the government to live up to its promises. A similar result has been witnessed by Alevis, who recently demonstrated in the capital for state recognition. ‘Too often the government sees and speaks about the problem but does not act,’ said Swoboda.

But he said even discussing the problems of Alevis and Kurds amounted to progress. ‘At least you can discuss these issues now. Some years ago it was nearly impossible to discuss the Alevi and Kurdish issues,’ said Swoboda.

‘The progress is slow, but I have to confess that the European Union is also very fragile and not clear. I think what we have to do is to be patient, but not lose momentum,’ he said.

The European Parliament’s draft report on Turkey, which will be discussed Tuesday, will criticize the government for its failure to improve the cultural rights of Alevis and Kurds, the Daily News has learned. The draft will also call for reforms on judicial independence, collective rights, the rule of law and for constitutional amendments.

‘I can assure you that it will be a report that is in some ways critical but it will be a very balanced and objective report. It will be a real mirror for Turkish politics,’ Dutch rapporteur Ria Oomen-Ruijten, the architect of the report, said Tuesday, without elaborating.

She said reforms and consensus between political parties in Parliament were needed for progress in negotiations with the EU. ‘The political criteria are even more important for the opening of chapters. Once political reforms are in place, the opening of the chapters will be very easy,’ she said.

EU officials recently warned no chapters would be opened in negotiations with Turkey in 2009 unless the government revived its reform agenda. A senior official from the EU Commission told the Daily News that entry talks on six chapters could begin next year if the government met the opening benchmarks.

‘The upcoming local elections (in March 2009) are not an excuse to slow down. Alignment with EU legislation is the rule of the game,’ said the official, who declined to be named.

He said the opening of chapters on public procurement, food safety, veterinary, competition, environment, taxation and social policy, and employment depended on action plans the government needed to implement in compliance with the EU Acquis.

German parliamentarian of Turkish origin Hakkı Keskin wrote a letter Monday to President Abdullah Gül calling for equal rights for the Alevi community. In the letter, Keskin said Alevi citizens should be treated equally in every walk of life and that this equality must be safeguarded in the law, according to a press statement released from his office. He listed Alevi demands from the state, referring to a joint declaration signed by representatives of 632 Alevi organizations in August 2002.The declaration said Alevis should take their share from the general budget for religious services and that all religious faiths, including the Alevi faith, should be impartially taught as part of religious courses in schools.

Daily News