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Turkey And Its Kurds

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said “mistakes have been made” by Turkey in dealing with its ethnic Kurdish citizens. To ignore these mistakes, he said, was not “fitting behavior for great nations such as Turkey.” The prime minister spoke to a cheering crowd in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s predominately Kurdish southeast region. He said, “the Kurdish problem doesn’t belong to a part of this nation, it is our collective problem. It is my problem.”

Sezgin Tanrikulu, chairman of the Diryarbakir bar association, said the significance of the prime minister’s address “cannot be underestimated.” Mr. Tanrikulu said, “it’s the first time any Turkish leader is admitting to wrongdoing on the part of the state.”

Diryarbakir’s Mayor, Osman Baydemir, called the Prime Minister's remarks “the foundation for turning a new page in relations.” “First and foremost,” he said, “ we need to stop the armed conflict. If violence stops, then the atmosphere of trust can be restored.”

For decades, Turkish Kurds have been seeking an end to bans on the Kurdish language and expression of their traditional culture. The majority of Kurds have continued to participate in Turkish political and cultural life. But some ethnic Kurds have turned to violent separatist groups such as the P-K-K [Kurdistan Workers’ Party].

In recent years, the Turkish government has carried out legal reforms to end abuses by security forces. In 2004, private Kurdish language instruction courses were started in Istanbul and six southeastern cities.

Following his speech in Diyarbakir, Prime Minister Erdogan called on Turkish media supervisors to allow regional radio and television stations to broadcast in Kurdish. Oral Calislar is a columnist for the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet. He says democracy can resolve the grievances of Turkish Kurds:

“Of course, we are not dreaming. I mean this issue is a deeply rooted issue that could not easily be solved with a couple of speeches or a couple of trips and so on. We are well aware of that. But at least I can say that the direction is right and positive steps are being taken.”

“Turkey has made impressive strides in recent years on democratization and human rights issues,” said the U.S. State Department in a written statement. The U.S. commends “the Turkish authorities and the Turkish people on their determined effort and will continue to support Turkey as it moves this process forward.”

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.