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 Turkey displays military pomp amid Kurdish reform debate

 Source : AFP | Agencies  
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Turkey displays military pomp amid Kurdish reform debate  30.8.2009  

August 30, 2009

ANKARA, Turkey, Turkey's military flexed its muscle with parades and flypasts in major cities Sunday to mark Victory Day against a backdrop of intense debate on a government plan to peacefully end a 25-year bloody Kurdish insurgency.

The celebrations, held under the slogan "A Strong Army, A Strong Turkey", come nearly two months after army chief Ilker Basbug complained of a media campaign to discredit and weaken the military.

The biggest parade was organized in capital Ankara, where some 8,000 troops -- nearly double the number in previous celebrations -- marched in Ankara before President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Basbug and senior generals.

Nearly 50 aircraft, among them F-4 and F-16 fighter jets, flew past the arena and dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles rolled by in a display designed to underline the army's strength and the country's unity, as hundreds of flag-waving people applauded.

Similar ceremonies, marking Turkey's victory against invading Greek troops in 1922, were held in several other cities, among them Turkey's biggest city Istanbul and Diyarbakir, the regional capital of the mainly Kurdish southeast.

In recent weeks, the government has been trying to win public support for planned reforms to expand the freedoms of the Kurdish community and end a bloody conflict with Kurdish rebels.

Ankara has remained tight-lipped on the content of the plan, but has stressed that democratic reforms lay at the heart of ending the fighting with the Turkey's Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The Kurdish conflict "cannot be resolved only through military means", Erdogan said in a televised monthly address to the nation on Thursday. "It is a social, economic and cultural issue... Beyond all, it is an issue of democracy."

On Tuesday, Basbug warned that the planned reforms must not endanger the country's unity and ruled out contact with the PKK.

He also underlined a constitutional article that decribes Turkey as being an indivisible whole with Turkish as its language.

The army "respects cultural diversity", but opposes the politicisation of the issue, Basbug said in his Victory Day message.

Opposition parties remain hostile to the plan, arguing that broader rights for the country's Kurds will pave the way for Turkey's disintegration.

A senior ruling party lawmaker said last week the Kurdish language could be introduced as an elective course in Turkish schools as part of the plan.

Media reports say the government may also consider restoring the Kurdish names of villages that have been renamed, lifting a ban on using Kurdish in political posters and modifying the definition of Turkish nationality in the constitution.

Turkey has in recent years granted the Kurds a series of cultural liberties, including the launch of a public Kurdish-language television channel, but it has failed to encourage the rebels to lay down arms.

Sunday's massive parade comes after Basbug slammed press reports of an alleged plot by an army colonel to topple the government and denounced what he called a "growing and organised" smear campaign against the military.

His outburst coincided with a government-sponsored law that allowed officers to be tried in civilian courts.

The Turkish army, which has unseated four governments since 1960, has seen its powers limited as part of reforms in recent years to boost Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

Although it has often clashed with Erdogan's Islamist-rooted government which came to power in 2002, the military has kept a relatively low profile in the political arena in the past two years.

Over 44,000 Turkish soldiers and Kurdish PKK guerrillas have been killed since 1984 when the Turkey's Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up arms for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey (Turkey-Kurdistan). A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels. Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority.

The PKK demanded Turkey's recognition of the Kurds' identity in its constitution and of their language as a native language along with Turkish in the country's Kurdish areas, the party also demanded an end to ethnic discrimination in Turkish laws and constitution against Kurds, ranting them full political freedoms.

The PKK is considered a 'terrorist' organization by Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

Copyright, respective author or news agency, AFP | Agencies

** Kurds are not recognized as an official minority in Turkey and are denied rights granted to other minority groups. Under EU pressure, Turkey recently granted Kurds limited rights for broadcasts and education in the Kurdish language, but critics say the measures do not go far enough.

The use of the term "Kurdistan" is vigorously rejected due to its alleged political implications by the Republic of Turkey, which does not recognize the existence of a "Turkish Kurdistan" Southeast Turkey.

Others estimate over 40 million Kurds live in Big Kurdistan (Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Armenia), which covers an area as big as France, about half of all Kurds which estimate to 25 million live in Turkey. A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK for a Kurdish homeland in the country's mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey.

Before August 2002, the Turkish government placed severe restrictions on the use of Kurdish language, prohibiting the language in education and broadcast media. The Kurdish alphabet is still not recognized in Turkey, and use of the Kurdish letters X, W, Q which do not exist in the Turkish alphabet has led to judicial persecution in 2000 and 2003

The Kurdish flag flown officially in Iraqi Kurdistan but unofficially flown by Kurds in Armenia. The flag is banned in Iran, Syria, and Turkey where flying it is a criminal offence" 

Southeastern Turkey: North Kurdistan ( Kurdistan-Turkey) wikipedia     


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