Appeal from Intl. PEN: Kurdish performers banned


Kurdish performers banned
Appeal from International PEN

The international arts community is concerned by a disturbing number of cases involving the banning of songs and plays performed in the Kurdish language in Turkey. Despite various declarations of human rights and international legal protections, which recognise the centrality of language in ethnic and cultural identity, the use of Kurdish is still widely restricted by the Turkish government.

At present the use of languages other than Turkish in politics, education and broadcast media is prohibited with certain exceptions. While these prohibitions are directed at all ethnic groups in Turkey, they are primarily aimed at the Kurdish population that makes up the second largest ethnic group in the country after Turks. The use of Kurdish was banned as long ago as 1923 when the Republic was declared by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk whose government perceived ethnic diversity as a danger to the integrity of the new state.

In 1983 the military government passed Law No. 2932 “The Law Concerning Publications and Broadcasts in Languages other than Turkish” which declared that “the mother tongue of all Turkish citizens is Turkish” and prohibited publishing in Kurdish as a reaction to the increasing public expression of Kurdish ethnic identity of the previous decade. Although Law No. 2932 was lifted in 1991 and improvements made in terms of press coverage of ethnic issues and limited Kurdish language broadcasting, various laws still prohibit or restrict the use of languages other than Turkish in broadcasting, education and politics.

Although there is no explicit ban on the use of Kurdish in performance, it is believed that the recent censure of directors, actors and singers is related to the content of their performances as much as their use of the Kurdish language and therefore represents a violation of their freedom of expression.

A recent example was of a raid in December 2000 on an event organised by the Malatya Youth Branch of the People’s Democracy Party where the Koma Gula Xerzan music group was performing. The police pulled plugs out of the microphones and when attendees protested, the Malatya Security Director entered the hall and reportedly informed them that no Kurdish songs were allowed. Last month “Mahmud and Yezida”, a play based on a novel by Murathan Mungan, was also banned, allegedly on the grounds that it contained speeches and songs in Kurdish.

The suppression of Kurdish language performances is in direct violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, and to which Turkey is a signatory. The artists’ organisations worldwide call on the Turkish authorities to halt the pattern of harassment and banning of performances in Kurdish.

Letters of concern about the suppression of Kurdish language performances may be sent to:

His Excellency Bulent Ecevit, Prime Minister
Baskbakanlik 06573 Ankara Turkey
Fax: +90 312 417 0476/5743

His Excellency Hikmet Sami Turk, Minister of Justice
Fax: +90 312 417 3854

International PEN

Source: Human Rights Foundation, Turkey