The incident on Monday was the latest episode in a row within the Human Rights Advisory Board which has highlighted widespread hostility in Turkey to cultural freedoms for the country’s Kurdish and non-Muslim communities.
Nationalist members of the board, which is comprised of government officials, academics and civic groups, sabotaged a news conference called to formally release a report which makes some controversial recommendations to the government.
Shortly after the head of the board, Ibrahim Kaboglu, had started to speak, a nationalist unionist grabbed the papers from his hands and tore them to pieces, yelling: “This report is a fabrication and should be torn apart.”
Kaboglu was forced to leave the hall, saying: “We cannot even hold a news conference. This is the state of freedom of thought in Turkey.”
The EU, which Turkey is seeking to join, has long pressed Ankara to grant equal cultural freedoms to its sizeable Kurdish minority as well as smaller, non-Muslim communities such as Greeks, Armenians and Jews.
Government officials, including Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul
and Justice Minister Cemil Cicek, have also raised eyebrows at some of the reforms the report recommends.
Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan
The document maintains that Turkey’s understanding of minority rights has fallen behind universal norms.
It proposes far-reaching amendments to the constitution and related laws, in addition to reforms that Turkey has already undertaken as part of its EU membership bid.
The report describes as paranoia widespread concerns that equal cultural rights for minorities could lead to the country’s break-up.
The fears were fuelled by a bloody Kurdish rebellion in the south-east in the 80s and 90s.
“There is no doubt that a more humane treatment by the state of its own people will be much more helpful for the country’s unity. The citizens the state should fear the least are the ones whom it has granted their rights,” the report says.
It underlines that for decades Turkey had breached its founding treaty, the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which envisages the free use by all Turkish citizens of any language in commercial activities, meetings and in the press.
“There is no doubt that a more humane treatment by the state of its own people will be much more helpful for the country’s unity. The citizens the state should fear the least are the ones whom it has granted their rights”
Turkish human rights report
It adds that non-Muslims in particular are subject to
discrimination and are sometimes treated as foreigners rather than equal Turkish citizens.
“Today, non-Muslim employees are nowhere to be found in the Turkish armed forces, the foreign ministry, the security department and the national intelligence organisation,” the report says.
In one of its most criticised proposals, the document recommends amendments to a basic constitutional article which the constitution itself bans from being changed.
The article speaks of “the indivisible unity of the nation”, an
expression, which the report says rejects the existence of different cultural groups.
Critics last week blasted the report as “a document of treason”, and asked an Ankara court to launch legal proceedings against its authors.