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Tensions High As Turkey Passes Law To Let Kurdish Language In Court

Article illustrative image Partner logo Turkish Ministry for Justice

ISTANBUL – Turkey has finally passed a hotly-debated law that will allow Kurdish criminal defendants to speak their mother tongue in court. The drama leading up to Thursday's vote is a reminder of how complicated -- and charged -- the broader "Kurdish Question" continues to be in Turkey.

The final round of debate on pitting Kurdish and nationalist MPs got so heated that the Parliamentary session had to be suspended on Wednesday. 

The session set out to determine whether members of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) would be able to defend themselves in Kurdish in court during their trial.

The suspects, who include Kurdish activists, journalists and politicians, are facing terrorism charges for their ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S and the E.U. 

During the parliamentary session, members of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) who strongly oppose legal defense in Kurdish, had to be physically separated from representatives of the Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democratic Party (BDP). 

“Legitimizing the sovereignty of terror”

The debate heated up when the MHP argued that accepting the request would equate to bowing down to the will of a terrorist organization. “This law aims to legitimize the sovereignty of terror,” said Oktay Vural, the MHP’s parliamentary deputy chairman. Members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party also got into a verbal scuffle with members of the BDP, causing the session to be adjourned.

In the second half of the meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag took to the floor and defended the proposed law. He said such laws were on the books in places such as Switzerland. “Changing the judicial language is out of the question, the laws are written in Turkish and the questions will be asked in Turkish,” Bozdag explained. “(But) the draft law will ensure that those who do not know Turkish will have translators whose fees are covered by the state and those who do know Turkish, but wish to speak in another language will pay their own translation fees.” 

The law was drafted after 64 Kurdish political prisoners embarked on a hunger strike in September with three core demands: the release or fair trail of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party leader, Abdullah Ocalan, the right to defend themselves in their mother tongue in court and the right to study in Kurdish.

After Ocalan called the end of the hunger strikes, new peace talks began between Turkey and the PKK leader, but the process has lost momentum after three Kurdish activists were killed in Paris earlier this month.

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