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WikiLeaks: 2008-04-08: 08ANKARA661: Turkey: Maverick Kurdish Politician Shows Persistence in the Face of Legal Pressure

by WikiLeaks. 08ANKARA661: April 08, 2008.

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 12:15 PM UT


Viewing cable 08ANKARA661, TURKEY: MAVERICK KURDISH POLITICIAN SHOWS

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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08ANKARA661 2008-04-08 05:53 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Ankara
VZCZCXRO5840
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHAK #0661/01 0990553
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 080553Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5838
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/EUCOM POLAD VAIHINGEN GE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC//J-3/J-5//
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEUITH/ODC ANKARA TU//TCH//
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEUITH/TLO ANKARA TU
RUEHAK/TSR ANKARA TU
RUEHAK/USDAO ANKARA TU
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 000661 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/07/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL OSCE TU
SUBJECT: TURKEY:  MAVERICK KURDISH POLITICIAN SHOWS 
PERSISTENCE IN THE FACE OF LEGAL PRESSURE 
 
REF: A. 07 ANKARA 2412 
     B. ADANA 12 
 
Classified By: Political Counselor Janice G. Weiner, reasons 1.4 (b),(d 
) 
 
1. (C) Summary and Comment:  Kurdish 
schoolteacher-turned-politician Abdullah Demirbas recently 
described to us the immense pressure brought to bear on him 
for his attempts to use Kurdish language in public services 
while serving as Democratic Society Party (DTP) mayor of 
Diyarbakir's Sur district.  After he spearheaded an October 
2006 "multilingual municipal services" project, the Ministry 
of Interior and Council of State fired him and dissolved the 
Sur Municipal Council -- actions the Council of Europe and 
international human rights organizations vigorously 
denounced.  Demirbas contends use of Kurdish is a 
life-or-death issue in southeastern Turkey because hundreds 
of thousands of citizens are illiterate and understand only 
spoken Kurdish.  He plans to continue in politics, optimistic 
that growing skepticism of the ruling Justice and Development 
Party (AKP) in the Southeast will allow DTP to rectify its 
poor showing in July 2007 parliamentary elections.  The 
persistent efforts of Demirbas and a handful of other Kurdish 
politicians to increase the Southeast's political and 
cultural autonomy highlight the need for the government to 
tackle the root causes of the Kurdish conflict and the 
futility of pursuing a solely military solution.  End summary 
and comment. 
 
------------------------- 
Continuous Legal Pressure 
------------------------- 
2. (SBU) In October 2006, the 17-member Sur Municipal Council 
endorsed the principle of "multilingual municipal services" 
by providing services such as police and medical emergency 
information in a number of non-Turkish languages, including 
Kurdish.  Demirbas said the decision was taken following a 
survey by the Sur municipality that showed 72 per cent of 
district residents spoke Kurdish in daily life, 24 per cent 
spoke Turkish, and the remainder Arabic, Assyrian, Armenian, 
and Chaldean.  The new approach was meant to bring "more 
effective and accessible municipal services." 
 
3. (SBU) In response, the Council of State high 
administrative court (Danistay), acting on a Ministry of 
Interior application, removed Mayor Demirbas on June 14, 2007 
and dissolved the Sur Municipal Council.  The court charged 
that the use of local languages in the provision of services 
was "political" and violated Article 42 of the Constitution 
and Article 30 of the Law on Municipalities (prohibiting 
councils from engaging in "political acts" outside their 
statutory powers)(ref A).  The MOI appointed a temporary 
mayor to carry out municipal functions until a new mayor and 
council are elected in Spring 2009 municipal elections. 
 
4. (SBU) Demirbas told us prosecutors have brought more than 
20 cases against him for using Kurdish while he was mayor. 
He was accused of misusing his position by officiating at a 
wedding ceremony in Kurdish, misusing municipal resources for 
printing a children's book and tourist brochures in Kurdish, 
and accused (and later acquitted) of aiding a terrorist 
organization for initiating a plan to employ Kurdish-speaking 
phone operators and print public-health pamphlets in Kurdish. 
 Most recently, he was charged for misusing resources for 
funding the building of an abstract sculpture to honor Ugur 
Kaymaz, a 12-year-old boy killed alongside his father by the 
Turkish police in 2004. 
 
------------------------------------- 
The Reason for Using Kurdish Language 
------------------------------------- 
5. (SBU) Demirbas maintains providing services in Kurdish is 
a life-or-death issue in southeastern Turkey.  He highlighted 
the State Statistical Institute's 2000 census figures showing 
345,000 "illiterate" people -) defined as those who cannot 
read and write in Turkish -- in the Southeast.  Demirbas 
believes the figure is understated and fails to reflect the 
overwhelming majority are women.  He noted that a study by 
the Diyarbakir municipality's Center for Research on Women's 
Issues, based on interviews with 472 married women in 97 
 
ANKARA 00000661  002 OF 003 
 
 
villages, shows that approximately 80 per cent of these women 
are illiterate.  Another recent survey on internally 
displaced persons (IDPs) conducted by the Hacettepe 
University Institute of Population Studies showed 27.4 per 
cent of IDPs, the vast majority of whom are Kurdish, said 
"not speaking Turkish" is the main reason for their lack of 
access to health services. 
 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
International Criticism of Dissolution of Sur Council 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
6. (U) The Council of Europe's (COE's) Congress of Local and 
Regional Authorities investigated the Sur Council issue and 
concluded Turkish authorities ignored relevant laws that 
require special elections be held within three months of the 
council's dissolution.  The COE also attacked the substance 
of the laws, recommending Turkey overhaul the "outdated" 
Municipalities Law and undertake "broad revision of the 
Constitution and laws governing this area."  The COE further 
opined that GOT policy strictly limiting use of Kurdish 
increases tension in southeastern Turkey.  Minority Rights 
Group International's (MRG) September 2007 report called on 
Turkey to cease administrative and criminal proceedings 
against municipalities for providing services in minority 
languages, reinstate Demirbas and the Sur Council, and drop 
the legal cases against them. 
 
---------------- 
Skeptical of AKP 
---------------- 
7. (SBU) AKP's failure to address Kurds' continuing problems 
have made many southeastern Kurds skeptical of AKP, after an 
initial post-election honeymoon period, according to 
Demirbas.  Unlike some of his more optimistic DTP colleagues 
(ref B), Demirbas doubts AKP will follow up recent meetings 
with Kurdish Iraqi officials with concrete steps aimed at the 
root causes of the Kurdish issue.  In the lead up to 2007 
parliamentary elections, AKP acknowledged the Kurdish problem 
and promised to take measures to fix it, Demirbas said. 
Since then, AKP focused on its own "pet issues" such as the 
headscarf, and stalled on democratic reforms such as amending 
controversial Turkish Penal Code Article 301 (criminalizing 
insulting "Turkishness") and easing limits on Kurdish 
language broadcasting and education.  AKP is relying on 
economic projects such as GAP (Southeastern Anatolia Project) 
to improve conditions but is avoiding political reforms that 
are at the heart of the issue, Demirbas noted.  He believes 
AKP's insincerity is demonstrated by the party's delay in 
implementing its much-publicized proposal to increase Kurdish 
broadcasting on the state-run TRT network.  Demirbas 
predicted the AKP closure case would further distract the 
party from attending to Kurdish political and cultural 
rights. 
 
8. (SBU) Demirbas said southeastern Kurds showed their 
impatience by turning out in large numbers to DTP-organized 
Nevruz celebrations.  Despite GOT efforts to limit turnout by 
denying event permits, more than 750,000 people gathered in 
Diyarbakir, and more than twice as many turned out for 
celebrations nationwide this year compared with 2007, he 
noted.  (Other Diyarbakir DTP officials estimated 
approximately 350,000 participated.)  Demonstrators were 
angry at the government's unexplained last-minute ban on 
banners displaying the slogan "Enough is enough" (referring 
to continued violence).  When violence ensued, Demirbas said, 
the police overreacted, resorting to violence that included 
beatings recorded by cell-phone cameras, posted on YouTube, 
and widely circulated in the region.  Demirbas was 
disheartened that not one police or government official has 
yet been punished. 
 
------------- 
Looking Ahead 
------------- 
9. (SBU) Demirbas plans to remain in politics and remains 
optimistic DTP will perform better in 2009 municipal 
elections than it did in 2007 parliamentary elections, when 
just under half of southeastern voters opted for AKP. 
Demirbas echoed many DTP members' view that AKP is 
gerrymandering Diyarbakir districts and exploiting religion 
-- he claimed AKP supports a network of 200-300 Islamic 
 
ANKARA 00000661  003 OF 003 
 
 
groups in the region -- to achieve its regional electoral 
goals.  However, he expects voters will focus on AKP's 
failure to bring political change to the region, and AKP's 
cooperation with the military in carrying out recent 
cross-border operations -- unpopular with Kurds -- against 
the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern 
Iraq.  "AKP has lost its image as a victim and underdog," 
Demirbas stated.  It is now up to DTP leaders to figure out 
how to use these events to the party's advantage, a central 
issue at DTP's June party convention. 
 
10. (C) Comment:  While pragmatic government officials in 
southeastern Turkey often allow service providers to use 
Kurdish to ensure efficiency, Demirbas pushed the envelope by 
establishing formal policies to reflect Diyarbakir's 
multilingual character.  Demirbas included languages other 
than Kurdish (such as Arabic and Armenian) to soften the 
perception that he is exclusively championing Kurdish rights. 
 The judiciary's attempts to quash Demirbas's proposals are 
likely to increase his and the DTP's popularity while 
nourishing the perception of many Kurds that the GOT's 
ultimate goal is not to expand Kurdish rights but rather to 
assimilate Kurds into Turkish society.  End comment. 
 
Visit Ankara's Classified Web Site at 
http://www.intelink.sgov.gov/wiki/Portal:Turk ey 
 
WILSON

 



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