"Those wanting to improve democracy in their countries should not wait for permission."
~ Bulent Ecevit
~ Bulent Ecevit
More on the attempt to dismiss Abdullah Demirbas and dissolve the Sur Municipality by the Ankara regime, from Peace in Kurdistan Campaign. Keep in mind the usual PR that sells the lie of Turkey easing cultural restrictions on Kurds:
Intense legal and administrative pressure on Sur Municipality and Mayor Abdullah Demirbas!
On January 5, 2007, the Turkish Ministry of the Interior appealed to the State Council for the dismissal of Mayor Demirbas and the dissolution of the Sur Municipal Council due to the municipal council’s decision to provide multilingual municipal services for the local public.
On October 6, 2006, the Sur Municipal council approved a decision to provide multilingual municipal services for the local public.1 The proposal on multilingual municipal services had been referred to the Municipal Council Presidency on September 29, 2006 by the Municipal Directorate of Cultural and Social Affairs,2 upon the evaluation of the public survey results3 which stated that 24% of the local residents spoke Turkish in daily life, 72% spoke Kurdish, 1% spoke Arabic and 3% spoke Syriac and Armenian languages. The proposal was first evaluated at the Municipal Commission on Education, Culture, Sports and Tourism. In the commission’s report dated 06.10.20064, “the need for a more participatory understanding of municipal service provision” was emphasized. It was stated that “Surici, our municipal service area, covers the neighborhood wherein majority of the traces belonging to the multireligious and multi-linguistic civilizational heritage in the historic city of Diyarbakir are located…in the light of the scientific data provided [survey results]…in order to provide healthier and better municipal services for the local people and to render educational, cultural and artistic activities locally more accessible…additionally, regarding that the municipal service area is also a touristic site frequently visited by foreign tourists…the proposal for the provision of municipal services in multiple languages hereinafter is determined to be appropriate”. The report was then referred to the Municipal Council, where both the directorate’s proposal and the commission’s report were read, discussed and then approved through a council decision by 17 votes in favor, 7 against and 1 abstention.
According to the registered minutes of the relevant council meeting,5 Mayor of Sur Mr. Abdullah Demirbas stated the following on the aforementioned proposal and the report during the meeting:
“My friends, as you all know, our Municipality is on its way to becoming a touristic city, one of the nominee locations in that sense. Our city, with its 7000 years of history, has hosted many great civilizations in the past. In the current conjuncture, the importance of knowing and speaking multiple languages grows more everyday; and especially for us, the local governments whose duty is to provide services directly to the public, the understanding of multilingual service delivery is even more important. When we look through this perspective, of course our official language is Turkish, nevertheless, I believe that we should not discriminate between our services; and I think that initiating an understanding of multilingual municipal service provision will be beneficial.”
Mayor Demirbas, a teacher himself, is furthermore widely known among the local public for his sensitivity towards educational and cultural issues and for his sincere efforts in the protection and promotion of the rights and lives of children and of the historical, cultural and linguistic richness in his municipal service area. While there are currently two ongoing large-scale EU projects and many small-scale municipal projects towards the renovation and promotion of the multi-ethnic historic and cultural heritage of the Surici district, the Sur Municipality has already pioneered the publication of children’s books and municipal services in multiple languages during the Mayor’s term in office. 6 Furthermore, all these services were met with great public interest and appreciation.
The local, legal and administrative context in which the Ministry of Interior’s action for the dismissal of the Mayor and the dissolution of the Council was taken is very alarming for the local dynamics putting forth effort to promote democracy and cultural freedoms in the region and in Turkey. First of all, to put into practice a form of law enforcement that is fair and impartial and respectful to basic human rights, and one that observes the prevalent values of a society—in short, a form that promotes the rule of law—is one of the basic tenets of good local governance. A very important issue for local democracy is the “principle of proportionality for any administrative regulation or act imposing a limit on self-government”, stipulated in the Article 8 of Charter.7 As noted previously by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, it is very important to make sure “that a proper procedure exists, including the rights of the defense, and that careful provision is made in legislation concerning ancillary or principal penalties affecting the actual exercise of elected office”.
According to the existing legislative framework, Ministry of Interior does have the legal right to take an action towards dismissing a locally elected mayor and dissolving the municipal council in certain circumstances. Yet, in a normally or properly working democracy, in the case of a suspected municipal council activity, it is always possible to first initiate a preliminary investigation into the action and proceed through legal and legislative means and ways (e.g. court proceedings), and then consequently to take the action necessitated by the due process. In this case, however, Ministry of Interior directly appealed to the State Council with the inspector’s report, without recourse to the prior legal and legislative process. It should be reminded that in the municipal council’s decision, in accordance with and in limits of the existing law, there is no provision stipulating use of any language other than Turkish in official correspondence.8 Therefore, this issue should be strictly framed through the use and limits of supervisionary powers on the actual exercise of elected office within the context of cultural freedoms.
Overall, the situation facing Mayor Demirbas points to the neglect of the principles of democratization as well as respect for human rights and cultural freedoms that are promoted not only by the European Council but also officially approved by the Turkish government through the European documents such as the Charter of Local Self Government.9 Cases like Mayor Demirbas’ are particularly effective in creating an impression of the arbitrary and unproportionate use of supervisionary powers over elected mayors in the region. The most problematic aspect of these files is not simply the existence of a legal basis for such cases or actions, but the lack of constructive and positive reference to the existing laws.
Especially after the enactment of the new Anti-Terror Law in June 2006, the criminalization of the DTP Mayors’ legal and democratic demands and actions by associating them with the PKK and separatist tendencies has almost become a regular legal and administrative practice. As clearly seen in the sheer number of investigations and court cases launched against DTP mayors,10 the centralist point of view gradually exerts a greater legal, administrative and psychological pressure over the provision of municipal public service in the region. This situation furthermore contradicts Turkey’s ongoing process of democratization and modernization in the context of negotiations with the EU, rendering the much-touted promotion of local democracy dynamics in the region ineffective and non-existent. Within this context, it should also be kept in mind that these perceptions are grounded in a regional history of previously abolished political parties and dismissed mayors and in the context of the current political tension which has led to the detention and/or arrest of almost 70 high level DTP administrators solely within the last two months.
We call upon the international community to recognize the present legal, administrative and psychological pressure exerted over the DTP mayors and the rising political tension in the region. Strongly believing that this situation can be overcome with proper, effective, efficient and immediate implementation of local democracy and local good governance concepts on the ground, we invite the international community to take immediate and effective action to this end.
1 Municipal Council decision no. 61, dated 06.10.2006.
2 File no. M.21.7.Sur.804/307, dated 29.09.2006.
3 In 2006, in order to analyse and evaluate the needs and the life conditions of the local residents of Surici district, a widely representative public survey was conducted by the Sur Municipality. Survey results were later turned into a book published in 3 languages (Turkish, Kurdish and English).
4 Commission Report dated 06.10.2006, undersigned by the head of the commission and 4 other members.
5 Official Records of the Council Meeting, dated 06.10.2006, undersigned by the Mayor and the two clerks.
6 See Appendix 1 for a list of the activities of the Press Unit of the Sur Municipality.
7 Congress Report on Monitoring the Implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, By Alain DELCAMP, European Local Government Association For Research (ELGAR) Paris
8 Sur Mayor and the Municipal Council are indicted on charges of exceeding the bounds and limits of their duties and authorities, and violating the 3rd and the 42nd Articles of the Constitution, which are respectively on the unity of state, on its official language, flag, national anthem and capital city, and on the rights and duties to education.
9 See Appendix 2 for an exemplary list of investigations and court cases launched against the DTP Mayors related to promotion or use of Kurdish on various occasions. Turkey has neither signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages of the European Council, of which she is a member, neither the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
10 For example, while Sur Mayor Demirbas has 12 investigations, Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Osman Baydemir has more than 60 investigations and 7 courts cases launched against him during his 3 years term in office (2004-2007)
Appendix 1: Media and Press Activities of the Sur Municipality
1. Publication of a tri-monthly children’s magazine titled “Semamok”, which has contents both in Turkish and Kurdish. 5000 copies are made and distributed for each issue.
2. Publication and distribution of 8000 copies of a fable in Kurdish.
3. Publication of a book titled ‘’Games and Handicrafts for Children’’ in Turkish and Kurdish, especially regarding the related lack of publications for school age children. Distributed primarily to teachers and parents on the occasion of October 5th Teachers’ Day.
4. Publication of 15.000 promotional brochures on the Surici district in 6 languages, still ongoing distribution in Turkey and abroad.
5. Preparation of a promotional movie on Surici district, titled “A Door of Peoples’’ in three languages (Turkish, Kurdish and English), and its ongoing distribution to local, national and international institutions.
6. Preparation, publication and distribution of the municipal activity and service report for two years in Kurdish and Turkish (2000 copies).
7. Preparation, publication and distribution of a CD on the municipal activity and service report for the two years in Turkish, Kurdish and English (2000 copies).
8. Preparation of the municipal public survey on needs and life conditions of the local residents for publication into a book in 3 languages (Turkish, Kurdish and English); distribution of the 2000 published copies to relevant institutions.
9. Organization of the reception held to launch the first computer operation system in Kurdish, Linux Ubuntu; distribution of 1000 Ubuntu software CDs free of charge; publication of 2000 more copies due to strong public demand.
10. With the project to publish 12 tales book in Kurdish, under the title “One tale for each night”, every month 5000 copies of one tales book will be published and distributed to children and parents. The first of these books will be published this month.
Appendix 2: Some of investigations and court cases launched against the DTP Mayors related to promotion or use of Kurdish on various occasions
* On March 20, 2006, a case was filed against Mayor Demirbas on the grounds of “making propaganda to promote the aims of the terrorist organization PKK” due to his speech titled, “Municipal Services and Local Governments in the light of Multilingualism”, which was delivered at the European Social Forum in January 2006. Although the content of the speech, very well summarized by its title, did not include any single direct or indirect reference to the PKK, as was also later affirmed by the court; the very fact that the speech aimed to explore the relations between multilingualism and local democracy and that it was delivered by a DTP Mayor was enough to render it as a form of ‘PKK propaganda’ in the eyes of central government authorities. Mayor Demirbas was acquitted from all charges on September 19, 2006. Public prosecutor’s consequent appeal to the Supreme Court is still in process.
* On February 7, 2007, following the release of the Kurdish translation of Ubuntu, a free software program available in 167 languages, with the support of Sur Municipality, an investigation was launched against Mayor Demirbas and three municipal administrators on charges of “misuse of municipal resources”.
* On October 10, 2006, Ministry of Interior launched an investigation against Mayor Demirbas due to the children’s games and handicrafts book published by the Sur Municipality. The children’s book, which was written in both Turkish and Kurdish, was published on the occasion of Teacher’s Day.
* In March 2006 an investigation was launched against Mayor Demirbas due to his use Kurdish in his speeches during a wedding ceremony in Diyarbakir.
* On April 19, 2007, Osman Baydemir, Mayor of Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality, will appear before the court on charges of violating the law that obliges state agencies, civic groups and private institutions to use Turkish letters. Mayor Baydemir risks 6 to 12 months of imprisonment for using the Kurdish letter “w” in his greetings cards of New Year’s Day. The letter “w”, which exists in the Kurdish alphabet, does not exist in Turkish.
* On April 2, 2007, 56 DTP mayors will appear before court on charges of “abetting and aiding an armed organization” due to their joint letter sent to the Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen concerning the possible closing of Roj TV. Mayors face the risk of 7.5 to 15 years of imprisonment. Currently, local TV stations are permitted to broadcast in Kurdish at most for 45 minutes a day and 5 hours a week in total. In terms of the content, programs are restricted to address only the audience group of adults, and broadcast of language training programs is strictly banned. In terms of the actual broadcast process, TV stations are stipulated to undertake such programming only with the condition of either providing a simultaneous Turkish translation or subtitling during the broadcast or broadcasting the same program in Turkish language immediately after the original broadcast.
* On March 5, 2007, Ministry of Interior sent inspectors to Diyarbakir for a preliminary investigation against Democratic Society Party mayors due to the Newroz invitation cards published in Kurdish and sent to the officials in Turkey.
* In March 2007, a preliminary investigation was launched against Mayor Baydemir due to the publication of public brochures on health and cleanliness in Kurdish and Turkish for local people.
* In March 2007, a preliminary investigation was launched against Mayor Baydemir due to the baby names’ book published in Kurdish.
* On January 17, 2007, an investigation was launched against Mayor Osman Baydemir due to the invitation cards sent to the officials in Turkey. The invitation cards, which were written in both Turkish and Kurdish, were sent on the occasion of the 6th Culture and Arts Festival in Diyarbakir.
* On January 12, 2007, a preliminary investigation was launched against Mayor Osman Baydemir due to the website of Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality, which is in Turkish, Kurdish and English.
* With an investigation filed on July 8, 2006, Viransehir Mayor Emrullah Cin was indicted on charges of “misuse of municipal resources” due to publication of bulletins about municipal services both in Turkish and Kurdish. Mayor Cin stated that Kurdish was the mother tongue of the majority of the Viransehir’s population (app. 120.000), thus, in publishing bulletins also in Kurdish, the municipality aimed to better communicate municipal services to the public. Mayor Cin further noted that publication of municipal bulletins was not considered a crime anywhere in Turkey, and that the decision for publication was made by the municipal council and in accordance with the municipal law, and, furthermore, that the RTUK (Radio and Television Supreme Council of Turkey) laws also did not consider publication of such bulletins as a criminal activity, thus municipality acted fully in accordance with and in the limits of existing laws.
* On October 20, 2006, a preliminary investigation was launched against Kayapinar Mayor Zulkuf Karatekin due to the provision 'Municipalities take the necessary precautions to teach their personnel Kurdish in order for them to better communicate with the public” stated in the collective agreement between the municipalities and the Union of Municipal and Local Governments Services Workers.
* Kayapinar Municipal Council’s efforts to give culturally significant Kurdish names to the parks and streets of Diyarbakir were obstructed by the Diyarbakir Governorship because these names were said to either include letters that did not exist in the Turkish alphabet (e.g. ‘w’) or showed parallelism with socially discriminating, separatist discourses. The court case filed by the Kayapinar City Council against the Diyarbakir Governorship is still in process.
* There are investigations against Diyarbakir Metropolitan, Kiziltepe, Sur and Silvan Municipalities opened solely for the use of Kurdish language in public speeches.