Cablegate: Minority Label Grates On Southeast Turkey

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Kurdish and Alevi community contacts grated
at both recent EU and Turkish-government linked reports
characterizing their respective communities as "minorities" in
discussions last week with PO. The Malatya Security Director's
recent warning to local media appears aimed at Sunni religious
radicalism, not use of Kurdish language. Finally, contacts in
Malatya, Tunceli and Diyarbakir also expressed frustration with
the government's slow start in processing of the new
compensation law (law 5233), criticizing new requirements for
documentation of past losses which set such a high documentation
threshold as to cause contacts to question the sincerity of the
government's offer to compensate regional residents for their
losses in the past almost twenty years of regional civil strife.
They also noted that the values put on loss restitution by the
new law were only fractions of those used in parallel European
Court of Human Rights claims. They nevertheless welcomed the
government offer, in principle, along with the recent
regulations softening the sentences of already convicted PKK and
other terrorist-linked prisoners as "contributing somewhat" to
early momentum toward potential future regional reconciliation.
End Summary.

2. (SBU) In October 24-28 meetings with PO, southeastern
Turkish Alevi community contacts repeatedly cited their
pre-Seljuk era penetration of eastern Anatolia over a thousand
years ago and claim to almost one-third of Turkey's estimated 72
million population as proof that "Alevi's are no minority."
(Comment: Judging the exact scope of Turkey's Alevi population
is difficult, but estimates generally range from 15-20 percent
of Turkey's population. End Comment.) Grating at both how the
EU October 6 report and a recent Turkish government report
labeled them as "minorities," Alevi community leaders either
called for the outright dissolution of the Sunni-dominated
Government Religious Affairs Ministry or its reform to include
considerable funding for non-Sunni Moslem and other faiths,
expressly including Jewish and Christian faith support among
their demands, too.

3. (SBU) Most Alevi lay leaders and several prominent regional
dedes, an Alevi religious and community leader, specifically
called for: 1) government funding of cemevi's, or religious
worship sites; 2) government funding of, or free provision of,
utilities, as their Sunni counterparts now enjoy; 3) training
seminaries for dedes; and 4) government transportation
assistance to help transport their congregations to cemevi's,
which by Alevi tradition and practice are more widely scattered
than Sunni mosques, which are found in most neighborhoods. A
minority of Alevi contacts and dedes also called for re-writing
of the official Islamic history textbook used in all Turkish
middle schools and elimination of the religion declaration on
Turkish national identity cards. One Alevi leader, who is also
a dede, said that the ideal situation would be for the Religious
Affairs Ministry to "be abolished entirely, getting government
out of religion entirely in Turkey, but that is not reality now.
Without the Religious Affairs ministry among the radical
Sunni's out there today, we would have ten times more (Turkish)
Hizbullahs than we worry about now already. It just won't work
not to have a Religious Affairs ministry now. We just want our
fair share."

4. (SBU) While repeatedly criticizing Prime Minister Reccep
Tayyip Erdogan's public characterization of Alevi practices as
"cultural, and not (those) of a religion," some Alevi's balanced
their strong criticism of the AK party's perceived Sunni
discrimination toward them with observations of how local
government ministry representatives were more sympathetic to
their situation, even citing one pair of successive governors in
one southeast province who had funneled almost 2 billion Turkish
lira worth of construction materials over several years for
construction of the only modern cemevi in the almost exclusively
Alevi province of Tunceli.

Malatya media warning seemingly not about Kurdish tongue, but

5. (SBU) An early October warning to Malatya's media by the
provincial security director turned out not to concern use of
Kurdish in local television and radio, but rather to reflect
perceived government concerns about Sunni religious radicalism.
Several contacts mentioned that government security officials
largely had ignored recent occasional usage of Kurdish by local
radio broadcasters, but explained that the recent Security
Director's warning to media not to use non-Turkish language in
broadcast media seemed to follow directly on the use of a small
Malatya radio station by a "Kurdish radical Sunni group which
advocated introduction of sharia (Islamic law) in Turkey,
forcibly if necessary." "The timing seems like it was the
Kurdish Islamic's Party's broadcast which was the problem, not
the Kurdish itself which was the problem," one prominent media
contact offered.

Kurdish contacts express disdain at minority label

6. (SBU) "There are twenty-five million of us. How can we be a
minority?" questioned a Kurdish contact in Diyarbakir. "We want
to be treated with the respect we deserve, by the government and
the EU." Pressed about the specific form in which such respect
would need to materialize to be satisfactory, the contact
replied." The freedom to use our language in broadcast, not a
few token government broadcasts a week about subjects of their
choosing. We want something like Roja and (comment: largely
pro-PKK. End Comment.) Medya TV (Note: two popular Kurdish
language broadcasts followed in Turkey which broadcast via
satellite from outside the region. End Note.) in Turkey. We
want our children to learn about Kurdish history in school, at
least as an (elective) and to learn Kurdish language the same
way. Turkish children should also be able to learn about these
things if they want, too, in an environment free of fear and
repression." These comments were echoed by many Kurdish
contacts, some of whom are sending their children to the new
Kurdish language schools in Diyarbakir or elsewhere to learn how
to read Kurdish. However, our contacts also noted that many
were not sending their children due to fear, lack of funding for
private schooling or concern that government minders would note
their childrens' attendance and exact later (comment:
unspecified, but widely believed and cited. End Comment.)
retribution for the perceived act of defiance.

7. (SBU) Some Kurdish print media, however, is not awaiting the
outcome of the give and take on radio and television broadcast
issues. PO visited a small Zaza (the Kurdish dialect common
among Anatolian Alevis) publishing house in Tunceli, which
started a partial Zaza weekly newspaper, Munzur Haber, with
accompanying website (), several
months ago. It covers Tunceli provincial news in Turkish, Zaza
and Kurdish (Kermanji - the dominant Kurdish dialect in Turkey
and northwestern Iraq). While it has little or no advertising
base, private sources are supporting its circulation of about
2-3,000 readers for now. In Diyarbakir, there is no Kurdish
language paper, but a national pro-Kurdish paper printed in
Istanbul is widely sold and circulated there.

Government contacts see another side of the coin

8. (SBU) Government contacts, including several prominent
governors in the region, noted that they heard regional concerns
about how the "minority" label was playing poorly in the region
and recognized that the GOT and the EU were going to have to
"come to a meeting of the minds about what that word may mean
now, something different from in the Lausanne treaty. The
future will be different in how these groups are approached, but
what that is we do not know yet." Nonetheless none of the
regional governors knew how or when such a new understanding
would be reached, frequently citing a continuing "lack of trust
in each other and confidence about a shared sense of where we
want to go" among EU and Turkish interlocutors on Turkey'
soon-anticipated EU accession process.

9. (SBU) On language issues, one governor pointed out the
multiple new (private) Kurdish language institutes in the
region, but observed that their attendance is low. He
attributed this phenomenon to a greater Kurdish youth desire to
learn English or an EU-language than Kurdish. "One generation
clings to this desire to learn Kurdish and some of their
children do, too, without really knowing what they would do with
it," he contended, "but in our schools, Turkish and Kurdish
children demand to learn English, not Kurdish or something else.
The new generation does not always seem to want what their
fathers say they want." Another governor followed this line in
explaining that private media broadcasting using Kurdish " is
not blossoming because there is not an advertising base to
support it. The government is not the problem now. There is a
law saying that (the Kurdish community in Turkey) can do this,
but they cannot because there is not enough advertising money
for it. That is why the government official channel stepped in
with official broadcasters to provide some Krdish broadcasting.
Without it, there would be one to show the law was real now,"
he explained.

Important common denominatrs favring ialogu and stability

10. (SU) Wth theexcepton of one prominent Kurdish contact
who conceded his views reflect a minority of current Kurdish
thinking, both Alevi and Kurdish contacts stated that their
desires for broader respect and cultural recognition were being
expressed within the broader framework of acceptance of a
Turkish "super-identity," a further acceptance of Turkish as the
official language in Turkey and no desire to challenge Turkey's
territorial integrity. The single notable exception called for
Kurds in Turkey to receive "millet" status, harking back to an
Ottoman administrative structure which, if translated into
modern terms, likely would allow Kurds a right of
self-determination and a co-equal claim to foundation of the
Turkish republic. He said it would mean Kurdish and Turkish
would be Turkey's official language as well, and that Kurds in
southeast Turkey "largely would rule themselves like our
brothers in Kurdistan in Iraq do now."

Compensation law off to a slow and contentious start

11. (SBU) Contacts in Malatya, Tunceli and Diyarbakir,
especially among the bar associations and attorney groups, also
expressed frustration with the government's slow start in
processing of the new compensation law (law 5233), criticizing
new requirements for documentation of past losses which set such
a high documentation threshold as to cause contacts to question
the sincerity of the government's offer to compensate regional
residents for their losses in the past almost twenty years of
regional civil strife. They also noted that the values put on
loss restitution by the new law were only fractions of those
used in parallel European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) claims.
Citing a recent similar ECHR case, a Tunceli bar association
representative said comparable compensation cases in Strasbourg
would yield six to eight times the value of the GOT offers, but
conceded that ECHR were taking three to five years to conclude.
The GOT cases should finish sooner, he predicted, "so many of
those seeking claims may opt to take that route. They have no
funds now and the government offer is probably just what they
will have to settle for."

12. (SBU) One set of contacts in Tunceli illustrated their
concerns by explaining how rare documentation of civil strife
was in the 1980 and 1990's era civil strife. "Much of the time,
the whole government effort was to deny it was happening at all.
Who would have given some villager a document about the army or
village guard destruction of his home like they now want for
these claim?" one car association president rhetorically asked.
In another case shown to PO which was rare to date because some
documentation from the earlier era existed, an attorney produced
a recently-filed claim wherein a villager whose property was
burned and allegedly looted in 1994 received government village
affairs documentation of his loss at a somewhat later time,
which he said his client estimated to be twice or more the
government stated value, but which had been refuted by the
current Jandarma when recently filed. He showed PO a recent
letter, under a governor's office forwarding letter, to the
claims commission in which the current Jandarma claimed there
had been no such alleged destruction and advocated outright
dismissal of the entire claim. "This commission is just
starting, so we will see," the bar association vice president
offered," but if this is what the compensation commission is
going to be about it will not achieve any reconciliation or help
the region get past the problems it now sees."

13. (SBU) Contacts nevertheless welcomed the government offer,
in principle, along with the recent regulations softening the
sentences of already convicted PKK and other terrorist-linked
prisoners as "contributing somewhat" to early momentum toward
regional reconciliation. Still, they said that GOT deeds would
have to speak to convince skeptical regional audiences. "People
see these documentation requirements (in the compensation law)
as just a way to water down something that the government did
just because the foreigners were leaning on them. It is up to
the government now to prove it really wants to see
reconciliation," another bar association president concluded.

Law not seen as boon to village return, village guard issue an

14. (SBU) Neither government nor Kurdish community contacts
saw implementation of the compensation law spurring significant
village return. Government officials in Tunceli and Diyarbakir
noted that their provinces have developed electrical, road and
water infrastructure to about half a dozen larger villages each,
but did not anticipate large scale villager return despite the
expected influx of capital stemming from compensation law
claims. They explained that internally displaced persons
already had created lives and ties elsewhere. Community
contacts echoed this reasoning, but noted that the additional
impediment, about which the government was perceived to be doing
almost nothing, was the continuing existence of large local
guard forces in most southeast rural areas. "Even with a
little new money, who would want to uproot themselves and their
children to go back to face armed, probably hostile local
villagers who would feel threatened by your return ?" one bar
association contact asked rhetorically.

15. (SBU) Several governors commented on the village guard
program, when asked, noted that it had its problems and was not
seen as a lasting element in southeast Turkish society, but
repeatedly offered that little could be done in practice about
the institution of arming pro-government villagers until "the
terrorists come done from the mountains and finish terrorizing
our villagers." One governor projected that, should Turkish
accession to the EU occur and develop an irreversible momentum,
a fairly rapid disarming of local guards in tandem with a
five-year gradual phase out of local guard salaries might be "a
risk that the government could afford in a broader regional
stabilization initiative." He cautioned that this was
unofficial thinking, but a reasonable possible future option.
One government contact also touched on the related issue of the
considerable role that meager village guard salaries play in
southeast Turkey's almost subsistence level non-urban economy,
but had few concrete ideas about what alternative revenues might
replace that regional income component should the village guards
be dissolved. He only made a passing reference to perhaps
"something coming from EU regional development funds," but
cautioned that those funds usually are devoted to infrastructure
projects and that unclear change in EU common agricultural
policy (CAP) funding made its applicability toward the village
guard issue unclear.

16. (SBU) Comment: Discussions with contacts in the region
clearly yielded deep psychological scars and sensitivities
stemming from their collective perceptions of how their ethnic
and religious communities have been marginalized by decades of
government policy. The use of the term "minority" by the EU and
the recent government-sponsored human rights board brought to
the surface deeply felt and frequently bitter emotions. This
may point the way toward an eventual reconciliation process both
in southeast Turkey and elsewhere in the nation, but, for now,
the path ahead for that progress in developing a more durable
civil society seems long and likely full of many fits and
starts. End Comment.

17. Baghdad minimize considered.


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