Turkish democracy: Making letters Q, W and X legal


“Cowards cannot erect victory monuments. Those who are afraid of change, reforms and advanced standards cannot proceed even one step forward.”

Those were the words of Prime Minister Erdogan when he presented the people of Turkey with his democracy package, “the result of an 11-year process” that began when his AK party came to power in 2002. His promise that this package would not be the last of reforms were emphasized by his EU Minister Egemen Bagis:

Even among the EU member states today, no other government can keep up with the pace of reforms being carried out by the AK Party. Turkey has repeatedly established itself as the most reformist country in Europe.

Turkey, a country infamous for being the world’s largest prison for journalists and for refusing to take responsibility for a massacre committed by its military against 34 civilian Kurds in December 2011, now compliments itself on being the most reformist country in Europe. That might be true but only on two conditions: 1) These reforms are defined by quantity rather than quality and 2) you don’t understand the term “reform” by its actual meaning but by whatever meaning the Turkish government has given it.

This is the situation with the new reform package.

Among one of the new reforms is the offer of providing Kurdish language education but this offer applies only to private schools and not public schools. This is a consequence of the Turkish constitution, which states that Turkish is the only official language in Turkey. The ban on the letters Q, W and X that are used in Kurdish but not Turkish will be lifted and Kurdish will also be allowed during election campaigns. Additionally, they will discontinue the oath that is recited by pupils in Turkish schools every morning stating that “I am a Turk, I am correct, I am hard-working.” The names of Kurdish villages can be changed back to its original name but this does not apply to the big cities in Northern Kurdistan (Southeastern Turkey). A few of the key points from the democracy package can be found here.

On the other hand, no reform has been offered to change the infamous anti-terror-law, a law that has qualified the country to be listed as the world’s biggest prison for journalists and there is also good reason to believe that Erdogan is not sincere about the reform package, at least not with regards to the aspects concerning the Kurds. If there is, it will be a superficial change, with unenforced paperwork, and its primary function will be to give the AKP a rhetorical tool “to prove” its earnest and genuine wish to implement not a democracy, but an “advanced democracy”.

Am I being overly skeptical? Hardly. The reforms are merely a loose band aid on wounds inflicted by the Turkish state on the Kurds for example by only allowing Kurdish in private schools and not public schools and only allowing Kurdish villages and not Kurdish cities to change their names back to the original name. It is not a reform that has put the seed to democracy in the ground and encourages every person within Turkish borders to water this seed and help it grow. No. Erdogan’s democracy package is just a loose band aid.

Prior to the revelation of the package’s content, Erdogan implied his idea of how the coming democratization process will unfold or rather who will be allowed and who will not be allowed to have a saying in the development of democracy:

Without directly referring to the Gezi Park incidents, Erdoğan said “there would be no dialogue with those wielding stones, sticks and Molotov cocktails.” Hearing, listening, and a tolerant, positive approach were what was needed, said Erdoğan.

“When one takes a break from chanting slogans at every opportunity and unclenches their fists, open their ears and minds there is no matter one cannot solve. This is how we will solve and are solving the issues of both my Sunni and Alevi citizens. This is how we will solve and are solving the issues of my Turkish brothers, my Kurdish brothers, Arabs, Lazs, Circassians, Bosniaks, Romas, and any other ethnicity,” he said.

There are several points in his words that stand in direct contrast to his actions but one stands out: He lists a number of weapons and says that there can be no dialogue with people who use these weapons. Stones, sticks and Molotov cocktails are obviously not the weapons of the Turkish police or army. He is hinting at the protesters at the Gezi protests (the protests that erupted in Turkey as a reaction to the authorities plan to clear a park area). He is hinting at the Kurds who for decades have been protesting the Turkish state’s treatment of them, sometimes using these weapons as a response to police brutality. This is yet another statement that divides Turkey in two: those who abide by AKP’s law and those who do not. It is “us” and “them” which is in no way a reconciliatory tone. He continued to say that hearing, listening and a tolerant, positive approach was needed. But does Erdogan himself hear? Does he hear what the protesters are shouting in the streets, what they have been shouting not just this summer but for decades? Does he listen? According to reporters, he did not even take questions from journalists after presenting the reform package. Is he tolerant? I will let the multiple reports on the grave violations of human rights in Turkey answer that question.

Remember what else Erdogan said?

“Cowards cannot erect victory monuments. Those who are afraid of change, reforms and advanced standards cannot proceed even one step forward.”

Who is the coward, the one afraid of change, reforms and advanced standards? Who cannot go one step forward?

Who’s the one afraid of reforms?