Turkish Premier Announces Proposals Aimed at Kurds

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ISTANBUL -- Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a package of measures on Monday that appeared intended to revive the stalled peace process with the country's ethnic Kurds, who have fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

But Kurdish leaders largely dismissed the measures as inadequate, suggesting that efforts to settle the conflict, which has claimed nearly 40,000 lives since the early 1980s, could be in further jeopardy.

Mr. Erdogan said the government would relax longstanding restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language, and make changes to the electoral system that could make it easier for Kurdish parties to secure seats in Parliament. But he did not announce some steps that many Kurds had expected, including the release of jailed Kurdish activists.

Gulten Kisanak, a leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, said in a televised statement, "I can say that this package does not have the capacity to overcome the deadlock in the peace process."

Ms. Kisanak's party has close links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or P.K.K., the main insurgent group, which the United States has labeled a terrorist organization. She took particular aim at the language measures, which will allow the Kurdish language to be taught in private schools but not public ones. "It is an insult to the Kurdish people to say, 'You can learn your mother tongue as a foreign language at a school only if you pay for it,'  " she said.

Even so, Mr. Erdogan announced other steps to broaden the use of the Kurdish language, offering legal structure for villages to be renamed in Kurdish and lifting a ban on the use of the letters Q, W and X, which are widely used in Kurdish spelling but not in Turkish.

The measures announced on Monday, including some that are unrelated to Kurdish rights, like the return of confiscated properties to Syriac Orthodox Christians in eastern Turkey, may help to burnish Mr. Erdogan's democratic credentials. Those were tarnished during the summer when antigovernment protests swept Turkey and the government cracked down heavily with tear gas and water cannons.

The protests were seen as a sharp rebuke to Mr. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, which has ruled Turkey for more than a decade. He rose to power promising democratic reforms, and has delivered on some, for example by securing civilian control over the military. But many Turks say he has shown autocratic tendencies and resent the restrictions his Islamist government has imposed on alcohol and his tendency to intrude on private lives, for example by advising women to have at least three children.

"Turkey has been on an unstoppable path along the direction of democracy, and this package is an important and historical phase in this advancement," Mr. Erdogan said in his speech on Monday announcing the measures in Ankara, the capital.

The proposals from Mr. Erdogan, some of which are subject to approval in Parliament, would also further relax the country's longstanding limitations on women wearing Islamic headscarves in public places. Mr. Erdogan, who had already eased the ban for college students, said on Monday that women in most government jobs would be allowed to wear them at work, though the ban would remain in place for those in the military, the police force and the judiciary.

Some Turks had hoped that Mr. Erdogan would announce that the Halki Seminary, a Greek Orthodox religious school on an island in the Sea of Marmara that was closed by the Turkish government in 1971, would be allowed to reopen. American leaders including President Obama have pressed Turkey for years to do that, saying it was necessary for Turkey, a Muslim-majority country, to advance the rights of Christians there. But Mr. Erdogan did not mention the matter on Monday.

The leader also failed to respond demands of Alevis, an offshoot of Shiite Muslims in Anatolia, for their temples to be officially recognized. Alevis make nearly 20 million of more than 75 million population.

Neither did he explicitly link his proposals concerning the Kurds to the peace process, though they were widely interpreted in that context.

Turkish leaders opened peace talks last year with the P.K.K. and its jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan; the group announced a ceasefire in March and started withdrawing its fighters from Turkey to bases in northern Iraq. But a final peace hinged on promises of political reforms, and after months passed with no action, the P.K.K. said in September that it was halting the withdrawal.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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