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Ahead of crucial EU report MRG warns of dramatic rise in intolerance against minorities in Turkey - 5 November 2007

Violence and intolerance against religious and ethnic minorities in Turkey has dramatically increased in the last year with a proliferation of targeted attacks on smaller communities, Minority Rights Group International says ahead of the European Commission’s influential annual assessment report on the country.

MRG says that ethnic Kurds and non-Muslim minorities have particularly been targeted for attack as Turkey is swept by a wave of religious extremism and nationalism.

“It has now come to a stage where minorities are afraid to identify themselves for fear of being targeted,” says MRG’s Director Mark Lattimer.

Over the past year there have been several targeted attacks against minorities. In January 2007 Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink, a human rights activist and a spokesman for Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities, was shot dead. Later in the year three people working for a Christian publishing house in Malatya, in eastern Turkey, were tortured and killed. According to media reports the past few weeks have also seen Kurds profiled as ‘terrorists’ and subject to attacks by nationalists across several cities in western Turkey, partly in response to a series of deadly attacks by the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group.

Turkey only recognises Armenians, Jews and Greeks as minorities and Turkish law prohibits any other group being referred to as minorities. This has also resulted in the severe curtailment on the freedom of expression of minorities.

“In Turkey criticising the government’s policy on minority rights could lead to criminal action because it can be seen as denigrating the state, or dividing the nation,” Lattimer says.

“This makes life for human rights defenders very dangerous and prevents minority rights issues being brought out into the open,” he adds.

In September this year a Turkish Appeal Court overturned an earlier decision to dismiss charges against academics Baskin Oran and Ibrahim Kaboglu, who had been accused of endangering the indivisibility of the state by referring to minorities that did not exist under the law. The charges arose in 2004 as Oran and Kaboglu published a report criticising Turkey’s minority record and referred to several groups including Kurds.

According to MRG despite the initial enthusiasm on the part of the Turkish government to push through major political reforms to meet EU accession criteria the process has now significantly slowed down.
MRG says Turkey has to ensure the rights of minorities are protected - and the Turkish authorities need openly to condemn attacks on minorities and ensure effective investigation and prosecution.
MRG also believes that the EU has a stronger role to play.

“The Copenhagen criteria for EU accession include guarantees of minority protection and the EU has to come down stronger on Turkey for its minority rights record. But reporting and monitoring is not enough. They should play a more active role and use their expertise to help Turkey formulate better minority safeguards,” Lattimer adds.

Farah Mihlar
Media Officer,
Minority Rights Group International.
54, Commercial Street,
London E1 6LT
\www.minorityrights.org

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