Department of Political Studies - University of Catania

Jean Monnet Chair of European Comparative Politics

Çigdem NAS

European Community Institute
Marmara University, Istanbul

The Approach of the European Parliament to the Issue of Ethnic Minorities and Minority Rights in Turkey within the Context of the European Minority Rights Sub-Regime


November 1998 - JMWP 18.98

The European Parliament (thereafter referred to as the EP) has gained significance especially since the eighties as a major actor influencing European Union (EU)-Turkey relations. he resolutions it adopts regarding Turkey, although they are non-binding, cause a considerable reaction in Turkish public opinion. The EP uses or urges other Community institutions to use the tools of shaming, and economic and trade sanctions in the external relations of the EU. Its suspension of the financial cooperation between the EU and Turkey is a case in point.

One of the EP's most sensitive issue areas is human rights. The EP has repeatedly criticized the human rights situation in Turkey and called on the government to take the necessary steps. Within the field of human rights, the status of minorities and minority rights occupy a significant place concerning EU-Turkey relations. A mismatch between the EP's view of the situation in Turkey and government policies is discernible.

This paper attempts to analyze the position of the EP regarding the issue of ethnic minorities and minority rights in Turkey within the context of the European minority rights sub-regime. Firstly, the main features of the European human rights regime and the significance of minority rights in this regime will be studied with reference to international documents. Thereupon, the EP's role within this framework will be evaluated. Its position concerning minorities, and terrorist activities based on the demand for secession of an ethnic group within the EU and violations of rights of minorities in third countries will be studied by making reference to related resolutions. The consecutive part of the paper will focus on Parliament resolutions concerning the situation of minorities in Turkey by comparing the EP's attitude to minority issues within the EU. The EP's policy in this field will be questioned on the criteria of justness and consistency. Finally, Turkey's place within the European minority rights sub-regime will be explored.

European Human Rights Regime and Its Main Features

Today it may be contended that a human rights regime based on international conventions and documents adopted within the framework of the United Nations, Council of Europe, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) prevails throughout the European Continent. The parties to this regime are those countries, which see themselves as 'European'. Together they have created a regime, which puts forth international standards aiming to harmonize national practises in the field of human rights. In this way these countries voluntarily take it upon themselves to be part of an arrangement which puts limits on their sovereignty by establishing international norms and obligations.

International regimes are described as "sets of implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules and decision making procedures around which actors' expectations converge in a given area on international relations" (1). Alternatively they are referred to as "social institutions consisting of agreed upon principles, norms, rules, procedures and programs that govern the interactions of actors in specific issue areas (2). Both definitions make references to principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures governing a particular issue area that are accepted by a number of international actors. When applied to the system governing respect for and protection of human rights in Europe today, the definition reflects the existence of an international regime whose institutional mechanisms are in the process of being established and consolidated.

To be able to confirm the existence of a European human rights regime, its particular norms, principles, rules and decision-making procedures should be specified. This regime rests on the fundamental principle of the universality and irreplacibility of human rights. Its norms and rules are established in international documents and conventions adopted within the framework of the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Its decision-making procedures are arranged within the framework of the Commission and Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe, and through international dialogue and cooperation, expert and rapporteur missions, and human dimension meetings of the OSCE. Overriding this legal and institutional framework is the existence of common values and expectations among the participants over the terms of respect for and protection of human rights. This general consensus exerts an encouraging effect to abide by generally accepted norms and procedures, even on those states that are reluctant to recognize the rights and liberties of their citizens.

Jack Donnelly studies regimes in four categories: declaratory, promotional, implementation and enforcement regimes (3). Declaratory regimes are founded on rules decided at the national level. Promotional regimes denote mutual assistance and exchange of information between countries. They are governed by norms, which are in the form of international guidelines without effective means of enforcement. Implementation regimes reflect the existence of a closer link between states and give way to coordination of policies and international monitoring. In this type of regime norms have become international standards which the participating states take into consideration. However, the regime is not strong enough to prevent national exemptions. Enforcement regimes on the other hand are the most advanced in terms of effectiveness, and differently than the rest, have been able to establish international decision-making mechanisms, and generally applicable international norms. Regimes are also classified as weak or strong by reference to the perseverance of regime norms.

According to this spectrum of regime types, the European human rights regime with valid international decision-making mechanisms and international norms applicable to all the constituent states, can be deemed as an enforcement regime. This regime is based on the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its Protocols, and the European Social Charter. The Council of Europe encompasses advanced decision-making procedures. According to Donnelly the integrity and effectiveness of the European human rights regime stem from 'voluntary acceptance of the regime by its participating states' (4) which is in turn based on mutual moral dependence. The constituent states show decisiveness in the continuation of the regime and accept to put limits on their sovereignty in abiding by the results of the procedures. Their allegiances to the main tenets of the regime guarantee its longevity. Similarly, the existence of strict procedures result in the reinforcement of the regime by making possible improvements, the prevention of deviations, and the clarification of debated issues.

The European human rights regime can also be deemed as a strong regime. According to Donnelly, the strength of a regime depends upon 'the perception of interdependence, the benefits states expect to receive or the burdens they hope to avoid, and the risks they expect to incur in turning over authority to an international agency' (5). The significance European States attribute to the protection of human rights increase the benefits they expect of the regime and the risks they are willing to take upon. Furthermore, the fact that these countries have established regimes to protect human rights not only in their country but also in the other countries of the region, make it easier for them to accept international commitments in this regard. Since the European human rights regime is based on a homogenous socio-cultural community different interpretations of the norms, manipulation and mismanagement of the system is less likely to happen. Finally, the existence of a common identity and perception of a common community in Europe is discernible when compared to other parts of the world. This situation together with common values and shared historical inheritance strengthens the moral interdependence underlying the regime.

In a nutshell, the voluntary acceptance by the parties of the main tenets of the European human rights regime depends upon common values. This is an important guarantee for the continuation of the regime and minimizes the occurrence of recourse to authoritative decision-making procedures. Nevertheless, the existence of authoritative decision-making procedures is an important factor securing the longevity of the regime. The interaction of these two factors result in the emergence of a strong enforcement regime.

Turkey is a part of the European human rights regime. It has signed the main international conventions and documents, and recognized the right of individual application to the European Court of Human Rights. In this way it has adopted the norms and decision-making procedures of the regime. However, the continuation of violations of human rights and limitations on freedom of expression cause some complications concerning Turkey's vocation in the regime. Nevertheless, signing of the related conventions and agreements, and recognition of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights are testimony to Turkey's determination in being a part of this regime.

Minorities and Minority Rights

No consensus exists on the definition of what a 'minority' is. In a general sense minorities are groups which are 'numerically inferior to and distinguishable from the rest of the population by their different ethnicity, language, culture or religion' (6). In the relevant documents of the OSCE the terms 'national minorities', or 'persons belonging to national minorities' are used interchangeably. Belonging to a minority assumes a subjective component in the Copenhagen Document of the OSCE: 'to belong to a national minority is a matter of a person's individual choice and no disadvantage may arise from exercise of such a choice' (7). To complicate things further, deviating from the above definition, the Geneva Report of the OSCE contends that 'not all ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious differences necessarily lead to the creation of national minorities'(8).

States are free to grant minority status to persons belonging to groups displaying ethnic, religious, linguistic or cultural differences. Granting minority status to such groups, in turn, gives way to the enjoyment of rights and liberties enshrined in international documents, by such persons. Due to this factor the granting of minority status is a particularly sensitive subject. States are mostly in favour of keeping the treatment of minorities within national jurisdiction and out of the realm of international politics. Granting minority status causes concern for governments since it is feared that it may lead to demands for autonomy and secession.

Ethnic minorities, which constitute the subject of this article, are based on a common ethnie or ethnic group. Ethnie is defined as:’ a named human population with myths of common ancestry, shared historical memories, one or more elements of common culture, a link with a homeland and a sense of solidarity among at least some of its members’ (9). In a multiethnic society, each ethnic group or ethnie may either be in majority or in minority. An ethnic minority then may be defined as ‘an ethnic group which forms less than half the population of a given society, but is an appreciable subsystem with limited access to roles and activities central to the economic and political institutions of the society’ (10). However such anthropological definitions fail to provide a concrete basis for international law.

Some international documents attempt to clarify the issue of definition (11): The proposal for a European Convention for the Protection of Minorities prepared by the European Commission for Democracy Through Law defines a minority as 'a group which is smaller in number than the rest of the population of a State, whose members, who are nationals of that State, have ethnical, religious or linguistic features different from those of the rest of the population, and are guided by the will to safeguard their culture, traditions, religion or language'. The proposal for an additional protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human rights and Fundamental Freedoms Concerning Persons Belonging to National Minorities, attached to Recommendation 1201 (1993) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe defines a 'national minority' as 'a group of persons in a State who

Some of the criteria determining minority status in the above definitions are subjective and difficult to determine on a material basis. Therefore the burden of judgement falls on the State concerned.

Several international documents confer rights for those persons belonging to minorities that have acquired a minority status:

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1966 ensures the enjoyment of cultural rights by everyone and gives the participating states the task of ensuring adequate protection of these rights. What is meant by cultural rights is not delineated. However this right is entrusted to everyone as a basic human right without regard to majority or minority status. Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights grants 'persons belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities' cultural, religious and linguistic liberties. However, these rights are granted on a personal basis and not on a communal basis. Moreover, they are granted to persons belonging to minorities 'in those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist', thereby limiting and complicating the enjoyment of those rights. Here a question such as ‘Who is going to decide which states fall under this category?’ comes to mind.

The most recent attempt at international standard setting under the auspices of the UN came with the Declaration of the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities (12). According to Patrick Thornberry, the declaration is deemed as a new 'international minimum standard' for minority rights and 'transcends some of the limitations of Article 27' (13). It entrusts states with the task of protecting the existence and identity of minorities within their territories, and granting members of minorities basic rights and rights concerning participation, establishing associations, maintaining contacts with other group members and other minorities, education in their languages, promotion of minority cultures and religions, etc. Although the Declaration constitutes an advancement concerning protection of minority rights, it falls short of putting forth a definition of minorities, and remains in the realm of individual rights.

As for standard setting in Europe, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms incorporates the principle of non-discrimination. It stipulates that 'the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status'. This may be tantamount to a negative right since it aims to protect minorities from being discriminated against. OSCE work in this area has been influential and included positive rights for minorities.

Main principles found in OSCE documents that should determine the minority policies of member countries are as follows:

Persons belonging to national minorities have the right to:

Although these rights are not enforceable, the documents serve the purpose of guiding the policies of member countries towards national minorities.

Initiatives within the Council of Europe have resulted in the adoption of the European Regional and Minority Rights Convention opened to signature in 1992 and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities opened to signature in 1995. These Conventions awards minorities rights concerning protection and development of cultural, religious, linguistic and traditional identities.

The Minority Rights Sub-regime within the Framework of the European Human Rights Regime and Turkey's Position

Minority rights are included among third generation human rights (14). As distinct from individual rights, these rights stem from belonging to a group, although not necessarily granted on a collective basis. In the European region in particular, minority rights are elaborated exclusively in the above-mentioned OSCE documents. Recently, conventions adopted by the Council of Europe have been added to the plethora of international documents on the issue. Consequently, principles and norms emerged which establish the foundation for a minority rights sub-regime. Decision -making procedures, sanctioning mechanisms, and monitoring are realized most effectively within the framework of the OSCE, by way of the activities of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, High Commissioner on National Minorities, and the human dimension mechanism through information exchange, bilateral meetings, human dimension meetings, and expert and rapporteur missions. This system may be invoked by one of the member states against another Member State. When the mechanism is invoked, the state, which a complaint has been filed against, is obliged to answer the demand for information and participate in bilateral meetings. This mechanism carried the issue of the protection of minorities from the national to the international plane (15).

It may be contended that a weak implementation sub-regime exists in Europe concerning minority rights. Despite the fact that the regime provides for international decision-making procedures, the recognized international standards are not effective enough to prevent national deviations. The underlying dilemma may be put forth as follows: Since the issue of minority rights is politically sensitive, states are reluctant to place themselves under international obligations. The mechanisms for the protection of minorities may be invoked only in cases of extreme suppression when the basic human rights of persons belonging to the minority in question are under threat. Other rights which stem from belonging to a minority such as right to education in own language, right to participation, right to form associations and so on, or even the basic right to express one's identity are subject to the will of the state. Although these rights are guaranteed by international documents, they are not enforceable, and therefore are not under the protection of the regime.

Granting of minority rights depends on national preferences. Cautious and vague expressions used in relevant international documents such as 'those participants in whose territory minorities exist' and ‘persons belonging to national minorities’, and the lack of a common definition and common criteria leave ample room for national exemptions. In fact, the Geneva Report contends that 'not all ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious differences lead to the creation of national minorities' (Section II, last paragraph). Such reasoning leaves much discretionary power upon states. Granting minority rights is viewed with suspicion since it is thought that it may be an eventual threat to national security.

The term 'national minority' may connote different conceptions. It may mean a number of things (16):

The lack of a precise definition gives way to different interpretations by states that are parties to the OSCE. Turkey argues that national minorities are those that are recognized by international treaties. Accordingly, it has placed such a reservation to the relevant OSCE documents (17). Turkey accepted the existence of non-Moslem minorities within its borders with the Lausaunne Convention of 1924. Article 38 of the Convention puts Turkey under the obligation to grant full and effective protection of life and freedom without discrimination on grounds of birth, nationality, language, descent or religion. The following Article refers to Turkish nationals belonging to non-Moslem minorities and ensures that those citizens will enjoy the same civil and political rights as Moslem citizens. The Lausaunne Convention bases the granting of minority status on religious grounds. Turkey's policy regarding minorities has since been shaped by the principles in the Lausaunne Convention. Turkey has awarded minority rights to its citizens of non-Moslem origin such as right to education in own language; right to publish newspapers, right to express one's identity. Some unfortunate events such as the welfare tax of the 1940's overshadowed Turkey's policy regarding minorities. However, non-Moslem minorities in Turkey are to this day able to sustain their separate identities and enjoy minority rights.

Turkey does not recognize the existence of other minorities. It is a well-known fact that Turkish citizens come from various origins such as Turkish, Kurdish, Azeri, Tatar, Circassian, Georgian and Uzbek. However, it is believed that all of them constitute the Turkish nation and are first-class citizens. It is contended that granting minority status would limit the rights of these people of different ethnic origins since they already enjoy full civil and political rights and are in no way discriminated against. It would crack the Anatolian mosaic, which has slowly evolved through the ages. It is argued that different ethnicities have intermingled to such an extent that it is very difficult to trace back the ancestry of ordinary citizens or to correctly determine their ethnicity. Turkish citizenship is seen as an all-encompassing identity, covering different ethnicities. Cultural rights are seen as falling in the private sphere. Ethnic languages may be spoken in private but not in public offices or schools. There is no education or television broadcast in minority languages. Writing or speaking about the existence of different ethnic groups and their separate identities are seen as subversive and divisive propaganda and are usually not tolerated. However, one may come across books on different ethnic groups, their histories and cultures in many bookstores.

A decision by the Turkish Constitutional Court of 30.11.1993 concerning banning of a political party may shed light on the State policy on this issue (18). The Court contends that "the indivisibility of the State and its country denotes the assurance and protection of its independence from foreign powers and the integrity of the country. The indivisibility of the state and its nation, on the other hand, designates the prevention of the creation of any minority and the prohibition of regionalism and racism'. After underlining a main principle of the Turkish State the following reference to minorities is made:

In our country, no minority exists except for those recognized by the Lausaunne Treaty and the Turkish-Bulgarian Friendship Agreement. It is only a natural fact that groups showing linguistic, religious, racial and sectarian differences exist within states. However, granting minority status to every such group conflicts with the principle of the indivisibility of the State and its country/nation. Moreover, if such groups have constructed the 'Turkish nation' within national boundaries, possessing an understanding of historical and cultural integrity, based on a common past as is the case in our history, and established the Turkish Republic, there is no need to grant such status to these groups. In this regard the Turkish nation is not comprised of peoples, but of a single people, the Turkish people, created by societal consensus based on a common past.

After mentioning that the only condition for being included in the Turkish nation is citizenship, that all citizens enjoy equal rights and that, for this reason, talking of majority or minority makes no sense in the Turkish context, the following remarks are made:

No law or social obstacle exist which prevent citizens coming from different ethnic origins that have lived together for centuries and possess a common past, history, traditions, and value judgements from practising their traditions and customs, speaking their languages, and expressing their identities in their private lives.

In a nutshell, although the Turkish State accepts that the Turkish nation is comprised of persons from different ethnic origins, it rejects the argument that different ethnic origins justify the claim for the granting of minority status. It limits cultural rights of citizens from different ethnic origins such as expressing their identities, and speaking their native languages to the private sphere and does not recognize the exercise of such rights in the public arena. This situation may be linked to the paranoia of the state about indivisibility, and fears of subversiveness. The state in Turkey is suspicious of private actors and groups operating in the public realm, and views such activity as intervention in its field of operation. This obsession with the monopoly of power and fears of division may also be linked to the memories of the losing of territory since the eighteenth century, the occupation by foreign powers after the first world war, and the War of Independence as well as to the troubles experienced with almost all of the neighboring States.

All states are under the legal obligation to grant minority rights stemming from international treaties and conventions to which they are parties, to those persons belonging to groups with minority status. Turkey is under such an obligation toward non-Moslem minorities since they constitute the only group in Turkey to which minority status is granted. Turkey has also placed reservations to this effect in the relevant OSCE documents as discussed above. However, it may also be contended that Turkey, a member of the OSCE and a party to its conventions and documents, has placed itself under an ethical obligation to honour international commitments.

The Position of the EP Within the European Minority Rights Sub-regime

The EU, originally an economic endeavour, has moved beyond this limited framework to influence the political and societal structures of its constituent States. The foundation of the Union rests on such principles as democracy and human rights as well as free market economy and liberal trade. New Article 6 -former Article F- of the Treaty on European Union stipulates that the Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. The Amsterdam Treaty amendments also provide for the suspension of membership rights of those member states that violate the above-mentioned fundamental principles.

The EU has developed to a considerable extent at establishing its international image as a propagator of democracy and human rights including minority rights. It is a role model in its region. It sets a maximum standard towards which the aspirations of other states in the region converge. However, it is not a norm setter or decision-maker in this field. The EP, as the representative of the Union's public opinion, may be regarded as an institution playing a significant role within the minority rights sub-regime due to its recently extended powers and responsibilities such as assent of agreements with third countries, increased involvement in the decision-making process, and its influence in the shaping of public opinion. In this way, the EP exerts its influence in the field of minority rights especially over those countries, which aspire to forge closer ties with, accede to, or get financial assistance from the EU.

European countries from the Baltic to the Mediterranean have adopted accession to the EU as a political objective. In the Copenhagen Summit of 1993 one of the criteria for becoming an EU member is designated as respect for human and minority rights. Regarding minority rights reference is made to fundamental international documents codified within the framework of the UN, OSCE and Council of Europe. Consequently, all of the countries, which would like to establish close ties with the EU, have to become a part of the European minority rights regime.

Being a member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE does not bring material benefits to countries. Rather, membership is a symbol of being part of the 'Western civilization'. Countries gain prestige and acceptance by other countries as respectable and civilized nations. EU membership, on the other hand, involves closer ties and extensive rights and obligations. It also provides material gains through access to the single market and financial transfers from Community funds. Therefore, membership to the EU is a much- acclaimed goal for the countries in the region. Those countries which aspire to become EU members feel inclined to accept and implement the related norms, principles and rules to be a part of the European human rights regime and the minority rights sub-regime to be eligible for membership.

The EP, within the range of its powers, tries to monitor the developments in the field. It attempts to prevent deviations and provide for a convergence between national practises, using such foreign policy tools as condemnations, and economic sanctions. Although it cannot influence the external relations of the EU in an authoritative way, it uses the powers at its disposal to exert pressure on the Commission and the Council as well as individual member states. As in the case of suspension of financial aid to Turkey, it may be instrumental in triggering economic sanctions. Furthermore, by way of the non-binding resolutions it adopts, it condemns violations of human and minority rights throughout the world and calls on governments to honour international obligations, and safeguard the rights of their citizens. In this way, it exerts an ethical influence especially on those countries, which would like to establish links with the EU.

The Approach of the EP to the Issue of Minorities

The EP, in an effort to strengthen its position as the 'conscience' of the EU, attributes significance to the issue of minority rights. It closely watches related developments both within and outside the EU. When it deems appropriate, it adopts resolutions condemning violations of minority rights on a case-by-case basis. Although these decisions are not enforceable they influence public opinion and exert a considerable pressure on the country concerned. Moreover, it possesses the power of assent of agreements concluded with third countries. In doing so, it may resent the agreement on the grounds that the third country concerned is a violator of human and/or minority rights.

Before analyzing the resolutions of the EP concerning minority rights in Turkey, it may be enlightening to look at its approach to the issue in EU Member States, in order to establish a point of comparison.

The Approach of the EP to Minorities in the Member states of the EU

The EP's basic understanding concerning the situation of minorities in the Member States of the EU may be grasped by studying the resolutions it adopts. The Resolution of 18.1.1994 concerning the accession of the Community to the European Convention on Human Rights conveys a basic understanding contended by the Parliament regarding the preferred way of conduct in the field of human rights (19):

…development of the Union is no longer merely a question of promoting the Member States' economic progress, but primarily entails the setting-up of an area where peace prevails and whose aim is the political, economic, social, and cultural well-being of the individual, and that, in this perspective, the very success of this European project depends on respect for and the promotion of human rights, as they ought to be perceived at this stage in the 20th century, it being understood that the individual must be considered the main beneficiary of efforts to achieve European integration.

The EP adopted a Declaration on Basic Rights and Freedoms on 12.4.1989 (20). The third Article of the Declaration prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status. In yet another resolution dated 16.10.1981 on a Community Charter of Regional Languages and Cultures and on a Charter of Rights of Ethnic Minorities, the EP provides for the following points:

In a resolution dated 30.10.1987 on the languages and cultures of regional and ethnic minorities in the EC, the Parliament calls on the Member States to legally recognize their linguistic minorities, and recommends the promotion of the use of regional and minority languages in education, local authorities, mass media, cultural facilities and activities, and in various aspects of public life (21). In a resolution adopted on 9.2.1994 (22), the EP pays homage to the promotion of lesser-used languages, the protection of minority rights, the right of peoples to respect for their languages and cultures, and confirms the responsibility of the Community to support and motivate the Member States in promoting and protecting these cultures. In addition, the Community is attributed the task of drawing attention to minority rights in its dealings with associated and other third countries, and if necessary to support governments in guaranteeing the protection of these rights. The EP calls for the adoption of legal and administrative measures to recognize linguistic minorities and to protect and promote their languages, the promotion of these languages in education, public administration, courts and the media, to prohibit discrimination towards persons from minority cultures, and prevention of social marginalization, and the signing of the European Regional and Minority Languages Charter by the Member States.

In summary, the EP pays close attention to the protection and promotion of minority languages and cultures within the EU. It mainly refers to the cultural aspects of minority rights and avoids referring to such sensitive issues as the political representation of minorities and their legal status. It leaves politically sensitive issues to the jurisdiction of Member State governments.

The Approach of the EP to Terrorist Acts Stemming from Separatist Claims of Ethnic Minorities

Some EU Member States constitute the scene of terrorist acts of organizations established by certain groups for the purpose of gaining independence from the nation state in which they form a minority. It will be instrumental to look at the resolutions adopted by the EP concerning such acts in order to draw a comparison with the Turkish situation. The EP issues various resolutions concerning the terrorist activities of the ETA (Basque Country and Freedom) whose purpose is to gain independence for the Basques, and the IRA (Irish Republican Army) that has as its aim the independence of Northern Ireland. As you may find below such resolutions convey the EP’s resentment and condemnation of terrorism in whatever form it emerges.

In a resolution concerning a bombed attack in Barcelona organized by ETA, the EP defines the act as ‘a real crime against the people for which ETA is solely responsible’ (23). It is underlined that ‘ any act of terrorism in one Member State affects the others in that it represents an attempt to destabilize our democracies and an attack on the fundamental rights of Community citizens’. While all acts of terrorism are condemned the EP calls on the Member States and the EU institutions to join forces to combat violence and bigotry. The Parliament, in yet another resolution concerning a terrorist attack by IRA in Northern Ireland, rejects ‘the hypocritical attempts by IRA and Sinn Fein spokesmen to excuse the inexcusable’, calls for the enforcement of the European Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism, and underlines the importance of coordination of measures by all Member States against countries who supply arms, and publicly advocate terrorist campaigns carried out in the Member States (24).

All in all, it may be argued that the Parliament advocates the protection and promotion of the cultural rights of minorities in the territories of the Member States, while it disapproves of separatist activities, and outrightly condemns all acts of terrorism conducted for that purpose. Such activities are seen as threats to the social and political system prevailing in the countries of the Union, and therefore, as inexcusable. The root causes of the problem or any relation with other problems or issue areas are not considered. Below this attitude may be compared with the approach adopted by the EP in its resolutions concerning the Kurdish minority and the activities of the PKK in Turkey.

The Approach of the EP to Ethnic Minorities in Third Countries

The EP watches closely practises concerning human and minority rights throughout the world and especially in countries, which are associated with the EC. In case of an abuse of such rights in contravention of international conventions, it issues resolutions condemning the situation and calling on the concerned governments to take action. The EU has concluded various types of agreements with third countries, including free trade, preferential trade and association agreements. Such bilateral agreements usually involve mutual concessions by the parties mostly in trade-related activities as well as financial assistance. The EU has the power to use the threat of withdrawing such concessions or financial assistance as a means of influencing policies conducted in other fields, such as human and minority rights. The EU’s success in triggering change in the desired way is proportional to the degree of dependence of the country concerned. Especially for those countries that aspire to become EU members, the Union can be far more effective in triggering the desired conduct. Forming part of an international regime, these countries have to abide by not only the norms and principles of the economic and trade regime, but also political aspects of the European regime such as democracy, rule of law, human and minority rights.

The EP, in order to sustain the adherence of those states to the political norms and principles of the EU regime, makes use of the instruments at its disposal. Although its resolutions are not binding, it helps to shape public opinion by its messages of condemnation or warning, and calls on the Commission and the Council to take preventive measures such as economic sanctions including suspension of financial assistance. Furthermore, it uses its power of assent of agreements with third countries to monitor human rights violations in these states.

The Parliament, in its resolution on human rights in EU’s foreign policy (25), expresses that human rights violations are a source of concern for the international community, and activities in this field cannot be deemed as interventions into internal affairs. According to the EP, the support given to democratic regimes that are respectful of human rights constitute the basis of EU’s foreign policy. It views human rights as the focal point of the Union’s foreign policy and its relations with third countries. Furthermore, the EP contends that all agreements between the EU and third countries should include a provision on respect for human rights, including a clause to the effect that the agreement will be suspended in case of a violation. It also underlines that it supports the construction of a multicultural Europe based on respect for differences of sex, race, language, religion, and nationality.

In another resolution the EP criticizes the passing of a new law in Romania which limits the rights of education of minorities as ‘a further deterioration of the situation of minorities’ in the country (26). After stressing that Romania has filed an application to accede to the EU, it notes that ‘membership is only possible for countries respecting human and minority rights, and therefore, urges Romania not to take measures which would disqualify it from joining the EU’. In yet another resolution, the EP puts forth the instrument of economic sanctions (27). The resolution, which concerns the human rights and civil freedoms of members of the Greek minority sentenced in Albania, questions their treatment by the authorities. It points out that the release of the concerned prisoners would lead to the ‘immediate lifting of the Council’s objections to immediate payment by the EU of the first instalment of financial aid to Albania’. He calls on the Council and the Commission to press the Albanian government to speed up the democratization process, and to bring its legal framework into line with democratic European countries. In another resolution concerning the situation in Albania (28), the Parliament underlines the significance it attributes to human rights, religious freedoms, and rights of ethnic and linguistic minorities, and adds that those rights should be safeguarded in all European countries. The Parliament also expresses, in a resolution on a Court case in Slovakia (29), that the European agreement between the EC and Slovakia requires respect for human and minority rights, democracy and rule of law, and reminds the Slovak government that respect for fundamental principles of democracy is ‘a condition for entering into and developing cooperation with the EU’.

By implication, it may be concluded that the EP is sensitive on the issue of respect for minority rights as well as democracy, human rights and rule of law in countries, which are in some way related with the EU. This is true especially for countries such as Turkey that wants to establish closer ties with the EU. Respect for minority rights is a condition that will certainly affect the future of the relations between the parties. All in all, it may be contended that the EP lays emphasis on minority rights in third countries and advocates the use of instruments such as shaming, and economic sanctions to trigger the desired changes in their policies.

The Approach of the EP to the Issue of Ethnic Minorities and Minority Rights in Turkey

Relevant Resolutions of the EP

The EP closely watches the situation concerning minority rights in Turkey in general and the situation of persons of Kurdish origin in particular. It has published several resolutions on the situation of the Kurds, the terrorist acts of the PKK, and State policy in Southeast Turkey. It has adopted 12 resolutions since 1991 on this issue, alongside several other resolutions concerning Turkey. Broadly speaking, the EP considers that the Kurdish issue can only be resolved peacefully and that this is a fundamental condition for democratization in Turkey (30). It contends that economic and social measures taken by the Turkish government to put an end to terror in Southeast Turkey are inadequate and that individual human rights and rights stemming from membership of a minority are not recognized (31). It criticizes the government of implementing repressive measures in the region, and cites it as a factor, which draws the people closer to PKK (32). It also condemns such activities by the PKK.

In its resolutions since 1991 the EP makes the following proposals regarding the situation of the Kurds, and the terrorist insurgency in South-east Anatolia:

Evaluation of the Approach of the EP to Ethnic Minorities in Turkey

It is observed in the relevant resolutions of the EP concerning the situation of minorities in Turkey that the Parliament closely monitored the developments and felt the necessity to issue a resolution whenever a deterioration in the situation occurred. Overall, a careful examination of the terminology used by the EP in the resolutions reveals that the EP failed to use a consistent jargon regarding minorities in Turkey. The jargon changed according to the conjuncture and to the effect the Parliament preferred to create. In the resolutions adopted on 14 March 1991, 18 April 1991, and 12 June 1992, the EP refers to the rights of the ‘Kurdish people’ in Iraq, Iran and Turkey. In the resolutions adopted afterwards, the following terms are used interchangeably: Kurdish minority, Kurds in Turkey, Kurdish parliamentarians, and Turkish parliamentarians of Kurdish origin. One expects the EP to be more conscious of its use of such terms. The term ‘Kurdish people’ denotes a linkage to the right of self-determination and secession. To speak of ‘Kurdish people in Iraq, Iran and Turkey’ brings to mind the creation of a Kurdish State on part of the territories of these three countries. However, in international law, the term ‘people’ denotes citizens of a nation-state while minorities imply groups with different ethnic, religious, cultural or linguistic origins than the majority (45). In issuing such resolutions the EP should be more careful in its rhetoric so as not to constitute an inappropriate intervention into the terms of statehood of other countries. It should foresee the implications of its acts and match ideals by reality. It should also be objective and take into consideration the point of view of other peoples.

The Parliament, in its aim to improve respect for and protection of human rights, and the situation of minorities in Turkey, uses the threat of suspension of financial cooperation, and the freezing of relations. In this connection, it amended the Commission proposal on the implementation of the special financial cooperation package to Turkey, and included some conditions (46). It tied the implementation of the package to the adherence by Turkey to the principles of democracy, human rights and international law. Furthermore, it included the right of democratic expression of minorities within the framework of human rights. While linking the financial aid to the observance of democracy and human rights, it also underlined the importance of minority rights in EU-Turkey relations.

Although the aim of improving adherence to the principles of democracy, human and minority rights is correct, the method used by the EP to reach that aim might be evaluated as dictating and authoritarian. Forcing a country to act in a certain way by using the threat of withdrawal of financial assistance or the suspension of relations may be deemed as a neo-colonial approach. The EP’s observance and advocation of the furtherance of democracy, the rule of law, human and minority rights in the EU’s external relations is a policy choice which is hard to negate. However, the choice of instruments and the language and style used to convey the EP’s point of view is not constructive and may lead to resentment in the target countries.

The condescending attitude of the EP, rather than triggering improvements in democracy, human or minority rights in Turkey, produces the opposite effect and helps the reactionary forces in Turkish society. It leads to the creation of an atmosphere of resentment that causes the government to close its ears not only to condemnations but also to constructive comments and criticism. It makes both the government and ordinary citizens to be suspicious of all acts of the EP and its parliamentarians as well as the EU at large. The resolutions and the recommendations of the Parliament are perceived as interventions by outside powers. The EP should try to understand and keep in mind the particular characteristics, and the social, political and cultural background of the Turkish society. It should not forget that the social and political system of a particular society cannot be easily changed with denunciations and declarations. It should study the reasons underlying problems in democracy, human rights, and minority rights prevailing in Turkey, and try to devise more effective means of causing improvements in the situation.

The EP may also be criticised on the account that its approach to the PKK in Turkey is quite different than its approach to terrorist organizations in EU Member States. While it condemns terrorist activities by the PKK, it also implies that repressive measures by the government may increase the appeal of the organization. In a way it accepts that the burden of the terrorist acts does not fall on the PKK alone. However, it uses a more strict tone in its condemnation of ETA and IRA. It holds them solely responsible for their acts. It evaluates these acts as direct attacks on the democratic system represented by the EU. In a resolution the EP calls on the Turkish government, the PKK and other Kurdish organizations to do their utmost to find a non-violent solution to the Kurdish problem (47). Here the PKK is put on an equal footing with the Turkish government and other Kurdish organizations that may pursue peaceful methods. The approach of the EP implies that it perceives the situation in EU Member States and that in Turkey on different levels. In countries such as Turkey whose ‘Europeanness’ is in question, it sees terrorism as an output of the political and social system that lacks democracy and human rights. Violations of human and minority rights create an environment, which is prone to conflict and violence. Here it may be contended as a counter-argument that minority rights are adequately recognized in EU countries while this is not the case in Turkey for Kurds. However to find excuses for terrorism may be dangerous. It is difficult to draw the line between those terrorist acts, which may be excusable, and those, which are not.

Several reasons lead to this difference in the EP’s attitude:

The position of Kurds in Turkish society is interpreted differently by the Turkish government and the EU. There is a mismatch between the approach of Turkey to the issue of minorities and that of the EU. The parties mean different things when they refer to minorities. The EP uses the term to encompass groups, which are ethnically, religiously, culturally and linguistically different than the majority. However when referring to minority rights the terms used and the international documents referred to are not clearly defined. The EP sees the Kurds as a national minority that should enjoy minority rights stemming from international conventions and treaties. On the other hand, Turkey contends that Kurds are not minorities and form part of the Turkish nation together with other groups from different ethnic origins such as the Circassians, Georgians, Azeris etc. Granting minority status is perceived as an act that limits access to political and civil rights. Minority status is equated with second-class citizenship and seen as a disadvantage. The government argues that Kurds enjoy the same rights as other citizens in the Turkish society and are in no way discriminated against. Therefore, granting minority status is not necessary. In contrast, according to the EP, the term minority connotes additional rights for minorities such as right to live and express one's identity, right to be educated in own language, right to form associations, right to have tv and radio broadcast in one's language, etc.

Turkey has not granted minority status to any ethnically, religiously, culturally or linguistically different group in Turkish society except for non-Moslems. Granting minority status is seen as an act that would lead to the dissolution of the integrity and unity of the Turkish nation which is comprised of citizens from different backgrounds. Accordingly, Turkey does not grant minority rights stemming from international documents to such groups as the Kurds. It has put reservations to relevant OSCE documents expressing that Turkey only recognizes those minorities, which are included within the framework of the Lausaunne Treaty. Therefore, the Kurds cannot enjoy minority rights stemming from international treaties and documents. However, those civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights which are among an individual's basic rights irrespective of belonging to a majority or minority, and principles such as equality before law and non-discrimination are naturally valid for Kurdish citizens as well, and the Turkish state is under the obligation to see that these rights and principles are effectively implemented.


Turkey, aiming to be a part of the EU, is bound to abide by the written and unwritten norms and principles of the European human rights regime and the minority rights sub-regime. A common definition pertaining to minority rights does not exist. Each country defines its minorities and treats them as it sees appropriate. This is the case even for the Member States of the EU. The contrast between France and the UK concerning their policies towards minorities may be instructive to examine in this regard. Differences in socio-economic and cultural structures and histories affect the status of and the attitude towards minorities. As discussed above Turkey has placed reservations to OSCE documents codifying minority rights. Kurds that form the subject of many EP resolutions are not considered as a minority by the Turkish government. Therefore, in Turkey Kurds may enjoy basic human rights but not minority rights stemming from international documents. Turkey is quite sensitive on the issue due to two main reasons. Firstly, it believes that granting minority status would lead to demands for autonomy and secession, and therefore pose a security threat for the unity and indivisibility of the country. Secondly, it is argued that it would damage the socio-cultural basis of the Turkish society. Since the Turkish society is comprised of people of different ethnic origins, granting minority status would destroy the mosaic forming the Turkish nation. Moreover due to inter-ethnic marriages it is very difficult to differentiate between the ethnic origins of citizens. There are many people who come from both Turkish and Kurdish origin. Most people of different ethnic origins including the Kurds have acquired important positions in the society. They are equal citizens provided that they accept the main tenets of the Turkish State. Granting minority status is seen as a factor, which would not match this particular structure.

The EP's proposals concerning the situation in Turkey are rational and illuminating. However, the attitude and style adopted is authoritative, subjective and overbearing. It neither attempts at understanding the situation in Turkey with its particular socio-economic, cultural and historical background; nor does it devise more constructive methods of triggering developments concerning human and minority rights in Turkey. It totally ignores cultural and contextual variations between countries. Turkey, on the other hand, leads austere and anachronistic policies in this regard. It is bound to pursue universal trends and honour the political and legal obligations stemming from membership of European organizations. As expressed by the EP, violations of human rights should be rare exceptions rather than the rule. Especially in South-east Anatolia where the Turkish armed forces fight against terrorism great care should be taken not to harm civilians and violate human rights. As part of the European human rights regime and minority rights sub-regime, the observance of the international legal norms and moral principles these regimes are based on, is an obligation the Turkish State owes to all its citizens whether belonging to the majority or a minority.


(1) See Stephen D. Krasner, 'Structural Causes and Regime Consequences: Regimes as Intervening Variables', in Krasner ed. International Regimes (Ithaca, NY, London: Cornell University Press, 1983), p.2.

(2) See Marc A. Levy, Oran R. Young, Michael Zürn, 'The Study of International Regimes', European Journal of International Relations, Vol.1, No.3 (September 1995), p.274.

(3) See Jack Donnelly, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, (Ithaca, NY, London: Cornell University Press, 1989), p.206.

(4) Donnelly, p.214.

(5) Donnelly, p.214.

(6) See Aslan Gündüz, Security and Human Rights in Europe: the CSCE Process, (Istanbul: European Community Institute of Marmara University, 1994), p.142.

(7) Copenhagen Document, paragraph 32.

(8) Geneva Report, Chapter II, last paragraph.

(9) See ‘Introduction’ in John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith eds., Ethnicity, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p.6.

(10) See Richard Schermerhorn, ‘Ethnicity and Minority Groups’ ibid., p.18.

(11) See Patrick Thornberry, 'International and European Standards on Minority Rights', in Hugh Miall ed. Minority Rights in Europe, (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, Pinter Publishers, 1994), p.19.

(12) Resolution 47/135 of 18.12.1992 of the UN General Assembly.

(13) Thornberry, p.16.

(14) Third generation rights include collective rights, such as right to peace, right to a healthy environment, right to share in the exploitation of the common heritage of mankind, right to communicate and right to humanitarian assistance. The first generation of rights is civil and political rights while the second generation is social and economic rights. See Donnelly, pp.143-144.

(15) Gündüz, pp.209-210.

(16) Gündüz, p.143.

(17) See Richard Dalton, 'The Role of the CSCE' in Hugh Miall ed Minority Rights in Europe, p.108.

(18) Official Journal of the Turkish Republic, No:22016, 9.8.1994, pp.28-29.

(19) The Official Journal (OJ) of the EC, C44, 14.02.1994, pp.32-34.

(20) The OJ of the EC, C120, 12.4.1989, pp.51-57.

(21) The OJ of the EC, C318, 30.11.1987, pp.160-164.

(22) The OJ of the EC, C61, 28.2.1994, pp.110-113.

(23) OJ of the EC, C246, 4.9.1987, p.65.

(24) OJ of the EC, C345, 21.12.1987, p.134.

(25) OJ of the EC, C128, 9.5.1994, pp.370-371.

(26) OJ of the EC, C 249, 25.9.1995,pp.157-158.

(27) OJ of the EC, C 305, 31.10.1994, pp.99-100.

(28) OJ of the EC, C 255, 20.9.1993, p.154.

(29) OJ of the EC, C 20, 20.1.1997, p.145.

(30) OJ of the EC, C 125, 9.4.1992, p.219.

(31) OJ of the EC, C 337, 21.12.1992, pp.221-223-225.

(32) OJ of the EC, C 255, 20.9.1993, p.149.

(33) OJ of the EC, C 125, 9.4.1992, p.218.

(34) OJ of the EC, C125, 9.4.1992, p.219.

(35) OJ of the EC, C 176, 12.6.1992, p.224.

(36) OJ of the EC, C 176, 12.6.1992, p.224.

(37) OJ of the EC, C 176, 12.6.1992, p.225; C 150, 22.4.1993, p.262.

(38) OJ of the EC, C 176, 12.6.1992, p.225.

(39) OJ of the EC, C 176, 12.6.1992, p.225.

(40) OJ of the EC, C 337, 21.12.1992, p.222;

(41) OJ of the EC, C 337, 21.12.1992, p.221.

(42) OJ of the EC, C 305, 31.10.1994, pp.95-96; C 18, 23.1.1995, pp.177-179.

(43) OJ of the EC, C109, 1.5.1995, pp.107-108.

(44) OJ of the EC, C 320, 28.10.1996, pp.187-189.

(45) See Rein Mullerson, ‘Minorities in Eastern Europe and the former USSR: Problems, Tendencies and Protection’, The Modern Law Review, Vol:56, No:6, (November 1993), p.801.

(46) OJ of the EC, C 17, 22.1.1996, pp.43-46.

(47) OJ of the EC, C17, 22.1.1996, pp:46-47.


ALPKAYA Gökçen (1996), Human Rights from the CSCE Process to the OSCE (in Turkish), Istanbul: Kavram,.

BROWNLIE Ian (1993), Basic Documents on Human Rights, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

DALTON Richard (1994), 'The Role of the CSCE', in Hugh Miall ed. Minority Rights in Europe, London: RIIA, Pinter Publishers, pp.99-111.

DONNELLY Jack (1989), Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practise, Ithaca, NY, London: Cornell University Press.

GÜNDÜZ Aslan (1994), Main Documents on International Law and International Organizations (in Turkish), Istanbul: Beta.

GÜNDÜZ Aslan (1994), Security and Human Rights in Europe:The CSCE Process, Istanbul: Marmara University EC Institute.

HUTCHINSON John, AND SMITH D. Anthony (1996), Introduction, in John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith eds., Ethnicity, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp.3-14.

KRASNER Stephen D. (1983), Structural Causes and Regime Consequences: Regimes as Intervening Variables, in S. Krasner ed. International Regimes, Ithaca, NY, London: Cornell University Press, pp.1-21.

LEVY Marc, YOUNG Oran R. and ZÜRN Michael (1995), The Study of International Regimes, in European Journal of International Relations, Vol.1, No.3, pp.267-330.

MORAVCSIK Andrew (1995), Explaining International Human Rights Regimes, in European Journal of International Relations, Vol.1, No:2 , pp.157-189.

MULLERSON Rein (1993), Minorities in Eastern Europe and the Former USSR: Problems, Tendencies and Protection', in The Modern Law Review, Vol.56, No.6, pp.793-811

SCHERMERHOM Richard (1996), Ethnicity and Minority Groups in John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith eds. Ethnicity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.17-18.

TACAR, Pulat (1996), Cultural Rights, Ankara: Gündogan.

THORMBERRY Patrick (1994), International and European Standards on Minority Rights, in Hugh Miall ed. Minority Rights in Europe, London: RIIA, Pinter Publishers, pp.14-21.

Official Journal of the Republic of Turkey, No.22016, 9.8.1994, pp.28-29.

Following Issues of the Official Journal of the EC:

OJ of the EC, C 287, 16.10.1981, pp.106-107.

OJ of the EC, C246, 4.9.1987, p.65.

OJ of the EC, C318, 30.11.1987, pp.160-164.

OJ of the EC, C345, 21.12.1987, p.134.

OJ of the EC, C120, 12.4.1989, pp.51-57.

OJ of the EC, C44, 14.2.1994, pp.32-34.

OJ of the EC, C61, 28.2.1994, pp.110-113.

OJ of the EC, C 125, 9.4.1992, p.218-219.

OJ of the EC, C 176, 12.6.1992, p.222-226.

OJ of the EC, C 337, 21.12.1992, pp.218.-225.

OJ of the EC, C 150, 22.4.1993, p.262.

OJ of the EC, C 255, 20.9.1993, p.154.

OJ of the EC, C128, 9.5.1994, pp.370-371.

OJ of the EC, C 305, 31.10.1994, pp.95-96; pp.99-100.

OJ of the EC, C 18, 23.1.1995, pp.177-179.

OJ of the EC, C109, 1.5.1995, pp.107-108.

OJ of the EC, C 249, 25.9.1995,pp.157-158.

OJ of the EC, C 17, 22.1.1996, pp.43-46.

OJ of the EC, C 320, 28.10.1996, pp.187-189.

OJ of the EC, C 20, 20.1.1997, p.145; pp.161-170.


ã Copyright 1998. Jean Monnet Chair of European Comparative Politics.

Çigdem NAS, European Community Institute. Marmara University, Istanbul