The International Republican Institute (IRI) hosted a roundtable examining the integration of minority groups living in Turkey.  A panel of experts identified challenges facing their cultures in modern Turkey.  The speakers also explored the European Union integration process’s effect on cultural rights in Turkey.  Other participants included representatives from the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), media, academia, civil society organizations, and foreign embassies.  

Zafer Uskul, a member of parliament with the Justice and Development Party and Chair of the TGNA Human Rights Commission, opened the discussion.  Uskul acknowledged the importance of recognizing cultural rights in Turkey, classifying them under the umbrella of general human rights.  He traced present day obstacles to cultural groups to early nationalist efforts instituted during the foundation of the Turkish Republic.  Originally used to generate a single national identity, these efforts also contributed to the marginalization of minority groups such as Kurds, Orthodox Greeks, Alevis, and others.  One example was a ban placed on broadcasting and correspondence in languages other than Turkish.  

Despite recent legislative efforts to improve the status of cultural minorities, such as lifting language bans, Uskul emphasized that further efforts would be needed to bolster the rights of Turkey’s cultural groups and urged the media to take greater responsibility in raising awareness to the hardships of minorities.

The panel included Akın Birdal, Democratic Society Party; Kazim Genc, General Secretary for the Alevi-Bektashi Federation; Yorgo Istefanopulos, Dean of the Engineering Faculty at Isik University; and Emre Gonen, Director of European Studies at Bilgi University. 

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