Turkey disregards minority rights in schools

3/16/2009 3:47:00 PM

Nearly half of the children of internally displaced ethnic Kurds in Turkey are unable to attend school and other minorities face institutional discrimination in education, a report said on Monday.

Nurcan Kaya, author of the report by Minority Rights Group International, said a failure to provide equal access to education for children from non-Turkish backgrounds could hamper the country's bid to join the European Union, which has called on Turkey to expand cultural rights for its ethnic minorities.

"The discrepancy between EU standards on education for minorities and those in Turkey will ultimately affect Turkey's efforts to join the EU," Kaya said at a news conference.

"The EU should give this issue greater priority during Turkey's accession process," she said.

Turkey only recognises Greeks, Armenians and Jews as minorities under a treaty that ended World War One and doesn't afford special rights to other ethnic or religious groups, including Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of the population, Roma, Syriac Christians, Alevi Muslims and others.

Millions of Kurds over the last three decades have left the countryside in southeast Turkey for urban centres to find work and escape fighting between the army and Kurdish separatists.

Forty-eight percent of these families questioned said they were unable to send their children to school after moving, citing poverty as the main obstacle, according to the London-based NGO's report, which was funded by the EU.

Literacy rates are 73 percent in the mainly Kurdish southeast, compared to 87 percent in the country's more affluent west, the report said. Only 60 percent of women are able to read in the Kurdish region, it also said.

Turkey has eased restrictions on the Kurdish language, which was completely banned until 1991, and language courses are now available at a handful of universities.

Kurdish children, as well as other ethnic groups, who attend state school are unable to study their mother tongue, the report concluded.

Officially recognised minorities operate their own schools and are able to teach some classes in Greek or Armenian, but are given as little as $1 per student annually in financial assistance from the government, said Garo Paylan of the Armenian Foundation Schools at the news conference.

Minority schools are unable to find properly trained teachers and updated textbooks, he said. A Turkish assistant principal employed by the Education Ministry is the main authority at the schools.

Religious education that teaches the Sunni Hanafi creed of Islam remains mandatory in state schools and non-adherents can only opt out of classes if they disclose their faith, which violates Turkey's secular constitution, the report said.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled last year that religion classes in Turkey's state schools violate pluralism in a case brought by an Alevi father.