Law allowing use of Kurdish in court goes into effect

Government defends new provision amid criticism.

By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 30/01/13

* denotes required field.

  • Button

The parliament overwhelmingly approved a law that gives Kurds the right to use their native language in the court system, formally granting a key demand that was raised in last year's hunger strike by Kurdish prisoners.

  • A crowd gathers outside the Diyarbakir courthouse during a hearing in the KCK case. A new law allows defendants to present testimonies in languages other than Turkish. [AFP]

    A crowd gathers outside the Diyarbakir courthouse during a hearing in the KCK case. A new law allows defendants to present testimonies in languages other than Turkish. [AFP]

The new arrangement, which allows defendants to hire translators in order to testify in the language they feel most comfortable speaking, was adopted as part of a 13-article amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code and the Law on Execution of Penalties and Security Precautions. The measure was supported by 238 legislators, mainly from the AKP and BDP, while 41 opposition deputies voted against it.

In an immediate sign of the law's application, a court allowed Batman Mayor Nejdet Atalay, a suspect in the Diyarbakir KCK trial, to defend himself in Kurdish at a hearing last week even before the new legal regulations were published in the official gazette. Mustafa Yildiz, Atalay's lawyer, translated the testimony into Turkish.

Ahmet Aydin, head of the AKP group in parliament, told SES Türkiye the bill brings Turkey closer to democratic standards in European countries.

"Giving the right to defend oneself in his mother language is humane and democratic," he said.

The law, which was adopted amid fresh talks between the government and PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, was drafted in response to demands raised during last year's hunger strike, fueling hope it could lead to compromise in political negotiations.

Kurdish was officially banned in Turkey until 1991, even as Turkey granted Greek, Armenian and Jewish minorities the opportunity to receive education in their own languages.

Since the accession of the AKP, restrictions on the language have been eased. A state-run TV channel broadcasts in Kurdish 24 hours a day and elective courses in the language are offered at schools. But Kurds who knew Turkish were still forced to offer court testimonies in Turkish, causing some high-profile political cases to become deadlocked.

Vahap Coskun, a law professor at Dicle University in Diyarbakir, described the law as "an important step" overall, although he criticised the measure for allowing use of Kurdish only at certain points in the legal process.

"Only in two stages can suspects use their mother language: during the announcement of indictment and the consultation on the merits. However, at the police station or during prosecution, they will be unable to express themselves in another language [aside from Turkish]," he told SES Türkiye.

He added that defendants "have to pay for the translators if they desire to use their rights according to the law."

"This [provision] is against democracy and justice," Coskun said. "It puts the suspects in a hard choice between using their mother language and damaging the family budget, which one perhaps might not be able to pay back for years in this poor part of the country."

Lawmakers said that the law is written to require defendants to pay for their own translators so that it would not be misused to draw out court proceedings.

Others, such as MHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Oktay Vural believe the law goes too far. He told SES Türkiye the new bill "legitimise[s] the sovereignty of terror" and amounts to accepting a request from the PKK on the eve of a series of hearings in KCK trials.

According to Vural, the bill is a sign that "the judicial language in the country is changing."

The AKP's Aydin, however, insisted that changing the official language of the judiciary is "out of question," adding that the government will not provide free translation services for individuals who know Turkish but prefer to speak another language in court.


Do you like this article?



Subscribe to our newsletter and receive our latest published articles in your inbox.

We welcome your comments on SES Türkiye's articles

It is our hope that you will use this forum to interact with other readers across Southeast Europe. In order to keep this experience interesting, we ask you to follow the rules outlined in the comments policy. By submitting comments, you are consenting to these rules. While SES Türkiye encourages discussion on all subjects, including sensitive ones, the comments posted are solely the views of those submitting them. SES Türkiye does not necessarily endorse or agree with the ideas, views, or opinions voiced in these comments. SES Türkiye welcomes constructive discussion but discourages the use of copy-pasted materials, unaccompanied links and one-line slogans. This is a moderated forum. Comments deemed abusive, offensive, or those containing profanity may not be published.
SES Türkiye's Comments Policy
  • Anonymous about 2 years

    Very very bad.

  • Anonymous about 2 years

    How many more mother tongues will emerge? Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is making concessions to these scumbags who do not accept Turkishness. Man, what a woman that is! She’s got Tayyip wrapped around her finger.

  • Anonymous about 2 years

    Why don’t you have new reports?

  • Anonymous about 2 years

    I am extremely delighted. The government has done an excellent job. One should respect the mother tongue of one another.

  • Anonymous about 2 years

    REPUBLIC OF TURKEY Individuals have general rights of citizenship. These are not European Human Rights. Whatever is suitable for the living conditions of our people, the best of it is our right. We are the children of this country. I am defending neither a past government nor a future administration. We are fully aware of being in a strong country where everyone from children to the elderly are knowledgeable about their rights. We should not become subject to divisions while attempting to join unions. Instead of becoming a subject of the Valley of the Wolves, setting such examples before our children, we should now leave September 12 behind and move on. Let this dark day end and a new day rise. The right to defend in Kurdish for the Kurds, the right to demonstrate for the Armenians, what’s next? I am from Trabzon, we do not want specific rights, we want peace. We are a family of 3 thousand people. Our mountains are green. Instead of getting lost in those mountains, we want to breathe its fresh air. The Prime Minister, who used to say he would not forgive the ones who kill others, is now involved in what sort of negotiations? Have they turned Turkey into Kurdland, yet we don’t know about it? That rising sun should enter into our house, too. Where the sun does not come into a house, it is the doctor who could come in. We no longer have any health problems. May God bless you. I would like to ask the doctors, who are by our side in our dark times. We climb up and down the Zigana Mountain. Would this enable us to take advantage of the resentment law?… Best regards.

  • Anonymous about 2 years


  • Anonymous about 2 years

    It is certainly an important development. Respect for mother tongue means respect for people. We need to get over these. People should be able to speak the language they want. This is a richness.

  • Anonymous about 2 years

    They should give Kurds their rights. Enough with this bloodshed!

  • Anonymous about 2 years

    Whatever the prime minister does, it is accepted.

Name: Anonymous - Have your comments posted immediately!

Formatting Help Button