Turkish army blocks moves to Kurdish reform

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DIVISIONS are deepening in Turkey over a solution to the country's ever-bloodier Kurdish revolt as proponents of purely military suppression try to crush any talk of political reform. Heavy pressure from the Turkish armed forces and President Suleyman Demirel this week blocked hesitant steps by the Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, to debate a plan for local autonomy and cultural rights that helped defuse Basque separatism in Spain.

'Twice she has had to take back her promises. They just don't want the Kurdish problem to be even discussed,' said Remzi Kartal, spokesman for the group of 17 Kurdish nationalist deputies in the 450- seat Turkish parliament. 'Left to herself, Ciller might want to do something. But she doesn't have the strength.'

Mrs Ciller's attempt to reopen the debate on the Kurds reflects a small but persistent body of Turkish and foreign opinion in the Turkish capital, Ankara, that Turkey's Kurdish policy is heading into a bloody dead end. Nearly 2,000 people have been killed since the last golden opportunity for peace, a two-month ceasefire that collapsed amid mutual recriminations in May.

'We must not block this discussion (of political alternatives). Let's not do to Ciller what was done to (Turgut) Ozal,' wrote Hurriyet editor Ertugrul Ozkok, recalling all the obstacles that were thrown into the path of the late Turkish president's attempts at reform, including the right for Kurds to speak their own language, granted in April 1991.

Turkish officials insist there is no discrimination against the country's 12 million Kurds, about one in five of the population, of whom about half live in the mainly Kurdish south- east of the country.

Officials now speak of Turkey as an ethnic mosaic, economic programmes for Kurdish areas and decentralisation. But their response has always lagged behind events. Even setting aside unanswered questions about 60 members of the main Kurdish nationalist party murdered in the past two years, moderate Kurdish leaders now demand at least the right to Kurdish broadcasting, education and the full recognition of a Kurdish identity equal to the Turkish majority.

'It is a lie that Kurds are first-class citizens. Only if Kurds deny their origin can they do what they want,' said Melik Firat, a Kurdish parliamentarian from the ruling True Path Party, referring to senior officials of Kurdish origin, including the Foreign Minister, Hikmet Cetin.

Mr Firat - the grandson of Sheikh Said, hanged in 1925 for leading one of many Kurdish rebellions - spoke bitterly of a spurned attempt to propose some 70 Kurdish members of the Turkish parliament as a forum for discussion. 'It's like talking to a wall,' he said.

Hardline Turks and the army, which sees itself as the guardian of a unitary Turkish state set up by Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s, reject any dilution of the nation's Turkish ethnic identity. Fanned by much- publicised Kurdish rebel atrocities, the bulk of Turkish opinion is also hardening against Kurdish demands.