Wed, Sep 30, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Ankara faces tough domestic fight on Armenia, Kurds

AFP , ANKARA

Turkey’s government has won international praise for efforts to end a bitter dispute with Armenia and expand rights for Kurds, but a fierce battle is brewing at home over the highly charged issues.

Parliamentary sources said the government will put the two issues before lawmakers soon after they resume legislative work on Tuesday — five days after parliament re-opens. But it will have a tough time winning over opposition parties that have already raised objections to both projects.

For Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two issues are of utmost importance to the nation’s standing on the international arena, but they could also cost him politically at home.

His government has been accused at home of making concessions that damage Turkey’s interests and of selling out Azerbaijan, which is locked in conflict with Armenia over the breakaway enclave of Nagorny Karabakh.

Turkey has long refused to establish diplomatic links with Armenia over Yerevan’s efforts to have World War I-era massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks recognised as genocide — a label Turkey rejects.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were systematically killed between 1915 and 1917, and the massacres have been recognized as a genocide by France, Canada and the European parliament.

Reconciliation between Ankara and Yerevan would bolster Turkey’s bid to join the EU, as would a government plan to introduce measures to boost the rights of the Kurdish minority and erode support for a campaign by Kurdistan Workers’ Party rebels for self-rule.

The government remains tight-lipped on the contents of the package, but media reports say it may include steps to lift restrictions on teaching Kurdish in schools, renaming Kurdish villages that have Turkish names and allowing campaigning in Kurdish. Ankara could also open the way for the return of some 12,000 Turkish Kurds exiled in northern Iraq. Kurdish activists, on the other hand, want the government to recognize the Kurdish identity and culture in the Constitution, a proposal that Erdogan has rejected.

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