Turkish president visits Kurdish area

ISTANBUL – The Turkish President Abdullah Gül is paying a visit to Diyarbakir, the biggest city in the southern southeast of the country, on the last two days of the year. It’s hoped that Gül can ease the rising tensions over the Kurdish question. He will also appear live on Kurdish language state-owned TV station TRT6, and is expected to say a sentence in Kurdish.

Gül paid a visit to Diyarbakir once before, in 2007, just after he was elected President. He himself says there is nothing special about the two day trip: he considers it just another visit to a region in Turkey. However, over the last two weeks debate about the Kurdish issue has become heated again, after an umbrella organisation of Kurdish organisations presented a plan for an autonomous Kurdish region within the Turkish state.

Immediately pleas were made to close down the pro-Kurdish party BDP, part of the umbrella organisation. The National Security Council, an influential group of military and government politicians, declared this week that Turkish is the one and only official language of Turkey. The army also spoke out firmly against the plan.

In the meantime politicians in the southeast have already started putting part of the plan into practice, for example by replacing Turkish signs on municipal buildings with bilingual signs.

Kurdish leaders hope that Gül will point out during his visit that the Kurdish question has to be solved by democratic means. There is realism too: the Turkish President has a mainly ceremonial function, so he has no power to declare any new plans. And whatever Gül says, it will not make the polarisation around the topic magically disappear.

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