ANKARA (Reuters)–Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said Kurdish-language education was "unacceptable" and a campaign to bring Kurdish to Turkish classrooms aimed to erode the country’s unity in remarks published on Saturday.
The European Union–which Turkey aspires to join–urged Ankara to expand civil liberties for the country’s 12 million Kurds–but authorities fear wider cultural rights could spur restive Kurds to demand more autonomy.
Police detained more than 100 students and activists in January who signed petitions calling for Kurdish be taught in schools.
"Kurdish education is unacceptable–it’s an impossibility,"’ Ecevit said in an interview with CNN Turk television late on Friday. His commen’s were carried by several newspapers.
"This (campaign) is an order by certain circles linked to some European countries who are working to use children and youths to divide Turkey," he said.
"They can’t openly express this separatist trend (but) are slowly taking steps down that path. Turkey amended its constitution in October in a bid to meet EU political criteria and lifted a ban on Kurdish-language broadcasts and publications. Turkish remains the official language of public institutions," continued Ecevit.
Authorities said the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is behind the campaign for Kurdish-language education.
The PKK’s 17-year-long armed struggle for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast claimed more than 30,000 lives–but fighting largely ended with the 1999 capture of PKK commander Abdullah Ocalan–sentenced to death for treason.
The Constitutional Court is hearing argumen’s this month in the case to shut down Turkey’s only legal Kurdish political grouping–the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP). Prosecutors accuse HADEP of harboring ties with the PKK.
"I’ve said closing parties should not be very easy," Ecevit told CNN Turk. "One party closes and in its place another one opens. This in itself becomes a deception."
Turkey closed down more than 20 political parties since the 1960s. The recent constitutional amendmen’s made party closures tougher–requiring proof of consistent unconstitutional activities.
Ecevit said the EU’s recent list of organizations it considers "terrorist" groups should have included the PKK and the militant leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).
"Not including the PKK and DHKP-C is a big disgrace," he said.