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Kazakstan: Turkey Fumes Over Kurdish Diplomas

A school prize-giving ceremony has sparked a row after children received certificates featuring a portrait of a notorious Kurdish leader.
By Olga Dosybieva

Kazakstan has come under fierce press criticism in Turkey after schoolchildren and their teachers were presented with diplomas decorated with a picture of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, who was sentenced to death by a Turkish court in 1999.

The media attack was led by the newspaper Internethaber, which described the incident as a "strike from Kazakstan". Another title, Sabah, saw the incident as an act of ingratitude given that Turkey was the first country to recognise its neighbour's independence in 1991.

Sabah also fumed that the gathering had sung the anthem of Ocalan's Kurdish Workers' Party, PKK, and that posters of the condemned leader had been on display.

Turkish education ministry official Bostancy Oglu was quoted as saying, "We will not leave it this way. Our foreign ministry, education ministry and embassy will meet with colleagues in Kazakstan to clear the situation."

Ocalan was found guilty of treason and condemned to death for his part in the separatist war in south-east Turkey in which more than 30,000 people died. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit granted an indefinite stay of execution in February 2000 while the European Court of Human Rights reviewed the PKK leader's appeal.

The furore has prompted the Kazak foreign affairs ministry to issue its own statement expressing regret at the reaction of the Turkish mass media.

"Responsible education officers were present at the event and there was no march performed in Kurdish. There were no posters supporting Ocalan," a May 30 statement said.

Southern Kazakstan is home to 12,000 Kurds. Their native tongue is taught to around 1,160 children from Kurdish families at 16 schools in the area, but Kazakstan denies that any of these are specifically dedicated to the Kurdish language.

The Kurdish community in the south has criticised the row. Its representative Abdi Akhmetov told IWPR, "The Turkish side has decided to turn an innocent school ceremony into a political act. The diplomas were Kazak ones and they had portraits of the Kurdish leader Ocalan inserted into them on our initiative.

"I think that there's nothing criminal about this. Ocalan is the internationally recognised leader of the Kurdish people. The outburst of the Turkish side, in my opinion, is connected with the fact that Turkey has a June 21 deadline to give a definite answer to the European Union on their solution to the Kurdish problem."

Kazak historian Igor Savin defended the education ministry officials' presence at the event. "It is quite evident that the officers at the ceremony did not intend to complicate relations between Turkey and Kazakstan or offend the feelings of the Turkish side. Most likely, they looked at the event as an ethnic and cultural ritual. It is very sad that young children are being dragged into politics," he said.

Emigrant Turkish students of the International Kazak-Turkish University in Shymkent have, meanwhile, echoed their country's anger. One said the glorification of Ocalan was akin to giving children portraits of Osama bin Laden.

However, members of the university's Kurdish society accused Ankara of interference. "Kazakstan is not a colony or province of Turkey. Turkish authorities cannot dictate to Kazak people which leaders to choose and which political views to hold," one said.

Olga Dosybieva is correspondent with the Russian news agency Interfax.

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