CASE OF OKÇUOĞLU v. TURKEY (Application no /94) JUDGMENT STRASBOURG 8 July 1999 This judgment is subject to editorial revision before its reproduction in final form in the official reports of selected

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CASE OF OKÇUOĞLU v. TURKEY (Application no /94) JUDGMENT STRASBOURG 8 July 1999 This judgment is subject to editorial revision before its reproduction in final form in the official reports of selected judgments and decisions of the Court. In the case of Okçuoğlu v. Turkey, The European Court of Human Rights, sitting, in accordance with Article 27 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ( the Convention ), as amended by Protocol No. 11 1, and the relevant provisions of the Rules of Court 2, as a Grand Chamber composed of the following judges: Mr L. Wildhaber, President, Mrs E. Palm, Mr A. Pastor Ridruejo, Mr G. Bonello, Mr J. Makarczyk, Mr P. Kūris, Mr J.-P. Costa, Mrs F. Tulkens, Mrs V. Strážnická, Mr M. Fischbach, Mr V. Butkevych, Mr J. Casadevall, Mrs H.S. Greve, Mr A. Baka, Mr R. Maruste, Mr K. Traja, Mr F. Gölcüklü, ad hoc judge, and also of Mr P.J. Mahoney and Mrs M. De Boer-Buquicchio and Deputy Registrars, Having deliberated in private on 11 March 1999 and 16 June 1999, Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the last-mentioned date: PROCEDURE 1. The case was referred to the Court, as established under former Article 19 of the Convention 3, by the European Commission of Human Rights ( the Commission ) on 17 March 1998, within the three-month period laid down by former Articles 32 1 and 47 of the Convention. It originated in an application (no /94) against the Republic of Turkey lodged with the Commission under former Article 25 by a Turkish national, Mr Ahmet Zeki Okçuoğlu, on 15 March The Commission s request referred to former Articles 44 and 48(a) of the Convention and to Rule 32 2 of Rules of former Court A 3. The object of the request was to obtain a decision as to whether the facts of the case disclosed a breach by the respondent State of its obligations under Articles 6 1, 10 and 14 of the Convention. 2. In response to the enquiry made in accordance with Rule 33 3 (d) of Rules of former Court A, the applicant stated that he wished to take part in the proceedings and designated Mr S. Okçuoğlu of the Istanbul Bar as the lawyer who would represent him (former Rule 30). Mr R. Bernhardt, President of the Court at the time, subsequently authorised the applicant s lawyer to use the Turkish language in the written procedure (former Rule 27 3). 3. As President of the Chamber which had originally been constituted (former Article 43 of the Convention and former Rule 21) in order to deal in particular with procedural matters that might arise before the entry into force of Protocol No. 11, Mr R. Bernhardt, acting through the Registrar, consulted the Agent of the Turkish Government ( the Government ), the applicant s lawyer and the Delegate of the Commission on the organisation of the written procedure (former Rules 37 1 and 38). Pursuant to the order made in consequence, the Registrar received a letter in lieu of a memorial from the applicant on 27 July 1998 and the Government s memorial on 24 August. On 29 September the Government produced documents as appendices to their memorial and on 14 October the applicant lodged a document in support of his claims for just satisfaction (Article 41 of the Convention). 4. After the entry into force of Protocol No. 11 on 1 November 1998 and in accordance with Article 5 5 thereof, the case was referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. On 22 October 1998 Mr Wildhaber had decided that, in the interests of the proper administration of justice, a single Grand Chamber should be constituted to hear the instant case and twelve other cases against Turkey, namely: Karataş v. Turkey (application no /94); Arslan v. Turkey (no /94); Polat v. Turkey (no /94); Ceylan v. Turkey (no /94); Gerger v. Turkey (no /94); Erdoğdu and Đnce v. Turkey (nos /94 and 25068/94); Başkaya and Okçuoğlu v. Turkey (nos /94 and 24408/94); Sürek and Özdemir v. Turkey (nos /94 and 24277/94); Sürek v. Turkey no. 1 (no /95); Sürek v. Turkey no. 2 (no /94); Sürek v. Turkey no. 3 (no /94) and Sürek v. Turkey no. 4 (no /94). 5. The Grand Chamber constituted for that purpose included ex officio Mr R. Türmen, the judge elected in respect of Turkey (Article 27 2 of the Convention and Rule 24 4 of the Rules of Court), Mr. Wildhaber, the President of the Court, Mrs E. Palm, Vice-President of the Court, Mr M. Fischbach and Mr J.-P. Costa, Vice-Presidents of Sections (Article 27 3 of the Convention and Rule 24 3 and 5 (a)). The other members appointed to complete the Grand Chamber were Mr A. Pastor Ridruejo, Mr G. Bonello, Mr J. Makarczyk, Mr P. Kūris, Mrs F. Tulkens, Mrs V. Stráznická, Mr V. Butkevych, Mr J. Casadevall, Mrs H.S. Greve, Mr A.B. Baka, Mr R. Maruste and Mrs S. Botoucharova (Rules 24 3 and 5 (a) and 100 4). On 19 November 1998 Mr Wildhaber exempted Mr Türmen from sitting after his withdrawal from the case having regard to the decision of the Grand Chamber in the case of Oğur v. Turkey taken in accordance with Rule On 16 December 1998 the Government notified the registry that Mr F. Gölcüklü had been appointed ad hoc judge (Rule 29 1). Subsequently Mrs Botoucharova, who was unable to take part in the further consideration of the case, was replaced by Mr K. Traja, the first substitute judge (Rule 24 5 (b)). 6. On 11 March 1999 the Grand Chamber decided not to hold a public hearing in view of the material on the case file and the fact that the applicant and the Government had said that they did not require one (Article 31 (a) of the Convention and Rules 31, 59 2 and 71). AS TO THE FACTS I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE 7. Mr Ahmet Zeki Okçuoğlu is a Turk of Kurdish origin and was born in He lives in Istanbul and works as a lawyer. 8. In May 1991, a magazine, Demokrat (Democrat), published in its issue no. 12 an article on a round-table debate it had organised under the chairmanship of Mr M.Đ.S. in which the applicant had taken part. The applicant s comments were recorded in the article, entitled The past and present of the Kurdish problem (Kürt Sorununun Dünü ve Bugünü), as follows: M.Đ.S. Leaving aside the humanitarian side to the current tragic plight of the Kurds in Iraq, there are important political aspects to the problem, the main one perhaps being the intensification, with the crisis in the Gulf, of relations at international level between the Kurdish movements. At this stage, one question needs to be asked: what did we hope to gain from the relations established with the United States and the European States and what have we in fact achieved?... If you would allow me to, I should like to return to the question... of the orchestrating of developments in the regional situation, mainly by the United States and the West,... Mr Okçuoğlu, could I ask you to frame your answer in the context of the unitary State? A.Z. Okçuoğlu Your question is badly put. It involves certain ideological considerations. Before answering, I think I should explain what the Kurdish question is about. It concerns a nation of some 40,000,000 people, one which has existed in the region since history began and one which has, in company with the other nations established here, played a major role historically; but it is also a nation which has, since the beginning of this century and under the influence of the international and regional powers, been deprived of its national rights, seen its territory divided up between the States in the region and been divested of its sovereign rights so as to be subjected instead to the hegemony of other States. If we are to make progress on this question, that must be the starting point. Admittedly, that does not mean to say that a radical solution to the problem will be found from one day to the next. Coming back to your question... the idea that the Kurdish problem has been fuelled by outside forces, by imperialist powers, is not new. For about a century some observers have seen the problem in those terms. The underlying reasons may be summarised as follows. Firstly, there are the concerns of the nations which keep the Kurds under their domination. From the beginning, those powers have attempted to assert that the problem is that the Kurds are not a national entity, have no claims of their own and are manipulated by outside forces. Their aim, then, is to prevent international powers intervening in the problem and to cast doubt on its legitimacy and to distract attention from it. There is also the international socialist movement and the doctrine of imperialism which prevails in such circles. As you know, the Soviet Union was akin to an empire in the classic sense. The Soviet Government has always been against the Kurds as it considered that, if it the Kurds were given certain rights, the nations it controlled by force would inevitably also assert claims, and discussion of such issues at the international level would render its networks less inaccessible. That is why the Soviets have since the days of Lenin consistently sided with the powers who have kept the Kurds under their domination and why the local socialist satellite powers have invariably put forward similar arguments. Given the negative attitude of these socialist powers towards the Kurds, the relationship between the sovereign power of the former and the official ideology of the latter has also played a role. That attitude was reinforced by the Soviet position. Soviet ideology is in itself an ideology of the sovereign nation. In that regard, the ideology of Soviet sovereignty and the Turkish national ideology as applied in the region were at one. However, the said doctrine of imperialism does not end there. After the seventies, the Kurds, under the influence of Soviet and Chinese socialist propaganda, whether consciously or subconconsciously, adopted the same tack. That led the Kurdish movement into a series of dead ends. The allegation that the Kurdish problem arose as a result of provocations from outside is ill-founded. If one has to speak of imperialist protectionism in the Middle East, it will be noted that it has been of no benefit to the Kurds, whereas, shielded by the imperialist powers concerned, the Turks, the Arabs and the Persians have done quite well. If the British had not intervened in favour of the Ottomans in the Crimean War, the Russian Tsar would have expurgated the Ottoman State from the history books and would have seized the Byzantine heritage. Contrary to what is suggested by some left-wing historians, the imperialists tried to save the sick man rather than to kill him. That applies to the Arabs, too. Up till now, the only people in the Middle East if you except the Palestinians who have fought for their national rights are the Kurdish people. The Turks, Arabs and Persians have not fired a single bullet for their national rights. Not a shot was fired when the British invaded the Ottoman State in The so-called war of independence was merely a consequence of an historical conflict between the Greeks and the Turks. The question of who was right is a controversial one. The resistance against the French, launched at Antep and Urfa, was Kurdish. More precisely, it was Turco-Kurdish resistance that developed under the aegis of the local authorities. It was the spontaneous resistance of the people. Neither the Turkish army nor the political authorities played any part in it. The Kurds have fallen behind in obtaining their national rights not, as is suggested in certain quarters, because they are dependent on external powers, but, on the contrary, because they have failed to forge international relations and because the international powers have refused them admission. While the Kurdish problem is the problem of the Kurds, its solution is also of concern to the regional and international powers as it directly affects their interests. The question cannot be dealt with using concepts, such as imperialism, anti-imperialism, socialism and anti-socialism, that bear scant resemblance to the true position. You cannot say: It s our problem. You, the United States, England, the Soviets, the Turks, don t interfere; you, the Arabs, the Persians, stay out of this. We must solve the problem with all those whose interests are at stake. With or without their help. There, too, it has to be said that of all the parties involved in the Kurdish problem, it is the Kurds who have taken the least initiative. So, the Kurds must be realistic. As the question concerns their existence and is posed at a time when their efforts have been minimal, it would be foolhardy to attempt to solve the problems by denying that initiatives have been taken or opposing them. In practice, the Kurds must on this point work out how and to what extent they can play a bigger role in finding a solution to the problem. That would be the practical approach.... M.Đ.S. I wouldn t want you to take what I said the wrong way. I do not suggest that the Kurdish revolt is dependent on imperialist factors. All I say is that the countries in the region do not have the resources to solve the problems that exist here by themselves. Accordingly, the continued presence of the international powers seems likely. Under those circumstances, how can the Kurds play a greater role? A.Z. Okçuoğlu Firstly, when considering the Kurdish problem the international powers are mindful of their own interests. We have to be aware of that and determine where our common interest lies. There are a number of nations like the Kurds in the world. Although the United Nations Charter and the fundamental treaties refer to peoples right to self-determination, it is not in practice accepted that that right applies to the Kurds, any more than it is accepted that it applies to a series of other nations. Such nations only manage to obtain certain humanitarian and cultural rights that do not extend beyond the boundaries of the countries in which they live. None of them have been able to achieve more than that. The problems of peoples confined to minority status cannot readily be referred to and resolved without taking this factor into account. All the boundaries need changing, but that is very difficult to achieve. For that reason, I believe that the Kurds have committed an error of judgement. By that I do not mean that they must accept their present status right to the bitter end. If they wish to enter the history books, they have to be aware of the international implications their presence entails. I would add that I attach no credit to the idea that the Kurds have been deceived or sold. Recently, the United States cautioned them to act with restraint; they broke off their relations with Talabani and turned down all his requests for arms. In my view, the Kurds have committed an error of judgement. They have adopted a quite radical approach, one for which the organisations of Iraqi Kurdistan cannot be held responsible. The Kurds, believing Saddam to be finished, attempted to rise up spontaneously in reaction to the oppression to which they have been subjected for years. Barzani and Talabani, in company with the other Kurdish leaders, were forced to accept that process. We are not strong enough to face the likes of America, France, the Soviets or a Saddam exhausted to the point where he is no longer able to stay on his feet. We have to examine the problem in the light of these realities. The urgent need is to ensure the democratic unity of the Kurds. We must abandon the notion of hostility. No side is strong enough to destroy the other and in any event there is no reason to come to that. Our relations should be friendly, not hostile. Similarly, when we forge relations with the western powers, it is necessary and even essential to afford preference to national values.... For my part, I am opposed to the definition of primitive nationalism that has often been asserted in recent times. The use of such terminology sometimes reveals a lack of discernment. Nationalism takes two known forms. The first is that of the oppressor nation, the second that of the nation that is oppressed. Beyond that, scientific research into nationalism has not come up with any other definition. It is difficult to know what the notion of primitive nationalism covers: does it dismiss nationalism wholesale or does it suggest another form of nationalism? It is unclear. Besides, this terminology is unscientific, of no value and merely serves to reflect certain absurd political preoccupations. I do not subscribe to the theory that the Kurds lack of success is due to primitive nationalism. In fact, it is not the Kurds who are responsible for their lack of success. The reasons for it are to be found in the international status of the Kurds. A number of nations in the world are in the same position as the Kurds. None of them has had, up till now, an opportunity to draw its own frontiers, whether by force of arms or otherwise. How can we expect the Kurds to be given an opportunity that has been offered to no other nation? Let us take the example of Lithuania. The Lithuanians had organised a referendum on the question of their independence and had subsequently declared themselves independent by an overwhelming majority. Yet when the United States gave their approval, the Soviets invaded with tanks. Lithuania was isolated. We have to speak therefore with the benefit of hindsight. Since the beginning of the century the struggle has continued in Iraqi Kurdistan. The only people engaged in combat in the Middle East are the Kurdish people. Despite that, their position has not improved at all. The Kurds will certainly find a solution to their problem, but one must be aware that the factors coming into play do not depend solely on the Kurds. I should now like to clarify the notion of nationalism about which so much has been said. As you know, nationalist movements began in the west with the French Revolution and subsequently spread to Asia and Africa. The colonies were freed as a result of nationalism. However, the issue of nationality remains alive. There continue to be peoples who have been deprived of their national rights. If they are to be freed they must show nationalist sentiment. The fact that nationalist movements attract an imprecatory reaction from those whom they cause to suffer is understandable. Conversely, it is impossible to comprehend why people who claim to be on the side of the oppressed, who call themselves revolutionaries or innovators, should react in a similar fashion. The nationalism of the oppressed nation cannot be considered to be a usurpation of the rights of another nation. On the contrary, I believe that internationalism in the modern sense is inherent in nationalism. I do not approve of lumping together all kinds of nationalism, without being aware of the difference between the nationalism of the oppressor nation and the nationalism of the nation that is oppressed. If you ignore that difference, then you are serving the cause of the oppressor nation. Why do Turkish socialists, who outlaw Kurdish nationalism, not take a look at themselves? They defend the staunchest nationalism of all time, namely Kemalism, yet they ban Kurdish nationalism. Prohibiting an oppressed nation from being nationalistic is to condemn it to slavery. My friend S. consistently holds the same line. His politics are always reactionary. The Kurds may react, but building a policy on the back of that reaction will not achieve much. In politics, one doesn t have friends or enemies, one has interests. Furthermore, politics is the art of seeking the feasible. Is the position of people who criticise advocates of autonomy and of Kurdish independence any different from that reached by the Kurdish national movement in Iraq? Not at all. In Turkey, too, some benefit has been gained, but not from policies geared towards independence. Those in favour of independence may on occasion agree voluntarily to limit their demands saying: Decree a general amnesty, allow us to get organi
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