RestrictedAS/Cult (2006) 1617 March 2006  The cultural situation of the KurdsRapporteur: Lord Russell-Johnston, UK, ALDE  Draft record of the HearingHeld in Paris on 18 January 2006  A.  Opening of the Hearing Mr Jacques Legendre, Chairman of the Committee, opened the hearing at 2.45 p.m. and welcomed all participants. He informed them that the Committee on Culture, Science and Education had decided that the hearing would not be open to the press. The Rapporteur, Lord Russell-Johnston, had presented an outline report based on his visit to Turkey in June 2004, on a Conference entitled "the EU, Turkey and the Kurds" in the European Parliament in Brussels (November 2004), and on existing documentation. This outline, which had been discussed by the Committee in March 2005, was available. In 2004 and again in 2005 the Rapporteur had tried to go to Iran, Iraq and Syria to visit the Kurdish communities in these countries. As that had not been possible, the Committee had decided to hold this hearing to supplement the information of the Rapporteur. It would therefore concentrate on the cultural situation of the Kurds in Iran, Iraq and Syria and also in the diaspora. As Chairman he would make sure that all interventions remained within this framework. Further to the wish expressed by the Turkish delegation, two members of THE Turkish Parliament and a Turkish journalist had been invited. The members of parliament however had not come. He regretted that Ms Feleknas Uca, member of the European Parliament, and Mr Mehmet Üzün, novelist from Sweden had not been able to attend.  B.  Introduction Lord Russell-Johnston, Rapporteur, pointed out that culture was a difficult word to define. It began with language, literature, poetry but encompassed also architecture, the media and the way of living. The borderline between culture and politics was not easy to identify. There was no Kurdistan as an independent political entity and Kurdish culture was everywhere in a minority situation. He had visited Turkey, where broadcasting in Kurdish had started on state television and where Kurdish language courses were now allowed. He looked forward to hearing how Kurds from other regions regarded the way in which their culture was treated.  Cultural situation of the Kurds in Iran, Iraq and Syria Mrs Soheila Ghaderi-Mameli described the situation in Iran, based on exchanges of views she had had with cultural personalities from Iranian Kurdistan. According to 1997 official figures there were some 7 to 8 million Kurds in Iran (7% of the population). According to the opposition there were some 11 to 12 million. In Iran the Kurds were to be found in the west and northwest, bordering Turkey, Iraq and Azerbaijan but also in large cities such as Teheran and in the Khorasan area, bordering the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea. From an economic point of view these were the less developed areas in Iran. The average income was 4 USD per day in urban areas and only 1USD per day in rural areas. There was no industry. Since the times of Reza Shah (1925-1941) the official language of Iran was Persian. Legislation adopted by the Islamic republic allowed for regional languages but the authorities did nothing to implement such legislation. There were media in the Kurdish language but this was subject to censorship as any other media in the country. For instance media were not allowed to deal with political issues. Self censorship was widespread. There was no Kurdish television channel but some programmes were broadcast in Kurdish on the general channels. There were Kurdish courses in both public and private universities but in Teheran and not in the areas inhabited by Kurds. Publications by students were however forbidden. Music and folklore were thriving, as were cinema and theatre, despite the total lack of state support. Some film makers had been awarded mentions at film festivals abroad. The situation of women was one of the worst in the area: girls could get married as from the age of 9; there was polygamy, stoning and “honour crimes”. As a result suicide (in particular by immolation) rates among women were very high. Mr Gérard Gautier apologised for the absence of Mr Saywan Barzani, representative in France of the Autonomous Kurdish Government in Iraq. He knew the situation well as he had lived there from May 1999 to July 2004. There were 5 million inhabitants in Iraqi Kurdistan, the main centres of which were Dohuk, near the Turkish border, Erbil and Suleimaniya. The Kurmanji dialect was spoken in the north and the Sorany in the south. Since 1991/92 Kurds could teach their languages and, according to the Iraqi new constitution, Kurdish was now the second official language in the country. Until 2003 Kurds had not been admitted in Iraqi universities and had therefore developed their own universities. Apart from some Kurdish music groups from Iran there was very little contact with the outside world. Until recently the Kurds had no passport. Isolation was still the main problem. Mr Bachar Al Issa stated that the situation in Syria was completely different. In comparison, Iran and Iraq seemed European countries. In the 1940s there had been two Kurds Heads of State, one supreme chief of the armies and many high ranking officials. Today however there was not a single corporal in the police forces. Ever since Syria’s independence in 1946 the Kurds had been persecuted and speaking  Kurdish at school was strictly forbidden. Kurds represented around some 12% of the population of Syria and 60% of the school population in the northern areas, but they had no books or other publications and no associations. 200 000 of them had been deprived of their nationality and had no rights at all. More than 750 cities and villages had had their Kurdish names changed into Arabic. Kurdish names were not allowed either for persons or for companies. In 1972 Kurdish students had been expelled from schools, in 1986 the police had shot at a Kurdish crowd, in 1989 Kurdish music was forbidden at weddings and Kurdish intellectuals were regularly fired from their jobs. Lord Russell-Johnston asked what, apart from language, were the main cultural differences between Kurds and Iranians in Iran; what the situation was as regards so called “honour killings” in the three countries and what could the Council of Europe do to help Kurds facing cultural persecution in Syria. Mrs Ghaderi-Mameli pointed out that Kurds had no rights other than cultural in Iran. The Islamic republic was not neutral and the recent surge of Salafi fundamentalism would be a danger for democracy in the country. Life was not always easy for Sunni Moslems, as most Kurds were, in a Shia country. Satellite broadcasts in Kurdish were seen as a danger by the authorities who were on the look out for dishes. There was not a single Kurdish minister or governor in Iran. There was very little exchange with Kurds form Turkey, in spite of a common language. Honour killings were a barbaric practice which did not concern Kurds alone. It prevailed in the most backward areas of the Middle East. Economic development in Iran and elsewhere went hand in hand with the decrease of such practices. Women‘s associations were playing an important role in Iraq. Mr Gautier confirmed that honour killings were more likely to be perpetrated in isolated rural areas. The Kurdish diaspora together with foreign NGOs had a role to play in education in such areas. Mr Al Issa regretted that Kurdistan, the richest area in Syria as far as natural resources were concerned, was also the poorest area as regards public services. 90 to 95% of women were unemployed. All cultural activities were forbidden and therefore the Kurds were very keen on broadcasts from abroad, such as those provided by Roj TV.  The international community should recognise Kurdish language and culture, as Unesco had recognised the Palestinian language, as a first step to making Syria recognise Kurdish culture. Mr Coşkunoğlu asked about schools in Iran; how was language transmitted in Syria; what were the main differences with Iraq and whether Newroz (Kuridsh new year festival) was celebrated in the three countries. Mrs Ghaderi-Mameli confirmed that there were no Kurdish public schools in Iran. There was a chair on Kurdish language and literature in Teheran. Many eminent Kurdish intellectuals were unable to write in their own language. She had only learned to read and write in Kurdish at the age of 18.  After 6 years in the search of funding, work on a project for a Persian-Kurdish dictionary would hopefully start in 2006.  Mr Gautier added that many Arab words were used in spoken Kurdish. In northern Iraq there was a technology magazine in Kurdish. Mr Al Issa could not read or write in Kurdish as the language was transmitted only orally from parents to children. Newroz was a celebration for all the Kurds in every country. C. Kurdish diaspora Mr Kendal Nezan spoke about the Kurdish diaspora in France. Since 1983 the Kurdish Institute of Paris had been working for the protection and the promotion of Kurdish culture. It had been created at the moment when Kurdish refugees who wished to preserve their culture came to Europe to escape persecution in their countries of origin. Kurdish literature existed since the 7th century and Kurdish culture played an important role in the introduction of music in the Arab world and was at the origin of “flamenco”. The Institute had received grants from the governments of France, Norway and Sweden and from the European Union. Its activities included the training of Kurdish language teachers in Sweden, the training of Kurdish cultural élites, some of which played an important role in Iraq, conferences on “honour killings” and in general raising international public awareness for Kurdish issues. There were around 150 000 Kurds in France, mainly of Turkish origin. The Council of Europe should encourage Turkey into signing the European Charter on regional or minority languages. Ms Rochelle Harris spoke about Kurdish culture in the United Kingdom, where there were some 100 000 Kurds and about the cultural activities of the Kurdish Human Rights Project[1]. The Kurdish community in the UK constituted a rich fabric of cultural expression and talent from which the rest of society could benefit.  A number of significant Kurdish cultural projects had been located in the UK, and Kurds had received a degree of acceptance in mainstream culture.  Such integration could be strengthened through accurate ethnic monitoring and through the encouragement of Kurdish-language education both by educational fora and by parents, by according political rights to refugees, and through developing relationships between the Kurdish community and bodies such as the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights. Mr Metin Incesu spoke about the Kurdish diaspora in Germany, where 700 000 to 800 000 Kurds made up one of the largest immigrant groups[2]. From 70 to 80% of them had come from Turkey either as labour migrants or as refugees. Kurds were however disadvantaged in comparison with other immigrant groups as there were no teaching materials in Kurdish and most of them did not have access to radio or television programmes or to printed media. Most Germans expected immigrants to integrate into German society and not to worry too much about their cultures of origin. Mr Hugo van Rompaey spoke about the Kurdish diaspora in Belgium, where 15 000 Kurds lived[3]. The organisation that later became the Kurdish Institute of Brussels had been set up in 1978. Its current activities comprised language courses, social services, translation services and many cultural activities: Newroz celebrations, cultural excursions, exhibitions, literature, dance, music, folklore and conferences. The Institute had published 41 books, it published a bi-monthly magazine and managed a library and an information centre. During its history the Kurdish people had suffered from genocide, “ethnocide”, “linguicide” and “onomatocide”. The last three concerned culture: destruction of their identity, denial of their language and prohibition to use their names. Linguistic diversity was as important as biodiversity but was disappearing faster than biodiversity. Lord Russell-Johnston noted that the situation of Kurdish diaspora was very different from that in their countries of origin as they were free from persecution. He asked what percentages of migrant Kurds returned to their countries or stayed in Europe. How could an institution such as the Council of Europe contribute to improve the situation of Kurdish culture? Mr Walter asked whether the different diaspora communities met with one another. Baroness Hooper asked about the role of religion. Mr van Rompaey informed members that the Newroz festival was an occasion for Kurdish communities to meet. In addition there were contacts between Kurds from as far apart as Moscow, Almaty and Yerevan. Religion played a role but not an important one as Kurds were the least religious people in the Middle East. Mr Nezan added that many Kurds were now returning to Iraq but not to the other countries, where the situation was not favourable. Diaspora Kurds kept links with the places they came from. Of the European countries where they lived; Sweden was the most exemplary: there were 80 to 100 thousand Kurds in Sweden and more than 800 books in Kurdish had been published there, thanks to the support of the Swedish government.  Most Kurds were Sunni Moslems but some were Alevi, Yezidi or Shia. He agreed that the Kurds were the least fanatical in the area and indicated that this could be linked to the more important role played by women. This was however in regression as compared with the situation one century before: since then many intellectuals had disappeared without being replaced. There were more than one million Kurds in Europe and many different sensibilities co-existed. There was good cooperation between Kurdish institutes in the diaspora. Mrs Ghaderi-Mameli indicated that religion was an extremely sensitive issue in Iran, in particular since Mr Khatami had been elected president in 1997. Mr Al Issa also agreed that Kurds were not a very religious people. When he was a child his family used to visit Christian and Jewish institutions. In addition he did not know one single Kurdish mosque outside Kurdistan.  D. Kurdish literature and media Mr Manouchehr Zonoozi spoke about Kurdish media and in particular about the television channel Roj TV[4]. The first newspaper in Kurdish had been published in Turkey in the beginning of the 1990s and the first television broadcast in Kurdish took place in 1995. Roj TV started broadcasting, from Denmark, in 2004. It broadcast in four Kurdish dialects but also in Turkish, Arabic, Assyrian and Persian. He complained about the present hearing being closed to the media with Roj TV journalists not being allowed in the room. Mr Hasan Cemal had been a journalist and political commentator in Turkey for 15 years and had written a book on the Kurds. He wished to criticise Roj TV for its links with the PKK but this was clearly a political issue outside the scope of the present hearing. He wondered why he had been invited to the meeting if he was not allowed to speak about what he knew. Lord Russell-Johnston pointed out that Mr Cemal had been invited at the request of Mr Mercan, head of the Turkish delegation. Mr Jařab recalled the importance of radio broadcasting from abroad in countries under totalitarianism. Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and BBC broadcast to central and Eastern Europe had been instrumental during the communist dictatorship.  Mr Nezan informed members that Radio Free Europe broadcast 6 hours per day in Kurdish and was widely listened to, as was the BBC. Kurds were eager for reliable information and every Kurdish household, both in their countries of origin and in the diaspora, had a satellite dish. Mr Walter pointed out that the position of the Kurds was quite strong in Iraq and wondered how this influenced Kurdish culture in neighbouring countries.  Mr Nezan said that indeed the Iraqi experience was being followed with great attention and with great hope by the entire Kurdish nation. The examples of the United Kingdom, Canada and Spain had been studied in the drafting of the Iraqi constitution. Mr Zonoozi hoped that the Iraqi experience would ultimately lead to recognition of the rights of the Kurds. E. Closing of the Hearing Lord Russell-Johnston thanked all those who had taken an active part in the hearing. The Chairman concluded by saying that it was sometimes difficult to separate culture from politics. He welcomed the fact that the present hearing had succeed in concentrating on the cultural situation of Kurdish communities outside Turkey. He closed the hearing at 5.45 pm. List of participants Parliamentarians, members of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education Mr LEGENDRE, Chairman, FranceBaroness HOOPER, Vice-Chairman, United KingdomMM  JAŘAB, Vice-Chariman, Czech Repblic             CHERNYSHENKO, Russia            COŞKONOĞLU, Turkey            DALY, IrelandMrs      DROMBERG, FinlandMrs      FERNANDEZ-CAPEL, SpainMr       FREIRE ANTUNES, PortugalMrs      INCEKARA, TurkeyMM.    LENGAGNE, France            LETZGUS, GermanyMrs      LUCYGA, GermanyMM     McINTOSH, United Kingdom            MERCAN, TurkeyMrs      NĔMCOVA, Czech RepublicMM.    O’HARA, United Kingdom            de PUIG, SpainLord     RUSSELL-JOHNSTON, United KingdomMrs      SAKS, EstoniaMr       TXUEKA, Spain            WALTER, United Kingdom            ZINGERIS, Lithuania Permanent Representation:                        BILGIC, Deputy to the Permanent Representative of Turkey Invited:MM     Bachar AL ISSA, historian, painter             Hasan CEMAL, Senior Columnist, Milliyet Daily Newspaper, Istanbul                           Gérard GAUTIER, Representation of the Iraqi Kurdistan Government in France Mrs      Soheila GHADERI-MAMELI, Association of the Kurds in France        Mrs      Rochelle HARRIS, Public Relations Officer, Kurdish Human Rights Project, LondonMM.    Metin INCESU, Director of Navend (Centre for Kurdish studies) Bonn            Kendal NEZAN, Chairman of the Kurdish Institute of Paris            Hugo van ROMPAEY, Secretary of the Kurdish Institute, Brussels            Manoucher ZONOOZI, Director of Roj TV, Denmark Secretariat of the Parliamentary Assembly:MM.    GRAYSON, Head of Secretariat for Culture, Science and EducationARY, Secretary to the Committee on Culture, Science and Education            DOSSOW Co-Secretary to the Committee on Culture, Science and EducationMrs      NOTHIS, Administrative Assistant 

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[2] The full text of the communication is available (in German)

[3] The full text of the communication is available.

[4] The full text of the communication is available.