ISTANBUL – A prominent Kurdish lawmaker gave a speech in his native Kurdish in Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday, breaking taboos and also the law in Turkey, a country that has long repressed its Kurdish minority for fear it would try to secede.
Turkey’s state television cut off the live broadcast of the official, Ahmet Turk, as he spoke to members of his political party, the Democratic Society Party, or D.T.P. It was the second time in recent history that a speech was delivered in Kurdish in Turkey’s parliament. In 1991, Leyla Zana spoke her native language when she was sworn in as a deputy. She had immunity as a lawmaker, but it was later stripped and she served 10 years in prison on other Kurdish-related charges.
Turkey has a troubled past with its Kurds, who make up at least a fifth of its population. The Turkish military fought a war with a Kurdish militant group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., in the predominantly Kurdish southeast in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The area was subsequently governed by martial law and speaking Kurdish was prohibited.
The violence has decreased dramatically, and Kurdish is no longer banned as a language, but its public use at rallies, on fliers, or in ads is still illegal. Kurdish officials like Mr. Turk have been trying to push the boundaries of those rules.
"Being multi-lingual is a richness," Mr. Turk said in Turkish, before he switched to Kurdish. "Protecting this richness, keeping it alive, is a requirement of this era."
He said he wanted to speak his native language in honor of a United Nations holiday celebrating world languages, and because "meaningless oppression and prohibitions on Kurdish persist."
Mr. Turk has diplomatic immunity as a lawmaker, but he still took a risk by speaking Kurdish publicly. At least three court cases are pending against him, and his political party is under threat of closure after prosecutors opened a case against it last year, accusing it of separatism.
Nationalists were horrified by Mr. Turk’s use of Kurdish, saying that languages other than Turkish threaten the unity of the country.
"The most important quality of a society that makes it a nation is language," said Cihan Pacaci, the general secretary of the National Action Party, according to Turkey’s state-run Anatolian News Agency.
"If you destroy the language unity, you meant to have destroyed the unity and togetherness of the nation itself."
Though the speech was presented as a rights struggle by Mr. Turk – who has been in parliament for a year and a half but had never before spoken Kurdish – some here saw it as an attempt by the Kurdish party to win votes in the southeast.
Turkey will hold nationwide municipal elections on March 29, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have competed aggressively with Mr. Turk’s party for the Kurdish vote.
"This looks like a move for the local election," said Rusen Cakir, a political analyst speaking on NTV, a private television network.
He said the Kurdish party seemed threatened by the government’s efforts to increase language freedoms. On a recent trip to the region, Mr. Erdogan spoke some words in Kurdish, promoting the fact that his administration had allowed Kurdish programming on Turkish TV, a point not missed by Mr. Turk, who asked why he should be banned, if Mr. Erdogan was not.
Mithat Sancar, a law professor at Ankara University, defended Mr. Turk, arguing that Mr. Erdogan had also been using the Kurdish issue to profit politically.
Raising culture issues is "a perfectly legitimate way to contribute to an election campaign," he said by telephone from Ankara, Turkey’s capital. He said Mr. Erdogan’s party’s practice of giving out free refrigerators to win votes was more questionable.