Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has outlined a long-awaited package of proposed human rights reforms.
Erdogan announced the government’s reform plan at a press conference in Ankara on September 30, saying, “This is a historic moment, an important stage.”
Some of the proposals are aimed at improving the rights of Kurds and other minorities in the country.
Erdogan said the proposed reforms will allow for instruction in languages other than Turkish in non-state schools.
Turkey may also reduce the threshold for a political party to enter parliament — or even eliminate the barrier completely. The current voting system sets the bar at 10 percent, preventing Kurdish and other smaller parties from entering parliament.
He said towns will be allowed to take Kurdish rather than Turkish names.
The reforms are seen as a key step in the Kurdish peace process. The three-decade-old conflict between the government and Kurdish rebels has cost more than 40,000 lives. Kurds are said to make up some 20 percent of Turkey’s population.
Earlier this month, the rebels announced that they were suspending their pullout into bases in northern Iraq, accusing the Turkish government of not making good on promises to enact reforms to improve Kurdish rights. There has been no reaction yet to Erdogan’s latest announcement.
The package is also seen as crucial for Erdogan’s political prospects as he faces local, general, and presidential elections in the next two years.
Erdogan said Turkey also planned to end a ban that bars women from wearing the Islamic-style head scarf in state institutions, a long-standing goal of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The new rules, however, will not apply to the judiciary or the military.
Muslim but secular Turkey has long had tough restrictions on garments worn by women working in state offices.
Erdogan also announced plans to return monastery property belonging to Syriac Christians that was seized by the state.