A few events in Europe and the surrounding area have once again brought the issue of minority rights, including territorial aspirations, under the spotlight.
These include the suicide bombing of Kurdish separatists in Turkey, the Nagorno Karabakh tragedy in Azerbaijan, and a request from the Spanish government that, in addition to Spanish, Catalan, Basque and Gaulish are also declared official languages of the European Union (EU).
And don’t just forget about the rise of rugby in Ireland in this context.
Although these cases have a lot in common, each group’s case is also linked to a uniqueness that should not be left out of account.
The case of the Nagorno Karabakh enclave (about which you can read more here), it concerns a significant Christian-Armenian population that lived in an enclave surrounded by Muslim Azerbaijan. They also had an unrecognized government of their own, but have now been effectively driven out and fled to Armenia.
However, Armenian history itself is one of struggle for preservation, and the current territory is only a small part of the original heartland. Armenia claims to be the oldest Christian country in the world (this is challenged by Ethiopia), and not only ceded territory to Turkey, but was subjected to a great genocide in Turkey just over 100 years ago. An Armenian unit of the Ottoman army, for example, was driven into the Black Sea to drown. Many Armenians now find themselves in diaspora, including in France and the USA.
At its height, Armenia consisted of two main areas, namely the original heartland in northeastern Turkey and present-day Armenia. A second area was established against the Mediterranean Sea where it formed a type of unity together with a few crusader countries, and among other things had close relations with the French royal house. Armenia was part of the Soviet Union and finally regained independence after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Armenian terrorists from ASALA (the Armenian secret army for the liberation of Armenia) have been attacking Turkey for quite some time, especially airlines and embassies.
What is left of the original Armenia and is quite poor, now also has to accommodate around 120,000 refugees who have lost everything.
The attack of the Kurdish separatists in Turkey stands in the same historical context of the Armenian fate at the hands of the Turks.
Kurdistan was wiped off the face of the globe with the drawing of national borders. Kurds then found themselves in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. There is also quite a lot in Syria. In Iran, Turkey and Iraq they have traditionally been subjected to severe oppression.
The Kurds speak an Indo-Germanic language, the group to which Afrikaans also belongs. However, they are also mostly Muslims, the dominant religion of the “host countries”. In Turkey, their cities’ names were Turkicized, and their language banned. In Iraq, the despot at the time, Saddam Hussein, used poison gas against the Kurds, among other things, but was found guilty and hanged for mass murders of Shiite Muslims even before he could be tried for the mass murders in Turkey.
With the American-led attack on Iraq, a de facto self-governing area was created for the Kurds in the north-east, and this was also reflected in the new constitution of Iraq. Radical groups sometimes use this “Kurdistan” as a base to carry out attacks in Turkey, and even now Turkey has responded by carrying out aerial bombardments on targets in the Kurdish region.
Turkey, which wants to become a member of the EEC, has since relaxed its restrictions on Kurds in the country, and some of the Kurdish cities have reportedly regained their Kurdish names. However, the EU’s charter of minority rights prescribes compliance with these rights in order to obtain membership. Turkey believes it has fulfilled the conditions, and is now stiffening its back because it is still not allowed as a member.
That Turkey still denies that the genocides against the Armenians and Kurds took place remains an obstacle. Moreover, the Aramean Christian minority and the gypsies also suffered this fate.
During the Franco dictatorship in Spain, minority rights were severely suppressed.
At one time, for example, there was a ban on speaking Basque. After his death, the Basques and Catalans got a lot more rights, and also regional autonomy. However, in October 2017, Catalonia demanded greater autonomy after a referendum was held. However, the Spanish courts declared the referendum unconstitutional (because it did not include all of Spain) and declared greater independence unconstitutional as well.
The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and several others who evaded prison terms have gone to live abroad. Puidemont is now, six years later, still a member of the European Parliament, and lives in exile in Brussels.
The Gallic population in Spain is less known, but they number about four million souls. They speak a Celtic language, closely related to Irish and live in the north-west of Spain, also in Portugal, and enjoy territorial autonomy in Spain.
However, the wind suddenly turned differently. The government of the current Spanish (acting) Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, first approached the “cabinet” of the EU, the European Commission, to ask that Basque and Catalan, along with Spain’s Gaulish, be accepted as official languages of the EU . The request was initially put on hold for further investigation.
The EU already has 24 official languages, which must be interpreted and translated, and is a very expensive process. Ironically, English remained one of the official languages after the United Kingdom left the EU, partly because English is an additional official language in Ireland and Malta.
At the moment, however, there is widespread speculation as to whether Sanchez’s request is that noble. The Spanish may have to hold elections again in January next year if the mix-up with coalitions that arose after the elections in July this year cannot be sorted out. The support of the Basque and Catalan parties could give him a governable majority. In the meantime, the olive branch is extended to Puidemont, among others.
However, Puidemont put his foot down. Such a thing can only be considered if he and his supporters obtain amnesty. The Standard believes that such an amnesty now “closer” come.