ISTANBUL – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayipp Erdogan on Monday announced political reforms aimed at strengthening democracy, including greater freedoms for the Kurdish minority and lifting a ban on wearing Islamic headscarves.
The reforms were announced months after mass protests against Erdogan’s perceived authoritarian governing style and ahead of elections next year.
They also come at a time of peace negotiations with the country’s Kurdish minority, which makes up some 20 percent of the population and is seeking more autonomy.
Under the proposed reform, private schools would be allowed to teach in Kurdish and Kurds would be allowed to give their cities Kurdish names.
The reform package also foresees the return of land expropriated from the Syrian Orthodox Church’s Mor Gabriel monastery.
Erdogan’s critics reacted with skepticism.
“This package doesn’t meet any of the expectations of the Kurdish people,” said Gultan Kisanak, co-chairwoman of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party.
The banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has warned on several occasions that the peace process was in jeopardy due to lack of concessions on the part of Ankara.
The process began after jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan announced a cease-fire in March. As part of that plan, Kurdish fighters would move to northern Iraq, which is dominated by ethnic Kurds.
The Turkish conflict, ongoing since the mid-1980s, has claimed more than 40,000 lives.