I take this opportunity to raise the issue of the basic civil rights of two repressed nationalities, namely, the Kurdish people and the very small nation of Chechnya. In past centuries, when we lived under the depths of a repressive regime, our ancestors found it inspiring that people in other lands at least raised the key issues and key sufferings of our people.
More than 30% of the Republic of Turkey is the homeland of the Kurdish people who now number in the region of 20 million of just over 60 million in the Turkish State. For most of the history of modern Turkey, from 1922 to 1925, the Kurdish people have been repressed in cultural and linguistic terms in relation to their rights to broadcast and free assembly. Like ourselves, in the lead up to the Treaty of Versailles, they expected to have an independent Kurdistan or, as they were promised by Kemal Ataturk, the rights of autonomy of, say, Scotland within the United Kingdom. After 1925 they were cruelly disabused of this. I raised the issue earlier in the Dáil with the Minister, Deputy Cowen. Obviously, in recent years, Turkey has had a European destiny, which I welcome. Eventually it will be a sister state of ours. However, it is vitally important for Ireland to ensure that as the accession protocol is worked through, the demands we make in relation to the civil, political, religious and other rights of the Kurdish people of the Turkish state are fully realised.
The new Government of Tayip Erdogan and his justice and development party have promised major reforms. While they have abolished the death penalty and lifted some of the restrictions on broadcasting in the Kurdish language, the position for Kurdish civil society is very difficult. Up to 2004, when the Taoiseach will make a decision on Turkey, we must insist that the rights of the Kurdish people are recognised, at least on the basis of an autonomous state, which they were promised. Kurdistan is the great nation of Saladin. It has a glorious mediaeval 3000 year history like ours. Following the horrible war in Iraq, there may be the development of an autonomous Kurdish homeland in Iraq. It is important that the Kurdish people of Turkey also get freedom.
I want to turn to the situation in Chechnya. This is a very small country and territory within the Russian Federation. It is approximately the size of Munster with a population of one million people. The Danish human rights and refugee body which is active in the country estimates that there are only 750,000 Chechnyans in their homeland at the moment. Just like Turkey, Russia has a great European destiny, one of the greatest centres of European civilisation. I welcome the achievements of the Russian people in the 20th century, including the massive impact they had, particularly in defeating fascism, and the strides that have been made under President Putin. It must be said, however, that a ferocious and savage war has been fought in Chechnya. There has been a recent referendum to try to establish a normal civil state. The powers given to the Chechnyan people are still extremely limited. The President can be dismissed at will by the Russian President.
If the Russian Federation is to develop into a real federation on the basis of the United States or Germany, it is crucial that the Chechnyan people get their full civil rights and that the policies and brutal campaigns carried out during the 1990s are discontinued. It is estimated that at least 5,000 young Russian men and women died in these battles, some 250,000 people have been displaced and there has been intense suffering. There was the horrendous seizure of the theatre in Moscow when 129 innocent people died and the administration building in Grozny was blown up.
It is crucial that our small country is prepared to say to a sister European country, a joint federation of 145 million people, that we are not happy about the events which have taken place in Chechnya in the past ten years and that we expect a European state to behave in a democratic way.