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Owner of cafe offering service only in Kurdish detained in SE Turkey

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A cafe owner in the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakır was detained following a police raid on his café after he was targeted on social media for offering service only in the Kurdish language in his cafe, the Erbil-based Rudaw news website reported.

Ramazan Şimşek, owner of the Pine Café, was detained on Wednesday morning after his café was raided by officers from the Diyarbakır Police Department.

Şimşek had announced in a video circulating on social media that service would only be offered in Kurdish in his café. He said he made the decision to promote the use of the Kurdish language, which is widely spoken in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

The café’s employees began to communicate with customers in Kurdish on May 15, marked as Kurdish Language Day.

In remarks to Rudaw, Şimşek said customers are free to speak whatever language they want but that café employees reply only in Kurdish. He said Turkish-speaking customers are also welcome at the café and suggested that they can learn some Kurdish before visiting.

Şimşek has come under fire on social media, with some accusing him of banning the use of Turkish at his café.

His detention took place based on several notices sent to the Diyarbakır police.

Until EU reforms in the early 2000s, the Kurdish language faced harsh restrictions in Turkey due to the country’s refusal to acknowledge the Kurds as a minority group.

Unlike the Greeks, Armenians and Jews, who enjoy certain cultural rights and autonomy under the Treaty of Lausanne, which laid the foundations of the Turkish Republic, the Kurds are still denied official recognition despite being the country’s largest minority.

In recent years, particularly since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political alliance with the far-right nationalists and a failed coup in July 2016 that triggered a widespread crackdown on the Kurdish political movement, there have been significant rollbacks in terms of the liberties granted for the use of the Kurdish language including the closure of dozens of Kurdish-language media outlets.

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