I Will Not Forget Helebce

It was 1988.

In 1988 we; my parents, my two sisters and I, were living in a city filled with ultra-nationalist MHP supporters in Turkey. We “were Persian” while living there as to avoid being harassed due to our Kurdish identities.

‘Kurd’ was still a swear word then and I learnt early on to protect my identity, from being exposed and expressed, but also from being exterminated and extinct.

I was 5.  I was trying not to speak when out of the house. Police were everywhere. I was told that they could hear me speak Kurdish and send us back to Iran so I kept shut and watched the police. There were so many of them everywhere.

It was still a few more months before we would come to Sweden and start a new life for ourselves.

It was a Wednesday and people were going on about their business as they would any other day except this day was the day many of them would not live to see any other days.

It was March 16th 1988, any other day everywhere else, in any other place except this was Helebce; “the Kurdish Hiroshima”, “The Kurdish wound”, “the day I lost my whole family”, “the day my body survived but my soul died”, “the day Omer Xaweri tried to protect his baby with his body but failed”.

So many names and descriptions for one city, yet not all of them. Only a few from the few that survived.

It was the day which resulted in the deaths of more than 5000 people. From one city. Of less than 80 000 people. That is 6% of the population killed painfully, slowly and coldheartedly.  I choose not to write inhumanely as who else than humans would do this to one and another, yet choose to label everything executed unsympathetically as inhumane?

I was 5, living in Turkey, being called “Persian”, having just left Iraq, waiting to go to Sweden, just witnessing one of the many tragedies experienced by the Kurdish people.

Today I am 30. Living in Sweden.

The Turkish president came to visit this past week. I was out to demonstrate against his visit. I was carrying the Kurdish colours and shouting slogans in Kurdish. I was not calling myself Persian. Police were guarding us. There were more policemen than protesters. I am used to this situation.

The Turkish president on a visit to Sweden. Sweden, which  just a few months ago announced that they recognise the Helebce genocide as genocide. People applauded. Many were happy and thankful.

Should we be? Should we forget that Sweden was one of the countries that had a direct hand in distributing the weapons used by Saddam Hussein in the attack in the first place?

Should we also forget about the use of chemical weapons by Turkey against the Kurdish guerrillas?  And the visit of the president of that country to Sweden?

Should we overlook that the Swedish MP Carl Bildt is protecting the country that is giving us the sequel to Helebce but in another region of Kurdistan?

It has been 25 years since Omer Xaweri’s baby boy died in his father’s arms. 25 years since I was hiding behind my parents trying to find an alley free from Turkish police to be able to walk home. 25 years since the pomegranate trees in Helebce stopped producing the fruit of life but the fruit of death. 25 years since the black dust and destruction silenced children singing in the alleys of Helebce.

25 years yet we are “honoured” with the label of genocide now. As that will bring them back, put the responsible behind bars, stop the use of chemical weapons used against us by others such as Turkey, stop the sale of dreadful weapons to dreadful states.

I am not ungrateful but please remind me again what I should be thankful for?

While bombs produced in the west are sold to the east and mines produced in Sweden harm children on the streets of Kurdistan, while plants growing kill animals feeding on them in Helebce.

Remind me again why I should applaud?

While police are hindering me from expressing my contempt against a state that arrests, imprisons, kills, tortures, rapes, executes and uses chemical weapons as easy as diplomatic politeness.

Remind me again why I should be happy?

Omer Xaweri with the infant he was trying to protect.

Do not forget Helebce is the reoccurring slogan this week.

I will not forget Helebce; by always fighting against use of chemical weapons, by never allowing another Helebce to occur anywhere in Kurdistan, ever again, by promising myself to shout louder next time I protest against Abdulla Gul, by promising to taste a pomegranate from Helebce at least once more before I lay my head next to Omer Xaweri for my last sleep.

25th Anniversary Commemoration of the Halabja Genocide (Washington, DC)

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The Kurdistan Regional Government Representation to the U.S. and the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law cordially invite you to the 25th Anniversary Commemoration of the Halabja Genocide
On 16 and 17 March 1988, Iraqi government airplanes, under the command of Saddam Hussein, dropped chemical weapons on the town of Halabja. Approximately 5,000 civilians, including women and children, were killed.  The horrific tragedy of Halabja was part of the genocidal Anfal campaign against Kurdistan’s civilians, which included mass summary executions and disappearances and widespread use of chemical weapons. The Anfal campaign also saw the  destruction of some 2,000 villages and of the rural economy and infrastructure. An estimated 180,000 Iraqi Kurds were killed in the campaign between 1987-1989.
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Save the date!
The morning of Friday, March 15th, 2013
  
Event to include panel discussion with genocide expert and survivors
  
At Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law,
Washington, DC
  
3600 John McCormack Road, N.E.Washington, D.C. 20017
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For more information visit: www.krg.org
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Campaigners in UK win a Parliamentary debate on the Kurdish genocide in Iraq

Campaigners win a Parliamentary debate on the Kurdish genocide in Iraq, following more than 27,000 signatures on Government e-petition

kurdishgenocide13th February 2013: It has been announced today that the British Parliament will debate a motion calling for formal recognition of the mass murder of Kurdish people in Iraq as genocide. The news follows a tireless campaign for recognition, supported by more than 27,500 British citizens, who have all signed an e-petition demanding justice for the murdered Kurds.

The debate will take place in the main chamber at 1:30pm on the 28th February. It will be based on a votable motion, the successful end result of which is that Parliament will have recognised the genocide.

The debate itself represents a significant victory for the campaign e-petition, sponsored by Nadhim Zahawi MP, which was launched in March last year in a bid to urge the British Government to debate the mass killings and recognize the truth. The campaign has since been supported throughout the year by the Kurdish community, the Kurdistan Regional Government UK Representation, and British MPs from all political parties, especially those who are members of the highly supportive All Party Parliamentary Group for Kurdistan including Robert Halfon MP, and Meg Munn MP. Together, they recently made a successful presentation to the Business Committee which allocates time for debates in Parliament.

During the presentation, Nadhim Zahawi MP told the Committee that his father was forced to flee Iraq simply because he was Kurdish and he was not willing to join the Baath party. He said that Britain has been heavily involved with the Kurdish people going back to Sykes-Picot, but more recently with Sir John Major who saved the Kurdish people with the no-fly zone and Tony Blair who is seen as the liberator of the Kurds.

Robert Halfon MP said that unless the genocide is recognised internationally, people cannot be brought to justice. Meanwhile, Meg Munn MP said that the debate would have a wider resonance given events in Syria, and Fabian Hamilton MP cited good cross-party support for a debate. Jason McCartney MP, who served as a Royal Air Force officer in the no-fly zone in Zakho, said it would be a fitting tribute to have the debate on the 25th anniversary of the chemical weapons attack on Halabja.

The Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK, Ms. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman said:
“The genocide brought unimaginable suffering to our people: families were torn apart, sons and fathers killed en masse or simply buried alive, women and children bombed with poison gas. We believe that this suffering needs to be acknowledged, not just by us Kurds and Iraqis, but by our friends too, so that the victims’ families and the survivors can reach closure and a message is sent out to any other regime oppressing its people or considering using chemical weapons. Imagine how heartened the survivors who are now British citizens would feel to be in the chamber, listening to such a debate.”

Ms. Rahman also told the committee how the Swedish and Norwegian parliaments recently debated the genocide and the Kurdish community is wondering why Britain had not yet done the same.

In January, the British Government issued a response to the e-petition which acknowledged that no group suffered more than the Iraqi Kurds. However, the Government response went on to say that It remains the Governments view that it is not for governments to decide whether a genocide has been committed in this case, as this is a complex legal question.

The debate on the 28th February may encourage the Government to change its position.

—Ends—

For further information, please contact Stephanie Blott or Helen Ayres at KRG@luther.co.uk or call 0207 618 9193.
The Government response to the e-petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014
The e-petition can be found here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014
Campaign website: http://www.justice4genocide.com/index.php

The motion to be debated is as follows:
The 25th anniversary of the Kurdish genocide and its contemporary relevance

That this House formally recognises the Genocide against the people of
Iraqi Kurdistan and encourages governments, the EU and UN to do
likewise; believes that this will enable Kurdish people, many in the
UK, to achieve justice for their considerable loss; further believes
that it would also enable Britain, the home of democracy and freedom,
to send out a message of support for international conventions and
human rights, which is made even more pressing by the slaughter in
Syria and the possible use of chemical arsenals.

Some key facts about the genocide
· The genocide of Kurdish people in Iraq began in the 1960s and continued until the late 1980s.
· In 2006, the International  Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) estimated there being 270 mass graves in Iraq containing between 10 and 10,000 bodies in each grave.
· An estimated 180,000 Kurdish people were killed between 1987 and 1988 alone during Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaign called Anfal. The true scale of the killing from the 1960s to 1990 is not yet known.
· In the 1980s, the Kurdish population was also attacked with chemical weapons. During the most vicious assault, Saddam Hussein dropped bombs containing chemical weapons on the Kurdish city of Halabja gassing as many as 5,000 men, women and children to death indiscriminately and leaving tens of thousands of people injured. They died slowly, in unimaginable pain from chemical burns. Of those who survived, many still live with painful injuries and many children are born with birth defects.
· In 1983, 8,000 men and boys of ‘battle age’ from the Kurdish Barzani tribe were rounded up on trucks and vanished. The bodies are now being discovered in mass graves. From then on, men and boys as young as 13 were targeted , driven far away from their homes in trucks and executed en masse. Many victims were tied together, made to stand on the lip of pre-dug graves and shot in the back so they would fall forward into them. Others were made to lie down in pairs, sardine-style, next to mounds of fresh corpses before being killed.  Some, who didn’t die from gun shots were then buried alive.
· Of the total Kurdish victims, an estimated 70% were men, according to Human Rights Watch
· 90% of Kurdish villages and more than 20 small towns and cities were completely destroyed during the campaign to wipe out the Kurdish population in Iraq.
· In 1993, US-based Human Rights Watch launched an extensive investigation into the attack on the Kurds by Saddam Hussein’s regime and concluded that it was genocide.
· In 2005, the court in the Hague established that the chemical bombing in Kurdistan constituted genocide in a landmark case in 2005 – the Frans Van Anraat Trial. During the Appeal, it was later referred to as ‘war crimes’.
· The Iraqi High Tribunal found Sultan Hashim Ahmad, Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, and Ali Hassan al-Majid (known as Chemical Ali) guilty of genocide in 2007.
· The research institute Swiss Peace recognized the genocide in 2008.
· In 2008 the Iraqi Presidential Council approved Resolution 26 ratifying a parliamentary resolution condemning the crimes of Saddam Hussein’s regime against the Kurds as acts of genocide. This resolution affirmed the previous parliamentary resolution that declared all acts committed against the Kurds in Iraqi-Kurdistan by the former regime were to be considered genocide.
· In March 2010, the Iraqi Supreme Court ruled that the 1988 attacks on the Kurdish population were indeed genocide.

Kurdish issues in the latest HRW World Report

hrw2013reportThis year’s Human Rights Watch World Report details events around the world from 2012. The report assessed progress on human rights during the 2012 year in more than 90 countries.

Kurdistan Commentary has selected issues relating to the Kurds from this massive 665-page report and posted them below. Turkey continues to garner to bulk of the Kurdish-related news in the HRW report, as it has in years past. In the Syria section there is no mention of the Kurds at all. That chapter is focused on abuses taking place in the ongoing civil war in Syria, with no reference to Kurdish regions. The Iran chapter contains minimal information and the Kurdistan section of the Iraq chapter focuses, as in previous HRW World Reports, on freedom of expression and female genital mutilation.

Excerpts below.

Turkey

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government maintained economic growth in 2012 despite a slowdown, and a strong focus on developing a leading regional role, but failed to take convincing steps to address the country’s worsening domestic human rights record and democratic deficit. Prosecutors and courts continued to use terrorism laws to prosecute and prolong incarceration of thousands of Kurdish political activists, human rights defenders, students, journalists, and trade unionists. Free speech and media remained restricted, and there were ongoing serious violations of fair trial rights.

Cross-party parliamentary work on a new constitution to uphold the rule of law and fundamental rights continued, although it was unclear at this writing whether the government and opposition would reach a consensus on key issues such as minority rights, fundamental freedoms, and definition of citizenship.

In March, parliament passed legislation to establish a National Human Rights Institution, and in June, an ombudsman institution to examine complaints against public officials at every level. Human rights groups criticized government control of appointments to the national institution’s board and its failure to meet the test of independence from the government that United Nations guidelines recommend.

With the AKP condoning the mass incarceration of Kurdish activists, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) escalating attacks, 2012 saw a spiraling descent into violence with armed clashes resulting in hundreds of deaths of soldiers and PKK members, significantly higher than recent years. Throughout 2012, the PKK kidnapped security personnel and civilians, including local politicians, one parliamentarian, and teachers, releasing them periodically. A suspected PKK attack in Gaziantep in August left nine civilians dead, including four children. The non-resolution of the Kurdish issue remained the single greatest obstacle to progress on human rights in Turkey.

Freedom of Expression, Association, and Assembly

While there is open debate in Turkey, government policies, laws and the administration of justice continue to lag behind international standards. The government has yet to carry out a comprehensive review of all existing laws that restrict freedom of expression, although a draft reform package was expected in late 2012 at this writing.

The so-called third judicial reform package came into force in July 2012. It ends short-term bans of newspapers and journals, which the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has criticized as censorship. The law suspends investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of speech-related offenses carrying a maximum sentence of five years that were committed before December 31, 2011, provided the offense is not repeated within three years. Critics fear the threat of reinstatement will continue to muzzle debate.

Thousands charged with alleged terrorism offenses remained in prison throughout their trials. Most of those in prison are Kurdish activists and officials of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) standing trial for alleged links to the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK/TM), a body connected with the PKK, and in general the ongoing clampdown on the BDP and Kurdish political activism intensified in 2012 with repeated waves of mass arrests and prolonged imprisonment. The trial of 44 Journalists and media workers (31 in detention) began in Istanbul in September. They are among the many journalists, students, lawyers, trade unionists, and human rights defenders imprisoned and prosecuted for association with the KCK.

There was little progress in the main Diyarbakır KCK trial of 175 defendants. The 108 defendants who have been in custody for up to three-and-a half-years include Human Rights Association Diyarbakir branch head Muharrem Erbey, six serving local BDP mayors, several local BDP council members, and five elected BDP parliamentarians.

The July reform package also introduced and encouraged alternatives to remand imprisonment pending trial. But there were no indications that courts apply this to those already held in prolonged prison detention under terrorism charges. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice from May, the most recent data available, indicated that 8,995 of the 125,000-strong prison population were charged with terrorism offenses, and that half of the 8,995 were awaiting an initial verdict.

Combating Impunity

Great obstacles remain in securing justice for victims of abuses by police, military, and state officials.

In December 2011, a Turkish airforce aerial bombardment killed 34 Kurdish villagers, many of them young people and children, near Uludere, close to the Iraqi-Kurdistan border, as they crossed back into Turkey with smuggled goods. Concerns that there had been an official cover-up were fuelled by repeated statements by the prime minister rejecting calls by media, opposition parties, and families of victims for a full explanation of the incident, lack of a public inquiry, and a protracted criminal investigation that had not concluded at this writing.

Key International Actors

Turkey’s European Union accession negotiations remained stalled. The election of France’s President François Hollande helped to improve French-Turkish relations. In October, the European Commission in its annual progress report voiced strong criticism in most areas relating to human rights, emphasizing the importance of work on a new constitution, and stressing “the Kurdish issue remains a key challenge for Turkey’s democracy.”

The United States government remains an important influence on Turkey, sharing military intelligence on PKK movements in northern Iraq.

In January, a groundbreaking report by the Council of Europe (CoE) commissioner for human rights focused on “long-term, systemic problems in the administration of justice,” and its negative impact on human rights.

In its October review of Turkey, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended reforms including amending the National Human Rights Institution law, introducing comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, and addressing the vagueness of the definition of terrorism in law and prolonged pretrial detention.

Iran

Death Penalty

In 2011 authorities carried out more than 600 executions, second only to China, according to Amnesty International. Crimes punishable by death include murder, rape, trafficking and possessing drugs, armed robbery, espionage, sodomy, adultery, and apostasy.

Authorities have executed at least 30 people since January 2010 on the charge of moharebeh (“enmity against God”) or “sowing corruption on earth” for their alleged ties to armed groups. As of September 2012, at least 28 Kurdish prisoners were awaiting execution on national security charges, including moharebeh.

Treatment of Minorities

The government restricted cultural and political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, Arab, and Baluch minorities.

Iraq

In April, Iraq’s parliament passed a law criminalizing human trafficking, but has yet to effectively implement it. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has not taken steps to implement a 2011 law banning female genital mutilation (FGM).

Freedom of Assembly

Security forces continued to respond to peaceful protests with intimidation, threats, violence, and arrests of protesters. On February 17, hundreds of security forces of the KRG surrounded a peaceful demonstration in Sulaimaniya’s Sara Square. Dozens of men in civilian clothing attacked protesters and made many arrests.

Freedom of Expression

The environment for journalists remained oppressive in 2012. The Iraqi parliament was at this writing considering a number of laws restricting the media and freedom of expression and assembly, including the draft Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration, and a draft law regulating the organization of political parties that punishes expression “violating public morals” and conveying “immoral messages.” In September, the Federal Supreme Court denied a petition by a local press freedom organization to repeal the Journalists Protection Law on the basis that it fails to offer meaningful protection to journalists and restricts access to information.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Iraq at the top of its 2012 Impunity Index, which focuses on unsolved journalist murders, and reported that there have been no convictions for murders of journalists since 2003. Iraqi authorities made no arrests for the murder of Hadi al-Mahdi, a journalist critical of the government, killed in September 2011. Another journalist, Zardasht Osman, was abducted and murdered after publishing a satirical article about KRG president Massoud Barzani in 2010. The KRG never released details of the investigation into his death.

Women’s and Girls’ Rights

In June 2011, the KRG parliament passed the Family Violence Bill, which includes provisions criminalizing forced and child marriages; abuse of girls and women; and a total ban on FGM. Implementation of the law is poor, and dozens of girls and practitioners said that they had either undergone or performed FGM since the law was passed. The authorities took no measures to investigate these cases.

To see the entire 665-page report, go to the World Report 2013 page on the HRW website.

‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadi’- Reflections on the funeral march in Paris

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There I was walking amongst the many thousands of people, Kurds and non-Kurds alike, in the funeral procession of the murdered Kurdish activists in Paris.

Unlike the majority of women, I was not in the forefront but walking with the men further back. My reason was that I wanted to be able to take more photographs and move freely at my own pace.

What I saw around me were men of all ages, shapes and heights but all with a Middle Eastern look. That look with the dark eyes and the dark hair, and then some with beards and moustaches.  All these men with that look. That look that so often faces so much prejudice.  Prejudice of being stubborn, patriarchal upholders. Prejudice of being honour killers, wife beaters and the keepers of home prisons. So much prejudice.

These are the same men who have to defend themselves every time someone, somewhere, sharing the same hair colour as theirs, does something directed at women. These are the men who were everywhere that day, who in their loud, dark voices, sending powerful vibrations into the air and through the hearts of those attending, were chanting: Jin, Jiyan. Azadi! (Women, Life, Freedom!)

The voices of those men, that chanting and that overwhelming sense of belonging to a community seize to leave me even when I shut my eyes to sleep.

I arrived home with only a dozen photos. I could not take any photos or do anything else when the march started and the flag draped coffins arrived.

I was mesmerised yet utterly sad. Crying yet unexplainably joyful. It was as if hell had broken loose but I was amongst the bravest of angels protecting me, all at once.

Thousands of men, women and children stood and chanted in one, loud, synchronized voice: Shehid namirin! (Martyrs do not die!)

The coffins were lifted onto the shoulders of mostly women and the proceedings started, heading towards the place of the memorial, which happened to be a beautiful grand hall with chandeliers gracing the ceilings.

It was most probably used as a wedding parlour normally.

Ironic I thought to myself. Here three brave, feminist women are being remembered. Three women who dedicated their lives to free the Kurdish people but fore mostly Kurdish women. Three women who did everything they could to free themselves from the shackles of patriarchy, from the limits set by society, from the prohibitions and borders set by the rulers of Kurdish lands. Now these three women are being remembered in a wedding parlour, where too often around the world powerless young women are being draped in the colour of the dead and gifted away for a loveless, and hopeless life. Ironic to say the least.

When I finally reached the door of the parlour, I regained my strength. It took strength to show my respect without letting the sad melody of people crying break me down. It took strength but it also gave strength. It was a vision to see the white walls of the parlour against the pillars draped in the purple colour of the feminists, tied together by the reds, greens and yellows of the Kurdish flag.

I walked slowly. Looked around. Took everything in. The sadness. The pride. The sense of loss and sorrow. The beautiful colours surrounding the coffins. The most beautiful of women in the photos on each one.

The emotions were in uproar and my eyes were tired of crying. The tears were falling and I soon joined the melody of the sad. Hearing Jinen Azad by Delila playing for the women outside, loud as a whisper, joining our melody, did not help the tears stop.

I left and joined the gathering outside. This time I was surrounded by women of all ages. They were outside waiting, chanting slogans and reading poems, talking and discussing. I saw old women in groups talking about their grief and sorrow and of children lost. I heard young women talk about the road to Qandil, the unfinished projects of the fallen women and of future projects needed for the Kurdish cause. My tears stopped there and then.

I will not cry again. These women were not victims. They are heroes. They have paved the way for the next generation of female Kurdish heroes. One does not cry for heroes. One continues in their path!

Turkey’s Kurdish Impasse: The View from Diyarbakır

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has published a new report, Turkey’s Kurdish Impasse: The View from Diyarbakır. ICG’s summary of the report and recommendations are below. To view the full report, download it here.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

turkey-30nov12.ashxAs Turkey’s biggest Kurdish-majority city and province, Diyarbakır is critical to any examination of the country’s Kurdish problem and of the insurgent PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The armed conflict has deteriorated in the past year and a half to its worst level in over a decade, with increased political friction and violence leading to the deaths of at least 870 people since June 2011. While as many Kurds live in western Turkey, particularly in Istanbul, as in the south east, grievances that underlie support within Kurdish communities for the PKK’s armed struggle are more clearly on display in predominantly Kurdish areas like Diyarbakır: perceived and real discrimination in the local government and economy, alienation from central authorities, anger at mass arrests of political representatives and frustration at the bans on the use of Kur­dish in education and public life. Yet Diyarbakır still offers hope for those who want to live together, if Ankara acts firmly to address these grievances and ensure equality and justice for all.

Across the political spectrum, among Kurds and Turks, rich and poor, Islamic and secular in Diyarbakır, there is a shared desire for a clear government strategy to resolve the chronic issues of Turkey’s Kurdish problem. Official recognition of Kurdish identity and the right to education and justice in mother languages is a priority. The city’s Kurds want fairer political representation, decentralisation and an end to all forms of discrimination in the laws and constitution. They also demand legal reform to end mass arrests and lengthy pre-trial detentions of non-violent activists on terrorism charges.

Control of Diyarbakır is contested on many levels. The state wants to stay in charge, channelling its influence through the Ankara-appointed governor and control over budget, policing, education, health and infrastructure development. The municipality, in the hands of legal pro-PKK parties since 1999, most recently the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), is gathering more power against considerable obstacles. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) that rules nationally has ushered in a more progressive approach to police, but this has not ended confrontations and defused local hostility. Turkey as a whole, and Kurdish-speaking cities like Diyarbakır in particular, need a coherent, informed debate on decentralisation and a strategy to implement it.

The current government has done more than any previous one to permit Kurdish language use in Diyarbakır and elsewhere, but most Kurds want nothing less than a com­mit­ment to education in their mother language. The government’s initiative on optional Kurdish lessons should be fully supported as a stepping-stone in a structured plan to achieve declaration of that goal as a right.

Once Turkey’s third best off economic centre, Diyarbakır and its surrounding province have fallen to 63rd place at last measurement. Investment has long been low due to violence, flawed government policies and PKK sabotage, kidnappings, terrorist attacks and extortion. But residents show their faith in the city’s future through their investment, particularly in marble quarries and the booming real estate sector. Diyarbakır’s location at a regional historic crossroads still makes it an important hub for elements of the service sector, such as courier businesses and hospitals. Thousand-year-old monuments could make it a tourist magnet.

Fighting between the security forces and the PKK, mostly in the south east, is rising. While Diyarbakır has mostly been spared the worst of the recent violence, the civilian population and local politics are nonetheless increasingly stressed and polarised by events. The AKP is losing its appeal, and the BDP, while uncontested as the strongest political force in the city, has yet to prove its political maturity and ability to be more than a front for an increasingly violent PKK. The moderately Islamic Gülen movement is trying to offer another way, and as a negotiated settlement seems less likely, Kurdish Islamic groups are boosting their already substantial influence.

Yet, voices from Diyarbakır insist that common ground exists, as it does throughout the rest of Turkey. Crisis Group, in two previous reports in 2011 and 2012, recommended that the government announce a clear strategy to resolve the conflict, focusing in the first instance on justice and equal rights for Kurds. It suggested that the government work pro-actively with Kurdish representatives on four lines of reform: mother-language rights for Turkey’s Kurds; reducing the threshold for election to the national parliament to 5 per cent from 10 per cent; a new decentralisation strategy; and stripping all discrimination from the constitution and laws. Once these steps have been taken, it could then move to detailed talks on disarmament and demobilisation with the PKK. In short, both sides need to exercise true leadership, by eschewing violence, committing to dialogue and achieving the Kurds’ legitimate aspirations through Turkey’s existing legal structures, especially in the parliamentary commission working on a new constitution.

This companion report additionally offers recommendations specifically for urgent action by the government and legal leadership of the Kurdish movement in Diyarbakır to strengthen Kurds’ trust in the state by working to resolve pressing local problems and to ensure the long-term development of the city and province.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the Turkish Government and Diyarbakır community leaders, including the Kurdish movement’s legal leadership:

To establish mutual trust between Turks and Kurds

1.  The Turkish government should pass and implement legal reforms to allow the use of mother languages in trials, shorten pre-trial detentions and ensure that Kurdish and other suspects are taken into custody in a humane manner. It should encourage local police to continue improving engagement with the Diyarbakır community and end use of excessive force, even in response to unauthorised public meetings and demonstrations.

2.  Community and Kurdish movement leaders should comply with procedures on public meetings and dem­on­stra­tions; renounce all PKK violence; and continue civil society efforts, such as the recently established “Dialogue and Contact Group”.

To guarantee use of mother languages in education and public life

3.  The Turkish government should complete the implementation of optional Kurdish classes in the 2012-2013 academic year transparently; define a timeline for full education in mother languages wherever there is sufficient demand; continue to prepare teachers and curriculums for this transition; allow local elected officials to change relevant laws and regulations so as to restore or give Kurdish names to local places; and relax the ban on the use of Kurdish in public services.

4.  Community and Kurdish movement leaders should acknowledge the government’s positive steps in these areas, and stop boycotts of optional Kurdish classes.

To ensure a fair debate and eventual consensus on decentralisation

5.  The Turkish government should lead a debate in Diyarbakır, as well as nationwide, about municipal governance and decentralisation.

6.  Local government leaders should cooperate and meet with central government representatives who visit the province and clearly express their commitment to achieving Kurds’ democratic demands legally.

To assist Diyarbakır’s economic, social and cultural development

7.  The Turkish government should ensure that Diyarbakır receives a fair share of public funds, particularly for education, international airport facilities, railway connections and industrial zones, equivalent to that of comparable cities elsewhere in Turkey; and pro-actively promote domestic tourism to this and other historic cities in the south east.

8.  Community leaders should reach out to Turkish mainstream opinion to help overcome prejudices about the Kurdish-speaking south east through the exchange of business delegations, school trips and professional conferences.

Istanbul/Diyarbakır/Brussels, 30 November 2012