I Spent My First Newroz in 2013

Since the very first time I watched the Newroz celebrations on television, live from the Kurdish city of Amed in northern Kurdistan, I have been mesmerized by the thought of participating at least once during my life time.

This past Newroz it finally happened. I decided that this Newroz would be the one. Did it have anything (or everything) to do with the then rumoured speech by the Kurdish leader Abdulla Ocalan? Or was it the images of the early Newroz celebrations from the city of Wan that captured my heart and would not let go?

Either way I picked up the phone while watching the singer Ciwan Haco enter the stage on TV, live from Wan, and be greeted by thousands of expecting fans with loud cheers and slogans: ‘Biji Newroz’ (Long live Newroz) being one, ‘Biji Serok Apo’  (Long live leader Apo) another, as if they were each other’s missing pieces, conclusions or just like the water to the plant and vice versa.

Before I knew it I had booked the tickets, packed and was with a crew of six, boarding the flight that would take me to the utopia of my heart, which I was hoping would be anything but a utopia. I was so excited, so happy yet I was still miles and miles away from what would come to be the best trip in my life so far. The first Newroz I can count as having celebrated to the full. Kurdish style. ‘Kesk u sor u zer’ style (the colours of the Kurdish flag: green, red and yellow).

I have cried during this trip and cried some more. I have laughed on this trip and held hands on this trip. I have let my sentimental Kurdish heart be filled to the brim with goodness and kindness and Kurdishness and respect and everything that is good in this world and makes me want to make it even better.

My first tears came on the flight. I saw young and old, bashuri and bakuri, rojhelati and rojawayi Kurds on the Turkish airlines carrier to Amed, to celebrate a Newroz, which is still not recognised in Turkey.  I was delighted that we were all united in our wish to see the fire of Newroz burn freely in yet another part of our wonderful land, but at the same time sad that we had to endure the fear that comes along with having the Kurdish colours or Kurdish dresses in one’s luggage at a Turkish airport security control.

I was not worried about the over weight of my bags due to me over packing running shoes, comfortable clothes and scarves for the hostilities and clashes that happen every Newroz in Amed and the rest of Northern Kurdistan. I was ready to be a part of that. To partake in the resistance against Turkish police brutality. To partake in the unity that came along with being a group standing up to a bully. I was ready to say that I had been to Newroz in Amed and felt and experienced what my people experience every Newroz, every time, every day.

And then it finally happened. Our plane landed and as the plane acted as a taxi taking us to our final destination, I looked around to take it all in.  What I was met with was nothing short of a heartbreak. An abrupt end to an illusion I had carried with me. I am not a child. I know what is going on. I have seen it on TV. “Seen it on TV”, that says it all. I had not experienced it with my own eyes since I grew out of my pink pony pyjamas at the age of 5.

Now I was seeing it live and what was I seeing?

Military trucks. Military people. Military tents and military planes. My beloved Amed was a military station in every sense of the word. My heart was broken and I had not left the plane yet.

But it was to be mended as soon as I heard: “Hun bixerhatin Amede” (Welcome to Amed). I realised then that many other things had changed since I was 5 besides the colour and design of my pyjamas. People greeted me in Kurdish wherever I looked. I was home. I was finally home!

A quick gathering of the group, checking up on impressions and the warm winds blowing our way and we were soon in a car heading for the Sur district of Amed to meet with district mayor Abdulla Demirbash.

No appointment. No official procedures. No stiff bureaucracy. Just plain humanity welcomed us at the door, decked out in green, red and yellow balloons in honour of the approaching Newroz celebrations.

We met with this humble man, protector of ethnic diversity. Protector of minority languages. Protector of religious diversity. Abdullah Demirbash was wearing Kurdish clothes in a beautiful dark green colour, reminiscent of the dress worn by the Kurdish guerrillas. One of his sons, Baran is a Kurdish guerrilla, another has been called to do military service in the Turkish army.

“Baran’s mother and I cannot sleep at night whenever we hear the military planes rise above Amed. What if another attack occurs? What if Baran and our other son meet on the battle ground?”

Two brothers, left with no alternatives than to take up arms and fight on two sides of the same battle, within one land.

One land with its borders decided over on a negotiating table while fat cigars were smoked and middle aged men in suits decided what once belonged to one united group of diverse people, now would be cut into streaks and pieces between those whose lungs bore to scream the highest.

We thanked Demirbash for his hospitality and promised to meet again during the Newroz celebrations the next day. We left for the hotel. Stepped out of the car. Took out our luggage. Inhaled the scent of resistance and hope while a white minibus drove past us with  large speakers on the side proclaiming: “Newroza we piroz be” (Happy Newroz) followed by information about the importance of 2013’s Newroz, namely freedom for Ocalan and a political recognition of the Kurdish people.

This was our first day in Amed. I was already in love and I was already fearing the moment I would set my foot on the plane home.

The morning of the 21st I woke up, dressed up in my Kurdish dress from eastern Kurdistan with that specific waistband and shoulder shawl. The group of six all did the same, and as we were from all parts of Kurdistan except rojawa, so were our clothes.  While on our way to the Newroz field we saw young and old people decked out in the Kurdish colours and Kurdish dresses decorated with sequins and pearls, waving, laughing, and jumping of joy.

The 20-minute car ride felt like a few seconds as the anticipation was high and everywhere I looked, I was met with a smiling face wishing me a joyful beginning to the New Year.

We arrived. Went to the security control. Passed by a few police vehicles. Police vehicles that only a few months ago had been used in disturbing Kurdish events by the use of water canons and teargas. They were covered with dots, marks after stones thrown at them during past events.

There were the only police vehicles I saw.  It bode well for the Newroz celebrations but also for the always-unstable peace dialogue that has just begun standing on formerly crippled feet.

The event itself cannot be described. The songs. The yellow, green and red flags. The scene decked out in the same colours. The people in the same colours. The Kurdish dresses sold in the same colours. The incredible feeling of pride when 2 million eager Kurds sing the Kurdish national anthem, not once but twice in one loud voice. I did not know if to take photos, sing along, say hello to all friendly faces or to ease my goose bumps.

Newroz in Amed cannot be summarized by a 3-page retelling, or by a 10-page booklet or a 300-page book. It has to experienced.

You have to go and eat newly made bread from the people on the festival area.

You have to sit next to a “dayiken ashti” (peace mother) and let her tell you about the two sons that she has lost due to the war.

You have to visit the great wall of Amed and dance with youngsters singing songs praising the liberation movement and the Kurdish guerrilla fighters.

You have to drink dew (cold yogurt drink) and eat newly peeled cucumbers from a stand after your dance.

You have to visit the mayor of Amed, Osman Baydemir, and give your opinions on improvements for the city and hear him reply: “We are not leaders, we are the servants of our people and I carry your suggestions close to my heart”.

You have to answers questions of where you are from only to be given hugs and kisses and gifts when they realise you are not from bakur but from another part of Kurdistan.

You have to ease your goose bumps whenever they tell you: “You are our guests from our common land. You have come all the way from rojhelat to spend Newroz with us. This makes us proud, this makes us united! Bixerhatin, ser sera, ser chawa”! (Welcome from the depth of our hearts).

That is when you will feel at home, and realise that the utopia of your heart is reality in Northern Kurdistan today and that neither military stations nor over weight luggage can take that feeling away. You will know in your heart that in Amed you will always be welcomed by a friendly face decked out in “kesk, u sor u zer”.

A few photos from Newroz 2013 in Amed.

The photos are property of Shiler Amini

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.

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

Solidarity with Hunger Strikers: Urgent Call from BDP

03/11/2012

URGENT CALL TO INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC OPINION FOR SOLIDARITY WITH HUNGER STRIKERS

Today, it has been 53 days since Kurdish political prisoners in the Turkish prisons began indefinite hunger strikes on September 12, 2012. At this moment, health status of prisoners on hunger strike is severely impaired and came to a very critical stage. This announcement is prepared in order to inform international public opinion that we are extremely concerned that loss of life may be imminent and ask your solidarity to prevent it.

On September 12, 2012; 64 Kurdish political prisoners have started an indefinite and irreversible hunger strike in 7 Prisons in Turkey.

On 22 September 2012, ten days later 79 more prisoners joined the hunger strike. With new participants these numbers have been continuously increasing. According to joint research of Human Rights Association, Progressive Lawyers Association and Law & Human Rights Commission of Peace and Democracy Party, at least 654 Kurdish political prisoners and convicts in prisons are on an indefinite and irreversible hunger strike in 66 prisons. Imprisoned members of parliament, Mr. Faysal Sarıyıldız, Ms. Gülser Yıldırım and Ms. Selma Irmak and Mayor of Derik, Ms. Çağlar Demirel are also participating to the indefinite hunger strike.

Specifically, the health status of 154 political prisoners that began the hunger strike with the first two groups is severely impaired and their life is under extreme danger and at great vital risk.

In a press release to the public, political prisoners on a hunger strike have made two specific demands and stated that they will not reverse their decision unless their demands are meet. These demands are:

1- The right to education and legal defense in mother tongue.

2- Ending the isolation of Mr. Abdullah Öcalan in Imrali prison in order to creating the conditions for dialogue and negotiation.

According to the above mentioned demands, reason of the hunger strike is not for individual interest or awful conditions of the prisons in Turkey. Political prisoners believe that their existence in prisons is directly related with the conflicts between the Turkish Government and Kurdish political movement. Therefore, the prisoners and arrested politicians are considering themselves as “prisoner of war” or POW. The existing judicial system, the anti-terror law that amended in 2006 and security oriented governing are created a total war against Kurds’ fundamental rights. Freedom of speech, right to demonstration and demanding collective rights of the people perceived as “terrorist activity” by the prosecutors and the government as well. The existing Anti-terror law allows prosecutors to arrest everyone without concrete evidence. Therefore, more than 8000 Kurdish politicians, journalists, advocates, trade unionists and NGO members have been in prisons for many years without any verdict by judges. Many of the participants of the hunger strike are victims of the existing law system. Their legal defenses in mother tongue are not provided due to the monist mentality. This situation is one of the reasons of the hunger strike.

Unfortunately, AKP Government has not any sensitivity or attention to the ongoing hunger strike. Prime Minister Erdoğan clearly lied when he was in Germany. According to Erdoğan, only one prisoner is continuing to the hunger strike. At the same time Minister of Justice announced that 683 prisoners and arrested people are in hunger strike. It is very tragic that, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice are not from different countries. But their speeches are totally different. Unfortunately, PM Erdoğan is not focusing on solving the issue. The main approach of the government is disinforming the hunger strike.

On the other hand, while the people who protest the government because of its insensitivity, AKP Government and its police forces are continuing arrest BDP members and protestors. Yesterday, 97 students were taken custody during the protests in order to prevent democratic opposition. Today, 20 people from BDP, press and NGOs are take in custody by the police raids in Mersin. We believe that, the reason of the ongoing arrests is to prevent solidarity with the hunger strikers.

Therefore, we as BDP, call government to stop accusing BDP or hunger strikers. Government must respect to the Kurdish prisoners demands. The demands are fundamental rights of humanity. Therefore, PM Erdoğan must end this meaningless obstinacy. In case of insist to this negative manner, AKP Government will be main responsible of the closing tragedy.

No time to wait! Everyone from the earth should react to the AKP Government’s totalitarian approach on Kurdish People and their fundamental rights. No state or power can prevent a human’s freedom of speech or defense in mother tongue in democratic countries. No one should live without collective identity in their home country.

BDP urgently calls to government, international public opinion and institutions to prevent losing lives in prisons.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMISSION OF PEACE AND DEMOCRACY PARTY

 

ANNEX 1:

Events on Hunger Strikes

1. Prisoners who are on indefinite hunger strike since September 12 in Siirt E Type Closed Prison have learned aggravate health problems. İHD (HRA) lawyers Roja Arslan and Yavuz Çelepkolu who met with the prisoners on hunger strike in prison, said hunger-striking prisoners does not accept liquid.

2. Rıza Turan who is in Siirt E Type Prison has loss of sight and also director of prison didn’t deliver blanket which is given to him by his family.

3. Eleven women prisoners who are started the hunger strike in Diyarbakır E Type Prison some findings on their health status; weakness, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to sound and noise, irregular blood pressure, excessive weight loss and nose bleeds

4. Four prisoners who are in Şakran T type Prison No 4 were single cells and a place to sleep, clothes, pen and paper to tell their status are not given.

5. Although Berivan Elter who is in hunger strike has health report, a new report was taken and she pick up from Ankara to Diyarbakır ( round trip 36 hours)

6. B1 Vitamin is not given any prisoners in Adana F type Prison

Police assault Kurdish MP Ahmet Türk at Newroz gathering

Ahmet Türk leaving hospital in Êlih (Batman).

Senior Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk, 69, was briefly hospitalised today after begin assaulted by Turkish police in Êlih (Batman). Türk, who is an MP from Mêrdîn, said that police broke the windows of the bus they were riding in and lobbed tear gas into the vehicle. After leaving the bus a uniformed police officer approached Türk and started punching him in the face.

Upon his discharge from hospital Türk said, ‘Our resistance will continue!’ He also added, ‘[the Turkish government thinks] that this will silence the Kurds, but this is not the way. Problems must be solved through dialogue.’

The attack on Ahmet Türk and his entourage is part of a nationwide attempt by the government and its security forces to shut down Newroz festivities that fall outside the government-sanctioned day of celebration, 21 March. In Êlih police attacked crowds who wanted to enter the Newroz celebration square in that city. Clashes between the crowd and the police continue around the square and many have been arrested.

On Sunday, Hacı Zengin, a BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) chair from Istanbul, was killed after being struck by a teargas canister at a Newroz gathering in the Kazlıçeşme area of Istanbul.

Ahmet Türk video

Other images from Êlih today…

Poll: What’s your opinion on the proposed boycott?

36 seats in Parliament. Now what?

Labour, Freedom and Democracy Block

It has been a week since the 12 June elections in Turkey. The dust is settling and a clearer picture is emerging of what’s in store for the new parliament once the next legislative session begins around 01 October. High on the agenda is the drafting of a new, civilian constitution. The current constitution, put into effect in 1982 on the heels of the 1980 military coup, is based on a Kemalist notion of Turkish national identity, which is homogeneous and leaves no room for ethnic and religious difference. It is a ‘straightjacket’ on Turkish democracy, limiting the rights of individuals and privileging the state at the expense of the citizen.

The swearing in ceremony for MPs in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly of Turkey (Turkish Parliament, or simply Meclis in Turkish) will be 24 June. The day before the swearing-in, a newly formed commission from the pro-Kurdish Labour, Democracy and Freedom Block (in Kurdish, Bloka Ked, Azadî û Demokrasî, or KAD), which won 36 seats, will issue a declaration. The statement will clarify the KAD-Block’s standing in the parliament, the way, methods and strategies to be followed for a solution to problems. The KAD-Block was created and supported by the BDP, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party.

On Sunday evening last, as results were still coming in, Turkish PM Erdoğan said that the nation had not only given his party a mandate to govern, but to draft a new constitution: ‘The people gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation.’ He said that the AKP would discuss the new constitution with opposition parties and parties outside of parliament, in ‘all-encompassing’ negotiations.

With their 36 seats, the KAD-Block will play an important role in any future constitutional debate, and the Kurdish question looks set to move to the top of the political agenda. Said Sebahat Tuncel, Kurdish MP from Istanbul in a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Erdoğan ‘now faces a major domestic challenge,’ referring to the writing up a new, inclusive constitution. She also said that the 36-MP strong block ‘will be the most effective check on the AKP’s destructive policy’ of repressing the Kurds.

However, some are expressing caution regarding the KAD-Block’s calls for specific demands. Taha Akyol, for example, a political analyst with CNNTürk and Milliyet newspaper, said that while the BDP has become ‘a force that cannot be ignored’ it ‘must know the limits of its demands.’ While Akyol is a Turkish nationalist, this will certainly be an issue in the constitutional negotiations, as the AKP is not going to want to be seen as caving in to Kurdish demands. After all, Erdoğan ran a very nationalist campaign to garner MHP (far-right, nationalist party) votes. But, after the election, Erdoğan apologised to his rivals for his actions and language during the campaigns. Erdoğan’s words were probably meant more to take votes from the MHP party to keep them from reaching the 10% election threshold. But still, it will be hard now to backpedal.

Ahmet Türk, newly elected KAD MP from Mêrdîn said that the ‘new constitution must be based on democratic autonomy, which must be a topic in the open for discussion and we will work towards this. If these demands are ignored by the state, the people will create their own method to establish the system they are aiming for.’

Leyla Zana speaks in Diyarbakır

Leyla Zana, elected from Diyarbakır, speaking in Kurdish to an audience of tens of thousands at a rally last Monday said, ‘The Kurds will be a partner of this state.’ While the logical assumption is that MPs elected from the pro-Kurdish KAD Block will be partners (the AKP needs partners), it is not clear to what extent Kurds will be included in the process of re-writing the country’s constitution.

Murat Yetkin, writing for Hürriyet Daily News, says the ‘CHP (centre-left, People’s Republican Party) is always a safer partner for the AKP for major political projects like amending or rewriting the constitution, in order to secure a consensus acceptable for a wider base in society. The BDP, which is focused more on Kurdish rights, might be an easier partner for Erdoğan at first sight, but such a partnership, which might exclude both the CHP and the MHP, might cause new fault lines in Turkey’s political arena. It may cast a shadow, says Yetkin, over the new constitution, creating doubts whether the government sort of bargained for the presidential system in return for group – not individual – rights for Kurds.’

Some of the conditions the Kurds will expect in any new constitution, says KAD MP-elect Hasip Kaplan from southeastern province of Şırnak, are the implementation of democratic autonomy, the use of mother tongues and the granting of constitutional citizenship.’ He also said that it should contain ‘expansion of freedom of thought in its largest sense.’

These are ‘demands’ that may be outside of the ‘limits’ referred to by Akyol. But what then is left? How can the Kurds accept anything less than full equality as Kurdish citizens of the Turkish Republic? In a meeting of Turkish intellectuals, journalists and lawyers earlier last week, Osman Can, one of the lawyers present, called on political parties to abandon what they earlier termed ‘red lines’ and said parties must decide to talk without preconditions. One of the ‘reddest’ of lines is that of mother-tongue education in Kurdish. It is a flashpoint in the debate on Kurdish rights and a key theme of the Kurd’s political agenda. Abandoning red lines may be easier said than done.

Nabi Avcı, a newly elected AKP deputy from Eskişehir and former senior media advisor to Erdoğan, said at a meeting with members of the foreign press that the ‘Kurdish issue’ is also on the government’s agenda ‘not as a problem but as a broader issue.’ He also said that ‘it is not right to highlight any priorities at the moment.’

Some of these comments may not bode well for Kurdish expectations. Ahmet Türk says that ‘the election results mean that the Kurdish people are united and our demands are going to be on the national agenda. If not, there will be more pain and more problems in the future’ and that if their ‘demands are ignored by the state, the people will create their own method to establish the system they are aiming for.’

The threat of ‘more pain and more problems in the future’ that Türk mentioned is real, according to the deputy head of the ruling AKP in Diyarbakır, Mohammed Akar. He says that if there is disappointment, the whole idea of integration will end. Separation and conflict will come to the fore. Akar added that ‘the danger that is lying ahead is a nightmare.’

The AKP may have received the largest percentage of popular votes at 49.95%, but the fact is that in 2002 they had 363 seats in the Meclis, in 2007 they had 341 seats, and now, in 2011, the AKP will seat only 326 parliamentarians. From 2007 to 2011, the overall percentage of votes increased by 3.3%, but their percentage of seats in the Meclis will decline by 4.5%.

Erdoğan’s AKP had been vying for a 2/3’s super majority (367 seats), which would have allowed it to rewrite the constitution single-handedly with no input from any other parties. A 3/5’s majority (330 seats) would have offered the AKP the option of drafting a new constitution on its own and then submitting it to a public referendum. They are only four seats from a 3/5’s majority and could try and look for defectors to make up the gap.

click to enlarge

However, the Kurds are the ones who are really gaining ground. In 2007 they captured 20 seats in parliament. This time round the pro-Kurdish KAD-Block managed to get 6.85% of the national vote, which resulted in 36 of its candidates getting elected. Not all of them are Kurdish, which was a strategy the BDP had to broaden its support base. And 11 of the 36 are women. A list of the 36 and election percentages can be found here.

In an attempt to draw support from religious voters, an alliance was formed with two other pro-Kurdish parties—the Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) and the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR). Former KADEP leader Şerafettin Elçi was picked as a candidate in Diyarbakır.

Political Science at Istanbul University, Dr Nuray Mert, noted that this was ‘a very successful outcome for the Block but it goes unnoticed that the Block didn’t participate in the elections as a political party. Therefore, the elections already began unfair[ly].’

In Diyarbakır, seven KAD-Block candidates got 429,000 votes and won six seats, whereas the AKP received five seats with only 231,000 votes. Without the 10 percent threshold, says Henri Barkey, KAD-Block candidates would have probably gotten as many as 50 seats. In other words, BDP is stronger than the number of seats it will control in the new parliament.

The Kurdish political group may be stronger than the number of seats, but for now they have to work with their strength in parliament. A change in the 10% election threshold will also be a necessary component in any new constitution to ensure more inclusivity in the future.

For now there is a major battle ahead as political camps scramble to put together their bargaining points and prepare for October. It will be interesting to see too what happens between now and the opening of that new, legislative session.

Since the election, the Turkish government has shut down Kurdish media outlets and has continued its arrest waves of Kurdish politicians. More than 100 have been detained in the past week alone. In spite of this, a PKK ceasefire has been extended to see what will happen with reforms and constitutional change. If the repressive methods continue and Erdoğan fails to take an historic step in partnering with the Kurds in the drafting of the new constitution, all hell will break loose.

Speaking of the failure of the AKP to garner its wished-for super-majority and rewrite the constitution by itself, former US Ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, said that ‘[g]iven concerns about Erdoğan’s megalomania and authoritarian tendencies that have gained traction in Turkey in recent months, the outcome is good for Turkish democracy.’ Let’s hope it is good too for Kurdish aspirations.

#TwitterKurds takes the civil disobedience campaign online

A campaign on Twitter is underway to raise awareness of the situation of the Kurds in Turkey and to bring the situation to the attention of the international media.

The campaign, dubbed #TwitterKurds, has been organised by UK-based blogger and human-rights activist, Hevallo, who says that journalists in the UK tend to shy away from reporting on the Kurds saying ‘there is no real link to the UK and there are other conflicts that are more newsworthy.’

While other conflicts across the globe capture the world’s attention, the Kurds’ struggle for ethnic and linguistic equality in Turkey goes largely unnoticed in the mainstream press. Hevallo says that one of the main issues hindering the ability of global media to report on this particular conflict fairly and accurately is that ‘Turkish propaganda and psychological misinformation cloud the issue and many people still regard the Kurds’ legitimate struggle for basic rights in Turkey as “terrorism.”’

The Kurd as ‘terrorist’ is an all too common theme in the Turkish press and often in European press as well. Little effort is made to reach beyond the Turkish propaganda machine and clichés to reveal the truth.

The #TwitterKurds campaign will attempt to do just that by reaching out to journalists, politicians, bloggers and social media activists, policymakers, news agencies and human rights organisations with the message: ‘Speak Out About the Repression of the Kurds in Turkey’ and to give the Kurdish people a voice as they struggle daily on the streets of Turkey against a repressive regime.

Kurdish politician and leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, said acts of civil disobedience planned by the BDP and the DTK (Democratic Society Congress) will be democratic and peaceful. ‘Don’t send the security forces against us; if you are going to send someone, send government representatives, send the interior minister. Security forces aren’t our counterpart to talk to; our counterparts are the politicians,’ he said.

However, security forces have been sent against them. The civil disobedience campaign has been met with batons, tear gas and high-pressure water cannons. In fact, just since the beginning of this year Turkish police have already used up their entire annual stock of tear gas in repressing demonstrations. In the same amount of time thousands of Kurdish protesters have been arrested.

Given the difficulties of getting this information to the attention of the global press, #TwitterKurds plans three days of mass Tweeting to get the message out. Turkey’s general election is slated for 12 June, just three weeks away. Over the next three Fridays (27 May, 03 and 10 June) in the run up to the elections, while Kurds are boycotting the official Turkish Imams and praying outside of the mosques instead, Kurds and friends of Kurds will be Tweeting en masse to speak out with one voice against the suppression of the Kurds in Turkey.

This collective suppression of the Kurdish population is due, in part, to ‘the silence in the international community,’ says Hevallo. By Tweeting, he says, ‘we are able to reach a wider audience than say, Facebook. If we are disciplined and smart about this, a well-constructed Tweet with a link to a well-written article, photograph or video can convey our message and give the Kurdish side’s point of view. Our Tweets will expose the truth about the Kurdish question in Turkey.’

Politicians are making the rounds in Kurdish areas of SE Turkey trying to garner votes. Yesterday Turkish PM Erdoğan was on the campaign trail in the city of Şirnex (Şırnak in Turkish). Surrounded by rooftop snipers and army helicopters he announced to the crowd of Kurds: ‘My brothers, we will build new hospitals, airports, schools and health clinics. For us [the party in power], there is no separation between a Turk and a Kurd. Let us serve you.’

Kurds have four demands and hospitals, airports, schools and health clinics are not among them, though this is a step up from the washing machines and dishwashers offered in the 2009 election.

Kurds are engaging in a massive campaign of civil disobedience for the right to education in Kurdish, the immediate release of imprisoned Kurdish politicians, an end to Turkey’s military operations against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and the abolishment of Turkey’s 10 percent election threshold law for parliamentary representation.

‘Until our demands are heard by the government and until concrete steps are taken, we will remain on the fields and on the squares,’ said Demirtaş.

#TwitterKurds says that until Kurdish voices are heard by the international media and until people start paying attention, the campaign will remain on the Twitter timelines.

Join the campaign at #TwitterKurds!

YSK REVERSES COURSE!

The Supreme Election Board (YSK) in Turkey just announced that it would reinstate the candidacy of many of the candidates it had barred just three days ago. In the intervening three days, clashes have erupted in several cities in Turkey resulting in the death of one Kurdish protester, Ibrahim Oruç (age 18), whose funeral was held today. An estimated 30,000 people marched through the streets of Bismil where his funeral took place.

Sırrı Sakık, a Kurdish lawmaker and candidate for the upcoming general elections, told HaberTürk television that the YSK decision is a ‘benefit to democracy but the price has been heavy’ and that the decision was ‘tainted with blood.’

The six BDP-supported candidates who were reinstated are:

Gültan Kışanak, BDP party co-chair, who will run from Siirt

Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Bianet Project Coordinator and journalist (Mersin)

Leyla Zana, former MP and political prisoner (Diyarbakır)

Hatip Dicle, former MP & co-chair of banned DTP (Diyarbakır)

Sebahat Tuncel, lawyer and Istanbul deputy (Istanbul)

Salih Yıldız, former mayor of Yüksekova (Hakkari)

Not all convictions are created equal

YSK (Election Board) office

Just as it looked as though the momentum was building for Kurdish politicians, the Turkish government has once again stepped in to block their efforts to become part of the political landscape. Yesterday, Turkey’s senior election board (Yüksek Seçim Kurulu, YSK) disqualified 12 independent candidates from running for parliament in the upcoming June election on the grounds that they are legally unfit to be candidates. Most of them were Kurds or supported by the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

YSK’s action could effectively block the prospects for any additional Kurdish representatives to be elected when the parliamentary voting is held in mid-June. Turkey’s Kurdish minority has only 20 representatives in parliament and wants to cross the 10% threshold to be represented as a party in the new parliament. The party had planned to back 61 candidates in 39 provinces who wanted to run as independents under the ‘Labour, Democracy and Freedom’ block in order to overcome that threshold for political parties.

Some of the Kurdish politicians declared ineligible had previously been approved by YSK when they ran for office in the 2007 election. YSK attributed the discrepancy to its lack of complete information about them four years ago, including the unlikely excuse that they were unaware that some had criminal records. The YSK’s action is widely viewed among Kurds as an underhanded tactic to disenfranchise them.

‘This is a political decision that prevents participation of Kurds in democratic politics,’ said Ahmet Türk, a banned Kurdish politician and former member of the DTP, a Kurdish political party closed down by the Constitutional Court in 2009. ‘Despite all our democratic efforts, politics has been blocked for Kurds.’

Now the BDP is pondering whether to withdraw from the June elections in response to the YSK’s decision to bar some of its candidates. Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the BDP described the upcoming poll as undemocratic and called on the Parliament to postpone the 12 June vote.

Many of independent candidates were blocked due to past convictions. Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan too has a past conviction and has spent time in prison. He served four months in 1998 for reading a poem that was deemed anti-Kemalist. But not all convictions are created equal. When a Kurd reads a poem, or sings, or dances, or marches, the charges are almost always tied to terrorism. And it is those candidates with terrorism-related convictions who were barred.

Leyla Zana (left)

One of those barred candidates is Leyla Zana. Twenty years ago Zana used Kurdish in parliament while taking the oath of office. She was later stripped of her parliamentary immunity and sent to prison on terrorism charges, where she remained behind bars for ten years (1994-2004). While in prison, she was awarded the European Parliament’s human rights prize for her efforts to advance Kurdish minority rights. The European Court of Human Rights later ruled that Turkey had violated Zana’s right to freedom of expression and ordered the government to pay her compensation. Zana would have run as a candidate from Diyarbakır.

The other BDP-supported candidates who were barred from running are BDP party co-chair Gültan Kışanak who would have run from Siirt, Hatip Dicle, a current KCK suspect (Diyarbakır), Bianet Project Coordinator and journalist Ertuğrul Kürkçü (Mersin), Isa Gürbüz (Elazığ), Salih Yıldız (Hakkari), Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) leader Şerafettin Elçi (Diyarbakır) and Istanbul DTP deputy Sebahat Tuncel (Istanbul).

Aysel Tuğluk, former DTP Member of Parliament and current candidate, warned the situation could possibly lead to ‘new clashes’ in the country’s southeast. Turkish officials frequently allege that pro-Kurdish political parties act as the political wing for PKK rebels. Tuğluk was sentenced in 2009 for violating anti-terrorism laws when she referred to PKK fighters as ‘heroes to some’ but was not barred this round by the YSK.

Selahattin Demirtaş called the election board’s decision ‘a political operation; a political purge’ that would benefit the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the elections. ‘The state has decided to hand over [Turkey's south-eastern] region to the AKP,’ Demirtaş told broadcaster CNNTürk.

Demirtaş was clear in underlining that ‘we are in the presence of a clear conspiracy against our block. The candidates YSK has banned were absolutely entitled to run as candidates. We have legal papers in our hands. There is no lawful reason to ban them. This is why we have to look at this decision as the political planned will to prevent our block to contest the elections.’ Commenting on the excluded candidates, Demirtaş underlined that ‘Sebahat Tuncel and Gültan Kışanak are deputies and at the last elections the YSK did not find any problem in them contesting the elections.’ He went so far as to say that this ‘is nothing short of a declaration of war.’

Demonstrations in Diyarbakır

Thousands of people took to the streets to protest against YSK’s decision to bar these candidates. They marched to the ruling AKP office in Diyarbakır, chanting slogans against PM Erdoğan, who is seen as one of the plotters against Kurdish politicians. Demonstrations were also held in Batman, Mersin and Van.

The BDP had announced on Sunday its independent nominees, including six candidates who are suspects in the ongoing trial of the illegal Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, which resumes today. One of those candidates, Hatip Dicle, was banned by the YSK. The other five KCK suspects include Faysal Sarı from Şırnak; Ibrahim Ayhan from Şanlıurfa; Kemal Aktaş from Van; Selma Irmak from Şırnak and Gülseren Yıldırım from Mardin.

Emine Ayna, Nursel Aydoğan, and journalist Altan Tan will be independent candidates from Diyarbakır. Former deputies of the now-closed Democratic Society Party, or DTP, Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk will run from Mardin.

In Istanbul the BDP is running director and writer Sırrı Süreyya Önder and former BDP Istanbul provincial chairman Mustafa Avcı. Labour Party (EMEP) leader Levent Tüzel is another independent deputy supported by the BDP in Istanbul. Tüzel was an independent candidate from Izmir in the 2007 parliamentary elections but was not elected.

Hakkari and Şırnak are also among the provinces where the BDP seeks to have more than one deputy. These two provinces, which lent strong support to the BDP in its call for a boycott of the 12 September referendum with more than 90 percent of the voters refusing to cast a vote, are regarded as a ‘liberated zone’ by the BDP. The aim of the BDP in Hakkari is to have all of three independent candidates elected. BDP party co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş is one of the candidates who will run from Hakkari. Another BDP-sponsored candidate from Hakkari is Esat Canan, an ethnic Kurd and former CHP deputy for Hakkari. The third Hakkari candidate is Kurdish writer and journalist Adil Kurt.

As for the BDP’s Şırnak deputy candidates, current Şırnak deputy Hasip Kaplan and former DTP Deputy Chairman Selma Irmak will run as independent deputies in the elections from there. Irmak, as mentioned above, is also currently under arrest as part of the KCK investigation.

Erol Dora, a lawyer of Assyrian origin, will run from Mardin, which has the largest Assyrian population in Turkey. In Dersim (Tunceli), which is predominantly Alevi, Alevi folk music singer Ferhat Tunç will run.

Other candidates on the list include Bengi Yıldız, Ayla Akat, Sırrı Sakık, Akın Birdal and Hasip Kaplan. Yüksel Avşar, a relative of the artist Hülya Avşar, will run for Ardahan.

Speaking at a meeting in Diyarbakır where the candidates were announced, Demirtaş said the candidates were elected from among 400 nominees and that the party had held primary elections in 11 provinces. He added that 13 of the party’s 61 candidates are women and 36 of them are university graduates.

The BDP has defined its deputy candidate list as a ‘picture of Turkey’ and Demirtaş said that ‘every single colleague nominated for the elections should be embraced by our people [Kurds] in every region. They should work for the elections hand-in-hand without causing controversy.’

Thousands march for Kurdish language rights

Tens of thousands of Kurds held a huge demonstration to mark UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day in Diyarbakır. Kurds also demonstrated in other cities across the region including Hakkari and Van. Marches were held in Europe as well.

Taking the lead in yesterday’s demonstration was the organisation Tevgera Ziman û Perwerdahiya Kurdî (TZPKurdî, Kurdish Language and Education Movement in English). The head of the BDP’s (Democratic Society Party) local organisation M. Ali Aydın, KURDİ-DER’s director Burhan Zorooğlu and BDP deputy Hamit Geylani were the key speakers and addressed the placard-carrying crowd of thousands.

Several months ago, TZPKurdî began a campaign called ‘Read, Speak, Write in Kurdish Everywhere’, launched against the prohibition of the Kurdish language in certain spheres in Turkey.

TZPKurdî has suggested three measures to resist the repression of Kurdish in Turkey: 1) to promote the Kurdish language in education, 2) to speak the language in private as well as in public venues and 3) to speak it at all political events. Currently, the use of Kurdish in the political arena is forbidden according to the Law on Political Parties.

Dressed in Kurdish national clothes Kurdish women also participated in the demonstration and called on the Turkish government to stop all restrictions on the use of Kurdish language. Demonstrators held banners reading ‘without mother language there is no life.’

KURDİ-DER’s Rifat Öztürk read the joint statement of the NGOs and institutions supporting the demonstration.

Öztürk said there is an ongoing denial of Kurdish language since the creation of Turkish Republic about 80 years ago. He criticised Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s approach to the Kurdish question and his defence of the motto of the Turkish state: ‘One Language, One Nation.’

He mentioned Erdoğan’s statement about cultural rights of Turkish immigrants in Germany where he labelled assimilation a ‘crime against humanity’ and called on the Turkish government to recognise the linguistic rights of Kurdish people in Turkey.

Öztürk also called on the Turkish courts to recognise the rights of Kurdish politicians whose requests to defend themselves in Kurdish have been routinely denied. When spoken in court, Kurdish is often referred to by the presiding judges as an ‘unknown’ language.

‘Like all the other nations and communities mother language is sacred and one of the basic values of the society for the Kurdish people,’ Öztürk said.

BDP deputy Hamit Geylani also made a speech saying that the trial of Kurdish politicians in Diyarbakır is a trial where the Kurdish language is being tried. ‘There will be no freedom until or language is free,’ he said, and added that ‘the struggle of Kurdish people for their language will go on.’

Amnesty International (AI) has now recognised Kurdish and will began to use it on its website. AI signed a protocol with the KURDİ-DER Batman (Elîh) branch in order to translate all written documents into Kurdish for one year.

In February 2009, Ahmet Türk, then head of the now defunct DTP, spoke Kurdish in the Turkish parliament to honour International Mother Language Day. TRT quickly cut the live broadcast.

To learn more about the issue of mother-tongue education in Kurdish, read Kurdistan Commentary’s essay on the subject here:

All photos below of the demonstrations are from the website Yüksekova Haber.

Sources:

Tens of thousands marked International Mother Language Day. Firat News Agency, 21 February 2011.

Kurdish people in Europe step up Mother Language Campaign. Firat News Agency, 21 February 2011.

Who’s mad as hell? Anyone? Kurdistan Commentary, 16 November 2010.

DTP Leader speaks Kurdish in Parliament. Kurdistan Commentary, 24 February 2009.

Kurdish Culture, Literature and Art Conference in Diyarbakir

Notes from two conference attendees, Amir Sharifi and Luqman Barwari
14 January 2011

As 2010 was coming to an end, one could make a forceful argument that the year was an intriguing and fruitful one when it came to the long neglected Kurdish language, art, and literature. Kurdish intellectuals, politicians, and activists in the homeland and Diaspora for the first time discussed their shared interests and aspirations to ensure that they re-discover, reassert and regain their role in studying, safeguarding, and representing their cultural legacy and ethnic and linguistic identity.

From Dec 11 to Dec 12, 2010, many well-known Kurdish intellectuals, artists, and performers met in one of the cultural capitals of Kurdistan, Diayarbakir or Amed, an old city on the plains of Tigris River to discuss Kurdish history, both ancient and contemporary, the current situation, and future directions and perspectives on the Kurdish culture. This was the first Kurdish Culture, Literature and Art Conference organized by the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), Mesopotamia Cultural Centers (MKM) and Diyarbakir Municipality. This pioneering initiative had received the support of Kurdish politicians, activists, intellectuals and artists from different parts of the land. The conference organizers deserve congratulations for two days of stimulating and inspiring talks on the issues that the Kurdish nation faces in these difficult but promising times. Indeed, the conference promoters deserve the immense success that their conference enjoyed. For the conferees it was a great joy and privilege to have met many fellow Kurds from different parts of our land. Kurds from Western, Southern, Northern, Central and Eastern Kurdistan had converged on Amed as had Kurds in Diaspora: from Russia, European countries, and the U.S. Some participants, particularly women organizers were dressed in the brightly colorful Kurdish dresses, giving the event a festive mood, accentuated by podium sized floral designs made of colorful fabric, emblematic of the Kurdish flag. The stage in the Cegerxwin Cultural Hall was decorated with iconic images of Kurdish prominent literary and historical figures such as Ahmad Khani, Baba Tahir e Oryan, Malaye Jaziri, Hemin, Fatma Isa, Musa Anter, Cegerxwin, Osman Sebri, Aysha Shan, Ibrahim Ahmad, Hejar, and Qanate Kurdo on a backdrop. The organizers were very earthbound, offering their guests; more than 250 delegates the legendary Kurdish hospitality. To facilitate communication among speakers of different dialects of Kurdish and non-Kurdish speakers, simultaneous interpretations were provided in Sorani, Kurmanji, English, and Turkish. Through the efforts of the organizers, scores of well known participants from different domains of knowledge and academic disciplines exchanged ideas and debated their perspectives on a variety of topics. Community leaders and associations such as The Kurdish Institute in Istanbul, Mesopotamia Cultural Centers were represented. Browsing through the program schedule, one could see many prominent figures such as Ozkan Kuchuk, Kurdologist, Jalile Jalil, Kurdologist, historian, and writer, Hashem Ahmadzadeh, author and director of Kurdish studies, Sami Tan, the Director of Kurdish Institute in Istanbul, Mikail Aslan, composer and musician, and Mushin Osman, film director.

The conference organizers had also brought together a great many Kurdish politicians and parliamentarians and officials such as Ahmet Turk, co-president of the Peace and Democracy Party, Osman Baydemir, the mayor of Diayarbakir. A delegation from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) was also present throughout the conference as there were several panelists from KRG. As noted by the organizers, “For the first time in the history of our people, Kurdish intellectuals, writers and artists had the opportunity to discuss the historical resources, current situation and future perspective of the Kurdish culture”.

Ahmet Turk, in inaugurating the conference spoke of the rich history of Kurdish people and its colorful culture. He called for improving conditions for Kurdish people and the major dialects. He stressed the need for the unwavering participation of politicians and the internalization of the democratization process. He described the Kurdish people as friendly and peace loving but resistant to discrimination. He concluded by emphasizing the right to education in the mother tongue as an inalienable right.

One of the underlying themes in the panel on the ancient history of the land and its culture was the originality of Kurdistan geography and its autochthonous people. The Kurdish contribution to the Neolithic era was acknowledged, particularly the distinct role of women in the evolution of communal life, language, and culture. It was stated that archeologists have established based on their findings in Kurdistan that Mesopotamia has long been a haven for human life and one of the loci of human civilization in the beginning of sedentary life, agriculture, and invention of tools, a history traceable to 8000 years BCE an evolutionary process that originated in what is now the Kurdish ancestral land and then spread to other parts. Kurds were defined as creators of culture, institutions, animal domestication, and agriculture. Ahmet Yildrim referred to the Diyarbakir basin and Hasankeyf as key sites for many civilizations. It was argued that the ancestors of Kurds have made tremendous contributions to the material conditions for the emergence of civil structures and that Middle Eastern people should be indebted to the Kurds for their preservation of and respect for nature. The panelists bemoaned the fact that Kurds are now suffering and derided by forces of tyranny and subjected to “two hundred years of genocide and assimilation.”

The panels on culture and literature discussed the development processes, the problems that the Kurdish literature confronts along with the Kurdish language itself. A broad concern was how to develop Kurdish literature and art in the absence of the most fundamental rights, literacy, and channels of communication and dissemination of literature in the face of restrictions, linguistic, political and cultural divisions that Kurds are grappling with. Hashem Ahamadzadeh spoke about the relation between language and political power, the modern legacies and historiography of state making, dialectal variations and conditions of repression as impediments to communication among Kurdish literates. Abas Wali focused on the interdependency of literacy and socio-political processes and the role of intelligentsia in defining culture. A considerable amount of time was devoted to delineating the roles and responsibilities of the intellectuals and artists. Jalile Jalil, a Kurdologist and historian observed “Our language is wounded; we have yet to understand the richness of our language… that terminological and literary niceties are all great, but how can literature grow if Kurdish children can not read what we write? We do not understand the language of our Denbejs (traditional Kurdish singers or bards) our neighbors.” Film makers, actors, and playwrights stressed the need for exploring and producing films and plays on local and universal themes; however, As Shirin Jihani, the first Kurdish woman film director pointed out, in the absence of such a culture and independent institutions, film makers face major difficulties in producing, presenting, and promoting their work.

The panelists in discussing the state of Kurdish music, argued that despite customary celebration of music in Kurdish daily, ethnic, social and political life and its lofty and sacred position, particularly in religious practices and cultural rituals and the distinct place of musicians and vocalists in Kurdish culture, we do not really know what an original and varied treasure we have. They stressed the need for ethno musicological research to identify different types of genres, compositions and their aesthetic modes in different areas, particularly those rich in musical traditions such as Hakkari… It was pointed out that our musical tradition has been threatened and now is lending itself to imitation. Mikail Aslan, composer, musician, and vocalist spoke about the deplorable condition in which Zaza speakers and their music once lived and how they had become alienated and removed from themselves once the language was colonized and conquered. “If one is separated from language, one loses himself or herself. This is how our music was seized’ then they humiliated us by saying that this is the language of peasants; many lost their psychological balance by subjecting themselves to self-censorship. He argued that the youth fall prey to this ideology easily and we have to fight against this ruthless assimilation.

The importance of language standardization on the basis of the common features of the different dialects was discussed. At the end a flexible linguistic identity inclusive of all dialects was what many panelists and members of the audience called for instead of a fixed, homogeneous linguistic identity.

It was noted that although Kurds face similar problems in neighboring countries, the Kurds in Turkey have faced frightening discrimination, a belligerent nationalism and a ruthless repression of their language and identity. Some of the presenters highlighted the dogmatic and assimilationist ideology that has penetrated the very fabric of the Turkish society and the media. It was pointed out that despite some positive developments; the Turkish media continues to portray Kurds in a negative light as an affront to Kurdish ideals. The presenters stressed the need for debunking these misguided and dangerous images by reclaiming the rich and colorful life and traditions of the Kurdish people through creating and expanding Kurdish media for self-representations.

The Kurdish intellectuals were called upon to be ready to take up new and dynamic challenges to reexamine and adapt to their conceptions of their identities. They were urged to develop new paradigms which would illuminate their political and social responsibilities towards freedom, peace and justice. “to stop cultural genocide and recreate ourselves” Kurdish women were described as the main bearers of the struggle of Kurdishness.”

We should register our regret at the absence of the term language in the very title of this conference, on which depends the very foundation and existence of the other categories that the conference discussed. Needless to say that relentless repression of the Kurdish language in Turkey would have merited special attention, particularly in a country that to this day, the public use of the language in what it has been termed a liberal milieu is still frowned upon and its educational use as a mother tongue continues to be forbidden. Although the conference was attended by several prominent novelists, writers and poets, issues of language and ideology, and language discrimination could have been constructively and effectively discussed by linguists and anthropologists; there were many occasions that linguists could have made informative contributions to the discussions. Although Dillan Roshani, was given a few minutes to present a proposal for unifying the various dialects, linguistics, not to be confused with general notions of language, was peripheral to the conference.

Likewise, although all the experts in attendance made a tremendous contribution to the conference, the relative absence of anthropological and sociological expertise may have left some unanswered questions. Experts in these fields would have been able to provide both theoretical and methodological insights and outlooks into the broad sociocultural and linguistic issues by presenting their research and identifying and setting goals for new research in anthropological and sociological investigations.

One issue that received the wide presence of the Turkish media was the signing of a resolution by Ahmed Turk and DTP representatives. The resolution stressed the importance of the peace process and the need to put an end to repression and urged the Turkish government to recognize the sociocultural and political rights of the Kurdish people with particular emphasis on the right to education in the mother tongue.

One of the highlights of the conference was a tribute paid to Aram Tigran, the famous Armenian singer, musician, and composer, who has created a vast and varied musical repertoire in Kurdish, thus contributing to the preservation of musical and oral traditions of Kurds. His wife related the passion Aram had for singing in Kurdish and celebrating Kurdishness to the last moment of his life.

The conference ended with a resolution formulated by a working committee and endorsed by the attendees. It was agreed that the working committee would plan the second conference to be held next year in Hewlêr (Erbil). The overall proceedings can be summarized as follows: increasing pressure on the Turkish government to allow public education in Kurdish, creating the contexts for and increasing dialogue among different Kurdish intellectuals and artists, pursuing the objectives of the conference persistently, working on overcoming the challenges of reclaiming and reconstructing Kurdish cultural heritage, resources, and past, recognizing diversity among Kurdish communities as a historical and political reality ,working on the challenges of connecting with the general public, setting objectives and pathways relevant to future conferences. The working committee will be publishing the proceedings and the presentations. A cursory search of the main stream media both Turkish and Western media shows fragmentary and sporadic coverage of the conference. Perhaps the conference organizers should launch the official website of the conference as soon as possible to post the conference proceedings and start blogging and tweeting to communicate the ideas discussed in the conference to other Kurdish intellectuals, artists, and the general public. This conference’s best practices in general and more specifically the contributions of the Kurdish intellectuals and artists to cultural preservation and promotion of Kurdish cultural values that embrace democracy and diversity, could serve as a platform for other Kurdish communities to exchange, debate and share their experiences, proposals, practices and processes for the development of Kurdish national aspirations.

The conference culminated in a dinner reception where the mayor of Diyarbakir, Osman Baydemir, once again highlighted the significance of the conference in the resurgence of Kurdish identity and the quest for fundamental rights and freedoms; he thanked the participants for contributing to one of the greatest events in the contemporary history of Kurds. Then an array of famous and popular musicians, vocalists, and composers from different parts of Kurdistan performed multiple pieces of authentic Kurdish music in different genres such as dengbeji, loosely, bards’ tradition, stranbeji, minstrels , heyrans, and love songs as the audience sang and danced along to the accompaniment of musical instruments all night.

Gül’s patronising ‘embrace’

Signs in Diyarbakir welcoming President Gül

On Turkish President Abdullah Gül’s flight to the city of Diyarbakır, in response to a question as to whether he would say anything in Kurdish during his official visit to the city, Gül said, ‘How can I say anything in Kurdish? I don’t speak Kurdish.’

Gül was met at the airport by Mayor Osman Baydemir and later paid a visit to the mayor’s office, where Baydemir presented the president with a Kurdish-Turkish dictionary. Said Gül upon receiving the gift: ‘I will gladly accept this dictionary. Certainly, this is a sociological reality of this area.’ (Bu da tabi buranın bir sosyolojik gerçeğidir).

This is a sociological reality of this area? What a strange thing to say. What did he even mean by that? Imagine if he had said something like: ‘Mr Mayor, when I was on the plane coming to Diyarbakır I said I don’t speak Kurdish. Thank you for the gift of this dictionary. On my way back to Ankara I will use it to learn a few words of Kurdish.’ That would have made a much better impression.

But instead the president went on to say, ‘Turkish is and will be the official language of the Republic of Turkey. Also, Turkish is the language of the state and public institutions. It is our common language. On the other hand, it is a fact that there are citizens speaking different languages among Turkish people. There are people speaking Kurdish, Arabic and the other languages. They all belong to us.’

Baydemir presents Gül with a Kurdish-Turkish dictionary

Yet Hürriyet’s headline read: President embraces use of Kurdish. This is an embrace of Kurdish? It’s more like: President dismisses importance of Kurdish. In this patronising ‘embrace’ of the Kurdish language he said, in effect, that millions of Kurdish speakers deserve no more respect or attention than anyone else who speaks a different language.

Gül was parroting the outcome of the National Security Council’s (MGK) meeting the day before. The MGK responded to Kurdish demands bluntly on Wednesday, saying the country was indivisible and that no attempt at challenging the official Turkish language would be accepted. The statement was released after a 5-hour meeting headed by Gül at the presidential palace. The MGK develops national security policy and has been in place since the military coup of 1960.

‘We cannot allow any attempt to deny that the official language of the Turkish Republic, which symbolises common grounds such as one flag, one nation and one land is Turkish,’ said the website of the presidential palace, citing the MGK’s statement.

During a speech at a meeting at the municipality building, Baydemir said that peace can only be reached through dialogue and consensus. He added that the ‘lack of tolerance toward demands and suggestions by Kurdish politicians on the mother-tongue and democratic autonomy is a source of concern.’

BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş issued a strong reaction to the MGK communiqué. ‘I call on the MGK members: Kurds will not accept the division of this country even though you attempt to do so. I call on the president: How will you protect the cultures you call [Turkey’s] richness? As the head of the nation you have to put [forth] the formula.’

The language debate will certainly be one of the major issues and sources of contention for 2011. Embrace the New Year. Sersala we pîroz be!

Sources:

Turkey rejects use of Kurdish in official business. Today’s Zaman, 30 December 2010.

President embraces use of Kurdish, reaffirms Turkish as official language. Hürriyet Daily News, 30 December 2010.

Abdullah Gul: Zimanê resmî tirkî ye. AKNews, 30 December 2010.

Turkish security board reaffirms unity amid autonomy debate. Hürriyet Daily News, 30 December 2010.

Turkey is now Comedy Central

Being led into the courthouse

The trial, arguably the largest in the history of Turkey, began last week. They really haven’t even started yet though as they’re still reading out the 7,500 page indictment.  If they read 40 pages an hour and read continuously for eight hours a day, that’s 23.5 days just to read the indictment.  And the trial goes until 12 November—16 days from now.

Day after day the imprisoned Kurdish politicians and lawyers are brought into the courthouse.  Each is allowed to be accompanied by one family member.  There are also nearly 300 lawyers defending the accused.  Needless to say, the courthouse is packed.

The Kurds on trial are not allowed to defend themselves in Kurdish.  At rollcall, however, they say in Kurdish Ez li vir im.  Ez amade me. I am here.  I am ready.  Turkish law says that if the defendants know Turkish well enough, then they have to use Turkish in court.

Evin Cetin, a Kurdish jurist and politician from Sweden who is observing the trial says that ‘[p]reventing the defendants from speaking in their mother tongue is illegal according to international standards because this means preventing the defendants from defending themselves. It was the court’s duty to bring in interpreters and not depriving them of the right to speak Kurdish.’

She also believes that the defendants will stay in prison until after parliamentary elections in 2011, because Erdoğan’s AK Party wants to ‘weaken the Kurds and deprive the Kurdish front of its progressive and seasoned politicians.’

Osman Baydemir, Mayor of Diyarbakır, is also a defendant.  He is on trial for the charge of ‘terrorism’ and thinks that some defendants will ‘be released in order to please Europe but there will be more arrests too.’

Baydemir said on Wednesday of the trial: ‘If it is a crime to demand my culture, identity, language then yes I am a criminal.’

On top of this, TRT chose this week to launch the first-ever comedy show in Kurdish on the state-run TRT6 channel.  Cîran, Cîran, which translates as ‘Neighbour, Neighbour’ was announced with great fanfare and is about a few expatriate Kurdish families living in Istanbul.  There was a gala event at a posh hotel with government officials, media officials, and others to watch a preview of the show.

Selahattin Demirtaş, BDP co-chair, slammed TRT6 on Tuesday asking why Kurdish could be broadcast on the state-run channel but not used in a court of law.  Demirtaş said that this shows Erdoğan’s inconsistency in dealing with the Kurds. ‘If they are your brothers then let them speak their language. Erdoğan is always saying the parliament is the place to solve the problem then he should not treat Kurdish politicians like political hostages.’

So on the TV you have slapstick comedy (in Kurdish) and in Diyarbakır a farcical, politicised trial of Kurdish politicians and humanitarians (in Turkish).  Which is the comedy?

When Baydemir called for demands for Kurdish culture, identity, and language it is doubtful he was thinking of something as inane as Cîran, Cîran.

sources:

Fifth day of trial against Kurdish politicians started. ANF News Agency, 25 October 2010.

Baydemir: We want a regional parliament. Rojhelat, 27 October 2010.

Deniz, Mediya and Fatima Avci. Trial of Kurds Viewed as Touchstone of Turkish Democracy. Rudaw, 26 October 2010.

First Kurdish sit-com to kick off on the state-run TRT 6. World Bulletin, 23 October 2010.

Demirtas: PM is considering the defendants as political hostages. ANF News Agency, 26 October 2010.

Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk seek restoration of parliamentary seats

Aysel Tuğluk and Ahmet Türk

With the trial of 151 Kurdish politicians, lawyers, human rights activists, and others ongoing in Diyarbakır, Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk, former head and deputy, respectively, of the banned pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), petitioned Parliament on Tuesday to demand the restoration of their membership in the legislature.

The Turkish Constitutional Court shut down the DTP in December 2009 and prohibited both Türk and Tuğluk from re-entering politics for five years.

So why are they petitioning to get reinstated in parliament?

It goes back to last month’s referendum on the constitution.  One article included in the amendment package—the 84th article of the Constitution—now states that deputies whose political party is closed down will be able to continue to participate in politics.  The court will not be able to dismiss them from their positions as parliamentary representatives.

Hasip Kaplan, Şırnak deputy of the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), took the case of two dismissed representatives to the Parliament, asking that they be reinstated as parliamentary deputies.  He said that he thinks that ‘the return of their rights will strengthen democratic politics.’  The petition to reinstate Türk and Tuğluk was presented to Mehmet Ali Şahin, speaker of the parliament.

Burhan Kuzu

Hikmet Sami Türk, a former justice minister, agrees that the petitions of Türk and Tuğluk need to be accepted and that their membership in Parliament be restored. The parliamentary term for which the two former deputies were elected has not yet ended, and thus they need to re-obtain their titles as deputies, said the former justice minister.

The petition will now be sent to the Parliament’s Justice Commission for evaluation. AK Party deputy from Istanbul, Burhan Kuzu heads the commission and refused to comment on the submission of the petition.  Kuzu has also been tapped to begin drafting a new constitution for the country.

However, there will resistance to the request.  Constitutional law expert Ergun Özbudun, does not agree with Kaplan or others in favour of restoring their membership in parliament. He said newly passed laws could not be applied retroactively. ‘A law or a constitutional amendment cannot be applied to what happened in the past unless they indicate the contrary,’ he said.

Indeed, it would be surprising if the Justice Commission ruled in favour of the petition.

Sources:

Türk, Tuğluk seek to restore Parliament membership. Today’s Zaman, 27 October 2010.

BDP brings banned representatives’ case to Turkish Parliament. Hürriyet Daily News, 26 October 2010.