Kurdish TV Survey

kurdishtv_banner A interesting research project to learn more about TV habits of Kurdish speakers in Turkey. Who watches which channels? See link below for survey.

Eger hûn li Tirkîyeyê dijîn û di televizyonê de li bernameyên Kurdî temaşe dikin, ji kereme xwe vê lêpirsînê bersiv bidin. Gelek spas.

Eğer Türkiye’de yaşıyor ve Kürtçe televizyon programlarını izliyorsanız, lütfen birkaç dakikanızı ayırıp bu anketi tamamlar mısınız? Teşekkürler.

If you live in Turkey and watch Kurdish-language television programming, please take a few minutes to complete this survey. Thank you.


Kurdish school children learn in Kurdish (video)

From ActuKurde: Kurdish children are now educated in their mother tongue in Kurdish regions of Syria. February 3, 2012, a young Kurdish teacher teaches in a school Dêrik (al-Malikiyah, in Arabic).

Mother-tongue education has changed considerably. The creation of the Association of Kurdish has played a part in these advances. In a few months, more than 100 schools were opened throughout Western Kurdistan and a thousand teachers have been trained.

4th Annual Kurdish Youth Festival


Kurdish Youth in Diaspora Will Explore Their Identity through Competitions, Shows, Festivities and Intellectual Endeavors during Three Unforgettable Days in San Diego, CA January 2013

logoSan Diego, USA. November 2012- The most anticipated gathering of the year for Kurdish youth across the US and Diaspora at large will be held at Hotel Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, in sunny San Diego, Ca on January 4-6, 2012. The Kurdish Youth Festival committee would like to extend their warmest welcome and invite guests to register online in advance in order to take part in this memorable festival. All of the programs of the festival will be held at this four star hotel; therefore, the committee has arranged for the attendees to receive unprecedented discounts on their room rates. Hotel guests will also be able to attend a free boat tour of the San Diego Harbor.

Korang Abdullah (Kae Kurd), Kurdish youth’s dynamic comedian, along with female co-host Helat Tahir, will entertain and enlighten the guests, and lead them through a fantastic weekend of events. The festival will include well-respected guest speakers, interactive round-table discussions on returning to Kurdistan, and panel discussions on women, tolerance, and the Kurdish language.

Crowd favorites, such as the Art Auction, Film Competition, and a more elaborate version of the trivia contest, will return for another round of applause. While new events, such as an interactive Helperkê workshop with audience participation, will bring fresh energy and excitement to the line-up.

There will be a gripping short one-act play by Cklara Moradian and Soraya Fallah. Kurdish Rapper Serhado will give a sensational performance. He will also act as one of the judges of the festival’s most popular event: Kurds Got Talent. The grand prize of the talent show will be a round trip flight to Kurdistan. Talent show hopefuls should sign up online as soon as possible.

As in every year, the festivities will come to an end with a grand Kurdish concert with live performances by two well known and loved artists. The spectacular festival finale is expected to fill up to capacity. The committee has invited award-winning photographers and directors to photo/video document the entire event.

Thanks to Diamond sponsor Asiacell, who is sponsoring the festival for the second year in a row, the committee is able to extend scholarship opportunities to youth pursuing an education. This year there are eight opportunities to win a scholarship through the annual essay contest. The committee encourages all current undergraduate students or high school seniors applying to a college or university to enter the contest.

The annual Kurdish Youth Festival is a volunteer run non-for-profit non affiliated organization and is only able to operate through sponsorships from organizations and individual donations. The financial commitment of sponsors makes every one of the above events possible. Every dollar invested in the Kurdish Youth Festival is a dollar invested in the future of the Kurdish Youth. The committee is dedicated to providing quality programming with minimal administrative costs. You are invited to make a direct difference in strengthening the Kurdish identity of youth in Diaspora.

Email:  kyf@kurdishyouthfestival.org
Website: http://kurdishyouthfestival.org
Twitter: @KurdFestivalUSA | #4KYF

Kurdish Arts Festival

The Kurdish Arts Festival will be the premier annual Kurdish artistic and cultural networking event in the United States and one of the most exciting Kurdish showcases in North America, with performances by Kurdish artists and creative talents from the United States and around the world. The aim of this annual festival is to present the rich history of the Kurdish heritage and encourage students to study, develop their talents, intellectual interests, and creative abilities. Most importantly it will assist in building a scholarship foundation for Kurdish students both in the United States and abroad who are in need of financial assistance and to give them a chance to study and further their education in the areas of arts and music at Tennessee State University. For more information, see: http://kurdishartsfestival.org/

I exist, said the Kurdish dragon

I exist, said the Kurdish dragon
Submitted by Naila Bozo

There was a dead town in Syria. The tombstone read ”Qamişlo” and on the grave lay red, yellow and green plastic roses. My knees are still hurting because I often kneeled down by the grave and begged the town to come back to life. Sometimes I threw myself on it to prevent the dazed youth from joining their parents in the soil. They merely looked at me pitiyingly and pushed me away. They had good reason to do so because what human is alive if he does not exist?

 A Fatal Census

Kime ez? asked Cegerxwîn (1903 -1984), a celebrated Kurdish poet. Who am I? Nobody, the Syrian government answered, you do not exist.

In August 1962 the Syrian government ordered a census in the province of Hasakeh which was carried out in October 1962. The province is situated in the northern parts of Syria and mostly inhabited by Kurds seeing as this area is the western part of Kurdistan that was divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria as a consequence of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923.

The census was fatal for the Kurds as it resulted in 120.000 Kurds loosing their Syrian citizenship and thus their rights. The number of stateless Kurds has according to Human Rights Watch since then only continued to grow to a number of 300.000 because children of the stateless, born and raised in Syria, have not been given citizenship either.

In April 2011 the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad said he would grant the Kurds citizenship. This did not cause much joy for two reasons. First, only registered Kurds would be given official identity papers while non-registered would remain stateless. Second, it was a poor way to keep the Kurds, who consitute 10 -15 % of the Syrian population, from joining the anti-regime protests that had begun only weeks earlier.

You Deserved To Be Gassed!

They say the uprising started in Damascus, March 2011. No, it started in Qamişlo, March 2004. A report from KurdWatch that gathers information about violation of human rights against Kurds within the Syrian borders closely describes what happened on March 12, 2004.

A football match was to be played at the stadium in Qamişlo. The team al-Futuwah was an Arabic team from Deir ez Zor and the other team, al-Jihad, was from Qamişlo. According to the Danish Refugee Council quoted in the report, an eyewitness said that the supporters of al-Futuwah had not been checked by security before entering the stadium and that they brought weapon in the form of knives, sticks and stones with them.

A journalist sitting in the press box observed that the supporters of al-Futuwah prior to the game had kept shouting: “Fallujah, Fallujah!” after which they started attacking the other team’s supporters with the sticks and stones they had brought with them. According to the report, “Fallujah” was a way for the supporters of al-Futuwah to show their support to Saddam Hussein, one of the worst oppressors in the history of Kurds, who in 1988 ordered the gassing of the Kurdish town Halabja which killed more than 5.000 people and injured more than 10.000.

While the attack took place, three young men came to the press box and asked another journalist, who was to comment on the match on radio, if he would announce that three children had been killed during the attack. The news spread and people from the nearest towns came to the stadium in such large numbers that the journalist described the stadium as being besieged. But the death of the three children soon proved wrong and people both inside and outside the stadium grew calm.

The peace did not last long as people soon began to throw with rocks and the police, military and intelligence service arrived to the stadium.

The report remarks that the security made a mistake by shooting into the air and thus frightening people; they should have instead tried dissolving the growing angry crowd with other measures. The first mentioned journalist said according to the report that supporters of al-Futuwah called out to the Kurds: “Saddam Hussein treated you they way you deserve to be treated!”

At this point the security people stepped in and split up the two groups. The Kurds were told to leave while al-Futuwah supporters remained inside the stadium.

According to eyewitnesses the security consisting of the police, military and intelligence shot and even killed Kurds who protested al- Futuwahs discriminating heckling by saying “Long live Kurdistan.” A witness said that security was being untruthful when it later claimed that the Kurds were shooting back: “Even the government have not stated this.”

9 people died on the 12th of March 2004. The Kurdish parties made an agreement with the government; if they were allowed to bury their murdered Kurds without the involvement of the police, they would make sure to keep the funeral procession under control. A journalist described the procession joined by tens of thousands of people as being quiet. Kurds waved the Kurdish flag, a few cried out in anger at Bashar al-Assad and others threw rocks at a statue of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, a man so feared and infamous that before one did not even dare point their fingers at pictures of him. But other Kurds stopped them from throwing stones and the mourners continued walking towards the city hall.

At some point during the march one could hear shots from a military base nearby. Nothing happened and the procession continued. The journalist who had walked with the mourners left them to visit a lawyer whose office had a view over the square where the march had passed through. He was standing near the window when a car drove by. The car was open in the back and 7-8 men were sitting facing the square with their machine guns. They drove up to the few mourners at the back of the funeral procession and shot them. That day 23 people died.

The word about the killings spread and soon hell broke loose. People in the Kurdish towns set public buildings on fire while large demonstrations were held abroad in solidarity with the Kurds and support of the much anticipated uprising against al-Assad.

According to the report sources say that the Kurdish TV-channel ROJ TV, broadcasting from Denmark, was an important factor in mobilising the Kurds and gathering them at demonstrations in dimensions never seen before in West Kurdistan. The government’s crack down on the protests was brutal, and the Kurdish voice was once again brought to silence.

A Kurdish Dragon

Ketin xewê, ketin xewê, ketin xewa zilm û zorê, ketin xewa bindestiyê. They have been lulled into a deep sleep by the oppressor, Cegerxwîn said about the Kurds.

In the time after the uprising no one dared say a word about al-Assad. Many families had either lost a son to death or to the security service who usually came early in the morning and took the young Kurdish men away. My friend, who had only been out to buy bread on March 12, was brought home to his mom alive after one month in a jail in Damascus, tortured and with his teeth missing.

The grief of Kurds was deeper than the wells in their garden, it was a grief that paralysed the town and rest of West Kurdistan. Qamişlo was dead because its sons were dead. The Kurdish mothers tore their hair and ripped their clothes apart, the Kurdish fathers rocked back and forth with tears dripping down on the palms of their hands and the Kurdish sisters and brothers sat side by side, numb and with their heads falling first against their chest, then the wall.

The windows of Qamişlo are barred. The bars are shaped as flowers, fountains and sunrises but it does not change the fact that the town is a prison. The question is how can dead people tear off the window bars and demand freedom?

I was sitting in a livingroom in Qamişlo in January 2011, only weeks before the uprising in Syria began, and watching the people in Tunis overthrow Ben Ali. I once again asked the elder Kurds what this meant to them and what they would do. Nothing, they answered, never will we rise against al-Assad. I asked the young Kurds what they would do. They did not answer but I could see a fire in them I had never seen before.

Belê em in ejdehayê, ji xewa dili, siyar bûn niha, Cegerxwîn writes. The sleep of the Kurds will not last forever; the Kurdish people is a dragon that will awaken, ready to fight all injustice done to it.

The dragon is my generation, the dragon are the young men and women. Their sleep is not as deep as the sleep of their parents.

They are alive. They are Kurdistan.

Kurdish rights and constitutional exclusion in Syria

Kurdish rights and constitutional exclusion in Syria
by Christian Sinclair

In my first column, I’m going to recap a talk I gave last weekend in Istanbul at a conference called “On the Way to a New Constitution.”

What events of Syrian history have helped contribute to the brutal repression of that country’s Kurdish population? As the country’s largest ethnic minority, the Kurds in Syria make up approximately 10% of the country’s population and have long been denied the most basic expressions of identity in a ruthless push by the state to promote Arab nationalism and preserve its territorial integrity.  If we look at the evolution of Syria’s constitutions we may begin to understand the situation and how it has come to pass that Kurdish rights have been trampled on so thoroughly. Then, maybe, we can understand Kurdish calls for recognition under a new, post-Assad, post-Ba’ath constitution and ask what this long repressed group may need to feel like equal partners in a new Syria.

Since Syria’s separation from the Ottoman Empire, the country has experienced many constitutions, constitutional reforms, and constitutional setbacks. The nation’s 1920 constitution (its first) called the Syrian government an Arab government. This came on the heels of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the new nation became the “Arab Kingdom of Syria” under King Faisal, who announced that his would be an Arab government “based on justice and equality for all Arabs regardless of religion.” His government only lasted four months before the French took control.

In 1927 French Mandate Authorities set up a Constituent Assembly to begin drafting a new constitution. In the summer of 1928 a Kurdish delegation to the Constituent Assembly petitioned for political, cultural, and linguistic rights, including the use of Kurdish as a medium for teaching. However, worried about what was happening in neighboring countries and fearing nationalist aspirations, the French Mandate Authorities declined the Kurdish request.

Syria gained complete independence in 1946 and not too long after a major regional development would affect the long-term evolution of Syria’s many constitutions: the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. In Syria’s constitution of 1950 the addition of an article stating that Syria is “a part of the Arab nation” was added for the first time. The can be seen as a direct, defensive response to the formation of the state of Israel.

In an article from the Middle East Journal in 1951, Majid Khadduri discusses the question of Syrian unity as an additional factor that influenced Syria’s constitutional evolution. The French had parceled up “Greater Syria” doling out chunks of land to neighboring countries and establishing Lebanon as an independent entity. This created a Syrian version of Turkey’s “Sèvres Syndrome.”

Part of preamble to 1950 Constitution

Khadduri also said that “[s]tability in government presupposes the development of constitutional traditions. Frequent changes of regime…hardly afforded an opportunity of developing the tradition of responsibility necessary for stable government.” So if the tradition of responsibility wasn’t developing, what was? A fear of territorial disintegration, rising nationalism, worries about political stability, and regional geo-political shifts outside the government’s control. In 1953 another constitution was declared which added (in Article 3) that the Syrian Republic should pursue the goal of a “United Arab Nation.” But that constitution didn’t last long and the 1950 Constitution was reinstated in 1954.

From independence and through the early 1950s, a large-scale Kurdish political movement emerged, culminating in Syria’s first Kurdish political party in 1957. Some of the demands of the movement were: constitutional recognition, Kurdish participation in the administration of the state’s affairs, Kurdish as an official language, recognition of Newroz, and, some form of administrative autonomy. These demands, however, were only seen as risks. They were viewed through the developing lens of rising Arab nationalism and a fear of territorial disintegration. The Kurds were slowly inching up the list as the young nation’s most dangerous threat.

From 1958-1961 Syria was united with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic (UAR) and it was during this time that Arab nationalism flourished. The union provided the means and opportunity to implement assimilation policies to safeguard its existence. For example, Egyptian schoolteachers were sent to Kurdish regions in Syria to replace Kurds and to oversee the Arabic-only language policies. Syria withdrew from the UAR in 1961 and announced the formation of the Syrian “Arab” Republic. The union ended but the assimilation policies continued full force, including the now infamous census in 1962 that stripped 120,000 Kurds of their Syrian citizenship.

In April 2012 Rudaw interviewed the leader of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, who said: “The Kurdish history in the pre-Ba’ath era was different from that of the Ba’ath era. Kurds are not different from other citizens in Syria. This feeling emerged under the Ba’ath, because the Ba’ath Party really pursued a discriminatory, racist, and marginalizing policy against the Kurds.” He says that Kurds were part of the political and social landscape and there were no problems prior to 1963. Perhaps there were fewer problems, but he is whitewashing a discriminatory history. When the Ba`ath party came to power in 1963 it simply continued the existing policies of denying Kurdish identity.

In 1964 a temporary constitution stated in Article One that: “Syria is part of the Arab homeland. And the people of the Syrian Arab region are a part of the Arab nation. They work and struggle to achieve the Arab nation’s comprehensive unity.” Article 22 offered rights and freedoms only “under the condition of not endangering the national security” or “Arab unity.” This was a continuation of the constitutional exclusion and criminalization of non-Arab identities.

Another temporary constitution was announced in 1969, which included an article stating: “The educational system aims at upbringing an Arab nationalist socialist generation.” This reflected policies already in place. The Kurdish language had already been banned in public and in education. In 1967 school geography texts removed any mention of the Kurds. Yet other non-Arab minorities (Armenians and Assyrians in particular) had their own schools and clubs where their languages were taught. Why? They were not seen as a threat to the Arab nation.

Syria’s 1973 (and current) constitution is meaningless as the country’s penal codes supplant constitutional principles. These penal codes are used to prosecute Kurdish activists, politicians, and students, as Kurds are afforded no constitutional protections. They are charged with: “attempting to sever part of the Syrian territory to annex it to a foreign state” (Article 267); “involvement in cells seeking to weaken nationalist consciousness and to stir up racial sectarian strife” (Article 285); and, “involvement in an unauthorized organizations” (Article 288).

What do Kurds in Syria want today? Well, what have the Kurds been asking for since the French Mandate? Mother-tongue education in Kurdish, political freedoms, and de-criminalization of Kurdish identity through constitutional recognition. Demands have not changed much over time. What then needs to change for Kurds to achieve their long-sought-after goals? Syria needs to reconceptualize itself as a multi-ethnic, pluralistic democracy modeled on the idea of integration without assimilation and governance by the will of the people.

That notion of “the will of the people” as “the basis of the authority of the government” [Article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] somehow got lost along the way in Syria’s history to a point where it is now “the needs of the state” functioning as the sole basis of the authority of the government. Who will form “the people” upon which the authority of a future Syrian government will rest? Does the Syrian National Council truly represent the people? With accusations of foreign influence and declarations from the SNC leadership that Kurds will not be given group rights, the answer is no. The SNC or any representative body requires a willingness to integrate rather than exclude in whole or in part. At some point a new constitutional will be drafted. However, a new constitution will not resolve the current issues without a total overhaul of the country’s political structures and a reframing of the national mindset.

(follow Christian Sinclair on Twitter: @sinclair_c)

KHRP Report: Mother-Tongue Education in the Kurdish Regions

Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) today published a briefing paper entitled Culture and Language Rights – Mother-Tongue Education in the Kurdish Regions. The paper concludes that mother-tongue education, which in itself may be regarded as a fundamental right under international law, is not adequately recognised, protected or promoted in the Kurdish regions, serving as a barrier to conflict resolution in that area. The paper provides a comparative legal and practical overview of the use of mother-tongue education in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey today and makes some key recommendations for governments, civil society organisations and the international community on how to resolve the outstanding issues.


The use of mother-tongue languages is a crucial means for minority groups to express their cultural identity. The use of mother-tongue languages in education, both as the language of instruction and as an academic discipline, is a basic right, which serves to protect and promote this aim. Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey (hereinafter referred to as the “States”) are obliged under international human rights law and standards to guarantee this right.

However, to varying degrees, these States are failing to fulfil their international legal obligations in this regard, resulting in many individuals from minority groups being denied the enjoyment of this and various other fundamental rights.

The KHRP Briefing Paper provides an overview of the use of mother-tongue education in the States mentioned above and provides some key recommendations on how to tackle language right issues, which hinder conflict resolution in that region. The Briefing Paper is divided into five main parts:

(i) an overview of the relevant obligations under international law;
(ii) an overview of the national legal framework in each of the States;
(iii) a discussion of the importance of the right to mother-tongue education;
(iv) an analysis of the current status of the use of mother-tongue education in the States; and
(v) key recommendations for governments, civil society organisations and the international community on how to resolve the language rights issues discussed in this Briefing Paper.

**Click here to download the full (19 pg) report in .pdf.**

Tiziano Project | 360° Kurdistan: exhibit in DC, needs your help!

The Tiziano Project’s 360° Kurdistan will be on exhibit in Washington, DC beginning 04 August (through 01 September). They need your support to ensure its success! Please see letter below to learn about the exhibition and how you can donate.



Dear friends,

It brings me great pleasure to announce the Iraqi Cultural Center in Washington, DC has agreed to host an exhibition curated by yours truly and my colleague, award-winning photographer and Executive Director of the Tiziano Project, Jon Vidar. In Our Own Words is based on “360° Kurdistan”, a documentary initiative that presents the journalistic efforts and personal accounts of Iraqi citizens living in the Kurdish north. The project and exhibition strives to provide visitors with a robust and complete understanding of life, culture and news in present-day Iraqi Kurdistan. This unique exhibition is an example of storytelling as an art form, where the narrative is expressed and controlled by Iraqis and not filtered through the Western media.

The exhibition features:

  • 16 original photographs from young Iraqi journalists and their mentors
  • 15 individual video frames to exhibit journalist-produced news videos
  • Interactive computer stations with the 360 | Kurdistan website
  • Dedicated computer station with Skype interface enabling visitors to chat with Iraqi journalists (opening night only)
  • Interview booth with videographer where visitors can document their own stories about living and working in Iraq, or being an Iraqi American (opening night only)

While the Iraqi Cultural Center is gracious enough to host our exhibit opening on August 4, there’s a catch…we need to raise the funds for this event ourselves. Our budget is $3,000 to cover the costs of photographs and label printing, the video frames, and mounting supplies. We only have until July 8 before our materials need to go to the printer, so I am calling on all my loyal friends for their help to make this exhibition happen!

If you feel like supporting, you can donate through our Pledge page. As of June 28, we have already raised over $500. Another $20 or $30 from you would go a very long way. As an added incentive, if you donate $50 or more, I will send you an 8″x10″ print of any one of the original photographs featured in the exhibition.

If you have any questions or comments about the exhibition, don’t hesitate to ask. Opening night is Thursday August 4, so if you find yourself in DC, stop on by for the reception: 1630 Connecticut Avenue NW.


Catherine Foster

Jerry and Hafez

Yes, this is totally random and has nothing to do with anything really. I was going through an old box of stuff and came across some photographs and felt the need to share this particular one (which has been hidden away for many years now). I shot it in Deir ez-Zour in the mid-90s while there visiting a friend. It’s the wall outside of a kindergarten with Jerry the mouse and Hafez al-Assad, the late Syrian president. Seeing this was a nice change from all the Hafez, Basil and Bashar imagery around everywhere at that time. And it’s a cute image for little school children in their blue smocks as they enter the school, right?

Well, I just went to Wikipedia to look up Tom and Jerry, the cartoon in which Jerry appeared. It says:

The short episodes are infamous for some of the most comically gory gags ever devised in theatrical animation, such as Jerry slicing Tom in half, shutting his head in a window or a door, Tom using everything from axes, firearms, explosives, traps and poison to try to murder Jerry, Jerry stuffing Tom’s tail in a waffle iron and a mangle, kicking him into a refrigerator, plugging his tail into an electric socket, pounding him with a mace, club or mallet, causing a tree or an electric pole to drive him into the ground, sticking matches into his feet and lighting them, tying him to a firework and setting it off, and so on.

Hmmm. It never dawned on me that there was so much in common between this cartoon character and the Assad clan.

Kurdish economic, social and cultural rights in Turkey

On 20 May 2011, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) adopted concluding observations following its review of Turkey’s initial report on the implementation of the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The process is designed to strengthen collaboration between State and civil society actors around human rights promotion and protection.

In advance of this review, Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) had raised a number of concerns about Turkey’s compliance vis-à-vis the Kurds with its obligations under the Covenant by submitting a list of issues to the committee. KHRP also attended the Committee’s review of Turkey’s report, which took place in Geneva on 3 and 4 May 2011. This was a part of the Committee’s 46th Session.

For example, Article One of the Covenant states that ‘[a]ll peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’ and that states ‘shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right…’

In the report submitted by Turkey, its initial report to the Committee during this session, it references Article One’s right to self-determination as follows:

The Turkish nation is composed of citizens equal before the law irrespective of their origins. In the context of the Turkish nation, common denominator is citizenship. Every citizen has the right and power to lead an honourable life and to enhance his/her material and spiritual well-being in national culture, civilization and law order, by benefiting fundamental rights and freedoms set forth in the Constitution, in line with the principle of equality and social justice. Every Turkish citizen has effective access to government to pursue their political, economic, cultural and social development.

KHRP’s ‘List of Issues’ report methodically examines the Turkish report, poses questions and concerns, and then offers extensive background information regarding each particular article of the ICESCR.

Regarding Article One, for example, KHRP asked for information on the steps the Turkish Government was taking to promote the right of Kurdish people to self-determination, details of any policies and measures being pursued by the Turkish Government to ensure that Kurdish people are proportionally represented in national and regional political parties, and details about the people arrested under laws prohibiting written Kurdish in election campaigns and the proportion of those who are Kurdish.

KHRP then offers this background material on issues raised in Article One:

1. The Turkish Constitution was designed, in 1982, in conformity with Turkey’s strict adherence to a single Turkish nationalism. By failing to recognise any other ethnic identity except Turkish, Turkey refuses to grant its ethnic minorities their right of self-determination.1 For the Kurds, who make up approximately 23 per cent of Turkey’s population, this refusal is felt through Turkey’s embargo of their cultural and political freedoms.

2. The boldest way by which the Turkish Government denies Kurdish people their right of self-determination is through the criminalisation of political organisations and civil society institutions which advocate Kurdish rights and freedoms. By aligning political sympathies for the Kurdish people with a separatist threat, the Turkish Government has been able to use anti-terror laws to outlaw pro-Kurdish parties, expunge their members from parliament and authorise their subsequent arrest. Since the early 1970s the Turkish Government has instigated a policy of systematically banning peaceful and legitimate Kurdish political parties. This long-standing policy has had a constraining effect upon the ability of Kurdish parties to participate in the Turkish political system.

3. A second exclusionary device takes the form of prohibitions on written Kurdish languages in election campaigns. Laws which formerly prohibited spoken Kurdish have, in the past, justified the imprisonment of members of Kurdish political parties. The number of Kurdish people arrested under the present prohibition on written Kurdish is unknown. A corollary effect of this language restriction is the preclusion of Kurdish citizens from participating in the election process, many of whom cannot read Turkish.

4. Without democratic decentralisation in the Kurdish regions, the ability of Kurdish people to contribute to the formulation of national policies is extremely limited. The establishment of a properly representative decentralised body or bodies in the Kurdish region is essential for the realisation of Article 1 of the ICESCR by Kurdish Turks.

In each successive article, KHRP cites extensive research and legal casework to demonstrate significant areas where the Turkish Government has failed sufficiently to meet its obligations under the ICESCR, in spite of statements that it makes in its initial report submitted in June 2008.

To fully appreciate the failings of the Turkish Government to ensure economic, social and cultural rights of the Kurds in Turkey, it is essential to read the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, then the report submitted by Turkey, followed by the KHRP ‘List of Issues’ report.

The ICESCR can be downloaded here (.pdf).

Turkey’s report to the Committee (June 2008) can be downloaded here (158-page Word document).

The Committee’s questions/issues (June 2010) for the Turkish delegation can be downloaded here (5-page Word document).

The KHRP ‘List of Issues’ report (May 2010) can be downloaded from the KHRP website here.

In the concluding observations, the Committee noted principal subjects of concern and provided recommendations for Turkey. KHRP welcomed, in particular, the comment that in light of the fact that Turkey ‘recognizes only Greeks, Jews and Armenians as minorities, the Committee expresses concern about the absence of a broad legislative framework for the recognition of all minorities…including the Kurds, the Roma and the Arameans.’ KHRP joined the Committee in urging Turkey to recognise all the minorities in its territory and to provide them the full opportunities to enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights and to adopt the necessary plans of action for this purpose. The full report on the Committee’s concluding observations can be downloaded at the 46th Session Website.

Below are a few excerpts from the KHRP report and their corresponding articles:

Article Two: Non-Discrimination

10. There is no comprehensive law on non-discrimination in Turkey. The existing legal framework is fragmented and refrains from incorporating sound and effective measures aimed at eradicating discrimination against the Kurds. A first step towards this goal requires that statistical information about Turkey’s ethnic or linguistic groups is obtained. As yet the Turkish authorities have failed to conduct any such census or other comprehensive survey along these lines.

12. The only legislative provision outlined in Turkey’s report which has as its specific rationale the elimination of discrimination is Article 216 of the Penal Code, which is concerned with the incitement of racial hatred. However, this provision has not been applied to oral, written or other expressions which target the Kurdish population. Further, the European Commission has criticised its discriminatory application by certain public prosecutors in order to prosecute personalities expressing “pro-Kurdish views”, rather than to punish racist remarks.

Exclusion of Kurds from definition of “minority”

13. Turkish official policy on minorities is based on the Lausanne Treaty signed on 24 July 1923, which provides protection only for non-Muslim minorities. Since the majority of Kurds follow Sunni Islam, they are excluded from minority protection. In contra-distinction to religious minorities, such as Greek-Orthodox, Armenian and Jewish peoples, the Kurdish identity is not recognised by the Turkish legal framework. As a result, Turkey’s most significant minority population are denied the rights available to non-Muslim minorities.

15. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in its Recommendation 1201 (1993) proposes the following definition: “… the expression “national minority” refers to a group of persons in a State who: a) reside in the territory of that State and are citizens thereof, b) maintain long-standing, firm and lasting ties with that state, c) display distinctive ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic characteristics, d) are sufficiently representative, although smaller in number than the rest of the population of the State or of a region of that State, and e) are motivated by a concern to preserve together that which constitutes their common identity, including their culture, their traditions, their religion or their language.” Turkey should adopt this definition in order to give effect to Article 2 of the ICESCR. In May 2003, the European Parliamentary Commission on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy condemned Turkey’s refusal to accommodate the linguistic and cultural rights of the Kurds and stressed the need for Constitutional reform. This sentiment has since been echoed by other European bodies.

Article Three: Gender Discrimination

27. The discrimination faced by Kurdish women with regard to access to education stems from Article 42 of Turkey’s Constitution, which provides that only Turkish may be taught as the mother tongue in Turkish educational institutions. A study in Turkey examining the influence of speaking Turkish on socio-economic indicators found that 90 per cent of women in the eastern and southern Turkish regions who do not speak Turkish did not finish primary school, are illiterate and are employed either as agricultural or unpaid family workers. This study further concluded that since Kurdish women and girls speak Kurdish at home, any restriction on educational opportunities will subsequently restrict any opportunities to learn Turkish and integrate into mainstream society. Although the KHRP recognises that this information precedes Turkey’s ratification of the Convention, there is a dearth of more up-to-date information about the impact of speaking Turkish on socio-economic indicators in relation to Kurdish people.

Article Eight: Right to Trade Unions

54. Restriction of trade union activities and labour rights by the Turkish authorities has a particularly negative impact on the country’s Kurdish population. Kurdish trade unionists have been subjected to allegations of involvement in terrorism, as is the case with many Kurdish politicians, socialists, lawyers and anyone else who argues for rights for the Kurds or working people. Furthermore, union activities must be carried out in Turkish, weakening the ability of Kurds to organise on their own terms. Eğitim-Sen was forced to remove a clause in its constitution supporting the right to education in one’s mother tongue. Kurds are also particularly vulnerable to the practice of ‘internal exile’ of activists, the compulsory transfer of an employee to a part of the country far from home, without the possibility of being accompanied by spouse or family. An unspoken but well understood element of this practice is that it involves uprooting a person generally of Kurdish origin, ethnicity and language group and transferring him to a Turkish-speaking area where they will be more or less isolated.

Article Fifteen: Cultural Rights

Freedom of expression is not applied in the same manner to the Kurdish language as it is to the Turkish language. Furthermore, the Turkish Government links Kurdish associations to terror groups.

116. Such discrimination is also found in the area of expression of Kurdish culture. Celebrations such as Newroz, the Kurdish new-year celebration, are limited and overseen by the authorities. The Government’s refusal to support such cultural issues results in violence and arbitrary detention.

117. Kurdish culture is also found in the Kurdish alphabet which is different to the Turkish alphabet. The Kurdish alphabet has the additional letters of “Q, W, X”, which are prohibited in Turkey. Although such letters can be used in Kurdish names people will be unable to register them for official use. The recent case of Kemal Taşkin and Others v Turkey highlights these issues the Kurdish people struggle with.

Self-congratulatory end note: In its report to the 46th Session Committee in Geneva, KHRP (in Article 13: Right to Education) cited Kurdistan Commentary’s report on Mother-tongue education in Kurdish (06 Dec 2009). Kurdistan Commentary is proud to be a contributing part of this process.


Umur Hozatlı’s film about JİTEM, ‘Lost Freedom’

2011, 91 minutes in Turkish and Kurdish (click for larger image)

The film, ‘Lost Freedom’ (Kayıp Özgürlük in Turkish and Azadîya Wenda in Kurdish), by director Umur Hozatlı describes one of the most brutal organisations in the Turkey, JİTEM (Turkish: Jandarma İstihbarat ve Terörle Mücadele), the über-clandestine Intelligence and Counterterrorism Police Force) which was formed by the Turkish government and is believed to be responsible for thousands of disappearances in the country’s Kurdish dominated regions in the ‘90s. Hozatlı describes his film as a ‘call to confrontation.’

‘Lost Freedom’ reveals the dark side of JİTEM to the rest of the Turkish community, which remains ignorant of its own history. This is the first film of its kind to hold JİTEM accountable and openly criticise the organisation.

Hozatlı discusses what inspired him to make his first full-length movie: ‘Kurds launched an organised fight after a long-period of slavery and captivity. Since then, Kurdish people have been living in a time of enormous tragedy. Ignoring this tragedy is a vital mistake. I cannot be one of those people who turn a blind eye to this problem.’

Hozatlı’s ‘Lost Freedom’ was previously shown at a number of festivals. It had its public release last week but was screened at only two movie theatres in Istanbul and in two theatres in the mainly Kurdish cities of Diyarbakır and Batman. The director has not commented on the reasons why so few movie theatres have been interested in the film, but the film is highly political and takes a daring look at the abyss of thousands of disappearances and unsolved murders in Turkey’s recent history. In an earlier interview with news site Bianet, Hozatlı said the film had limited funding and he took out personal loans to fund the project. The film was two years in the making.

The movie is set in Istanbul some time in the mid-90s. It starts with the abduction of a young man, Deniz Şahin, by a group of armed individuals not wearing gendarmerie uniforms although they later prove to be JİTEM officers. He is taken to the interrogation centre of a gendarmerie black ops unit, JİTEM. Their aim is to extract information from Deniz, whom they accuse of belonging to a terrorist organisation. The cast includes actors Serdar Kavak, Vedat Perçin, Musa Yıldırım and Öznur Kula.

Umur Hozatlı: 'In making this film, I wanted to translate for the world the trauma that Kurds face while keeping in mind that art, as well as people and states, can be fascist too.’

The existence of JİTEM was first reported by Ayşe Önal in 1994. Önal was introduced to JİTEM’s founder, Veli Küçük, by fellow journalist, Tuncay Güney. She wrote about what she learned at that meeting and was fired immediately thereafter (along with 19 of her co-workers) from her position at Ateş Magazine.

Rationale and speculation around JİTEM’s mission are varied. Some say it existed to foment infighting in the PKK and to raise stakes in the fight against PKK terror. The Turkish military needed the PKK (as the US military needs al-Qaeda) to keep it operational. JİTEM carried out assassinations and bombings that were blamed on the PKK and gave the military justification to continue its operations and presence in Kurdish areas. One well-known example is the 2005 bookstore bomb attack in Semdinli.

Abdulkadir Aygan, a former PKK member and later a JİTEM operative, claimed that JİTEM executed between 600 and 700 Kurds in the 1990s and that ‘JİTEM operations always ended in death…those who were reported to JİTEM as having any relationship with the PKK were executed.’ Aygan is now living in political exile in Sweden.

Tuncay Güney, a suspected former member of Ergenekon now living in Canada, said a large number of the Kurds executed by JİTEM in the 1990s were doused with acid and buried in wells located near facilities of the state-owned Turkish Pipeline Corporation (BOTAŞ) in Silopi.

Both Güney and Aygan have said that many Kurds were thrown into wells between Şırnak and Cizre. Aygan claims to have knowledge of 16 such wells. Güney also claimed that one of the torture centres of JİTEM was based in northern Iraq.

The Turksih Human Rights Association (IHD) estimates that between 1989 and 2008 JİTEM was involved in 5,000 unsolved killings of journalists, human rights defenders, intellectuals and political activists and was responsible for 1,500 cases of ‘disappearances.’ Former chair of Diyarbakır Bar Association Sezgin Tanrıkulu put the figures above 4,000, close to 5,000.

Director Umur Hozatlı was born in 1969 in Dersim (Tunceli). He began his career in journalism in 1992, working for Özgür Gündem, Özgür Ülke, Yeni Politika, Demokrasi, Özgür Bakış and Yeni Gündem as a reporter, editor and columnist. Because of an article he wrote in 1993 on the Kurdish issue he was sentenced to three years and 9 months in prison and fined 400 million Turkish Lira.

Watch trailer:


JİTEM movie has restricted screening in first week. Today’s Zaman, 27 April 2011.

JİTEM and the ‘deep state’. Kurdistan Commentary, 09 February 2009.

Kayıp Özgürlük. Politik Sinema.

Missing Freedom reveals horror of Jitem. Firat News Agency, 28 April 2011.

Kayıp Özgürlük, Bir Yüzleşme Çağrısıdır. bianet, 25 April 2011.

Interrogations and arrests of Kurdish activists continue in Syria

Are security forces trying to provoke clashes in the Kurdish areas of Syria? This is what seems to be happening as State Security Intelligence and Military Security have begun summoning activists for questioning and arresting some, including members of Kurdish political parties. Today arrests have been reported in Qamişlo and Ra’s al-‘Ayn (Serê Kaniyê) of members of the Kurdish Yekîtî Party of Syria, a poet, and several young activists.

Kurds began demonstrating on 01 April; somewhat later than others in the country. To date, the Kurdish regions have been spared the horrific violence and bloodshed that have defined the protests in Dera’a, Banyas, Homs and other places in the western part of Syria. But in the Kurdish areas of the northeast there have been no incidents of clashes with police, security, or anyone else. Demonstrations have been peaceful with no interference whatsoever.

On Thursday Emergency Laws were lifted in the country. This is only symbolic as there are many other laws that the state apparatus can use to continue its repressive policies. And it has been since Friday that there has been a noticeable increase of harassment of Kurds involved in the protests. So why the sudden about-face in policy?

Desperation is one possibility. The state does not want to see a full-scale Kurdish revolt on top everything else. So they are reverting to their old tactics of sowing fear and intimidation amongst the populace. But it will not work any longer! They are only provoking what they don’t want.

Kurdish Syrian news sites have reported that there are plans to demonstrate tomorrow and the next day in front of the Security Branch in Qamişlo to demand the release of those who have been arrested. On Twitter, #SyriaKurdishRev is calling on those who have been summoned by State Security not to give themselves up.

The Kurdish Yekîtî Party of Syria has condemned the arrests and interrogations and calls for the immediate release of the detainees and the halt to further provocations. They further stated that if the security apparatus continue their actions against the Kurds, that the Kurdish street would no longer remain silent.

In addition to calling for national unity, Kurds have been supporting protesters in Dera’a, Lattakia, Homs, and other cities that have suffered the most. But the Kurds have also been calling for recognition of the Kurdish people and more respect. Below are some of the signs seen in Qamişlo and Amûde.

Elimination of Article 8 of the constitution

Constitutional acknowledgment of the Kurdish people in Syria

Kurds and Arabs together for peaceful change (freedom)

Freedom is respect of the people

We want the Kurdish language taught in the schools

Syria: Will Friday bring dignity or disaster?

Newroz in Qamişlo

March has been a month of contradictions in Syria. Protests and clashes have rocked the town of Dera’a in southwestern Syria, while Kurds are receiving positive, though not necessarily sincere, attention from the regime.

As Kurdistan Commentary wrote in early February, if protests were to occur in Syria, ‘given the regime’s penchant for non-tolerance of disobedience and ruthless repression of dissent, the other possibility is violent suppression of the protests.’ And the result ‘will be nothing short of mayhem.’

Protesters Dera’a, where the death toll is in the dozens, are demanding the repeal the Emergency Law adopted in 1963 when the ruling Ba’ath Party took power, the release of political prisoners, free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections, and economic reforms to alleviate chronic unemployment and growing poverty in the country. It is not terribly surprising then that Dera’a, one of the poorest regions in the country, is at the epicentre of the protests.

While all the attention on Syria right now is focused on the clashes and killings in Dera’a and other nearby towns, Dera’a is probably the town furthest from Qamişlo (al-Qamishli in Arabic), the Kurdish centre of Syria.

The Kurdish minority in Syria, some 10% of the population, faces severe restrictions on cultural and linguistic expression, and systematic and pervasive human rights abuses by the Ba’athist regime. The state of emergency that has been in force since 1963, gives the security agencies virtually unlimited authority to arrest suspects and hold them incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge.

Given Qamişlo’s past, the Syrian regime hedged its bets and stepped up security there and other regional Kurdish areas. The Syrian military was deployed in force in Qamişlo just prior to Newroz (Kurdish New Year celebrated on the spring equinox) and thousands of soldiers were stationed in al-Hassakeh. It was reported though that the security forces in the Kurdish region were under strict instructions not to clash with the Kurds during Newroz, a time during which Kurds and Syrian security forces typically come to blows often resulting in deaths and mass arrests.

Newroz celebration. Photo/SANA

In a very interesting twist this year, SANA (the official state-run Syrian Arab News Agency) reported that Kurds in Syria celebrated Newroz. Syrian media never mention or acknowledge the Kurds. The SANA report emphasised ‘the state of amity binding all Syrians in a fabulous national mosaic.’ The report also said that Kurds celebrated joyously waving Syrian flags.

The Kurdish website Soparo also reported that two TV channels (Orient TV and Ad-Dounia TV) in Syria broadcast events from Newroz celebrations in Drejik, a village some 30km from Qamişlo.

In Qamişlo, Kurds poured into the streets to celebrate Newroz. Though no clashes with the authorities were reported, speakers at the celebrations echoed calls for ending state of emergency, release of political prisoners, and respect for political freedoms. At night, celebrations turned to protests, with protesters filling the narrow streets of the city, shouting ‘Freedom, Freedom, Freedom’ and cars honked their horns.

A Kurd from a prominent dissident family in Qamişlo said: ‘I’ve lost my mother, sister, and brother, and I have nothing more to lose. At the same time, looking at what’s happened in previous years, I don’t even want to think what the reaction would be if we step out of line.’

In another gesture to the Kurds, the Syrian Ministry for Social Affairs and Labour announced on 07 March, that registered stateless Kurds in Syria (ajanib) would have the same status as Syrian citizens in all areas of employment. Until then, ajanib were not allowed to own a business or register one in their name. Nor did they have the right to work as a state employee (such as a teacher, judge, or doctor in a public hospital), or to practice law. The extent to which this decision will be implemented currently remains unclear. This decision does not affect the unregistered stateless Kurds, the maktumeen.

Buthaina Sha’aban

But just a few days later it was business as usual. Students at the University of Damascus were arrested for observing a moment of silence with other students at the university to mark the seventh anniversary of the ‘Qamişlo Uprising.’ It is not currently known which security service arrested the two students or where they are being held.

Clearly the regime in Damascus does not want confrontations with its Kurdish populations at the moment while it is violently repressing demonstrations in Dera’a. It is unfortunate though that the relative calm in the northeast comes only because of the harsh crackdowns in the southwest.

Yesterday, Bashar al-Asad’s political and media advisor, Buthaina Sha’aban, wished Kurds a ‘Newroz Mubarak’ or ‘happy new year,’ as she spoke at a news conference describing the ‘wonderful coexistence’ amongst Syrian people. More of the ‘fabulous national mosaic’ discourse. Sha’aban also said the government was drafting a law that would allow political parties other than the ruling Ba’ath party, would examine lifting emergency law, and loosen media restrictions.

Dignity Friday

Media restrictions are some of the most severe in the Middle East. In early February, however, the Syrian regime restored access to Facebook and YouTube, both of which had been long banned. Kurds have set up a Facebook page (Şoreşa Ciwanên Kurd/ثورة الشباب الكردي) that links to the other Syrian sites calling for change in Syria. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said however that ‘one month after allowing Facebook into Syria, Syrian forces are detaining those who dare to use it to communicate.’

Today, Friday, 25 March may well be a tipping point for protesters calling for reforms. Today is supposed to be a day of protests, dubbed ‘Dignity Friday’ by online democracy activists, and calling for rallies across the country.

With dawn breaking in Qamişlo, there are already reports on Twitter of gunfire, protests, and marches there, as well as pro-regime forces driving through the city beeping their horns.

Protesters chant ‘God, Syria and just freedom’ and then ‘freedom, freedom’, on 21 March 2011, as Kurdish flags fly in the background. The chant is a take on the Baa’thist chant ‘God, Syria and Assad.’ Video clip found at Alliance for Kurdish Rights website.


Blanford, Nicholas. Syria protests escalate, but could revolt really take root? MinnPost, 21 March 2011.

Malla, Hussein and Zeina Karam. Syria concessions fail to ease fears ahead of Dignity Friday. The Scotsman, 25 March 2011.

Damascus: Ajanib receive equal status in employment matters. KurdWatch, 14 March 2011.

Damascus: Students arrested after moment of silence. KurdWatch, 16 March 2011.

Syrian Revolution Digest, March 21, 2011. Damascus Bureau, 23 March 2011.

Syria: Security Forces Kill Dozens of Protesters. Human Rights Watch, 24 March 2011

أخبار: شعبان: دراسة انهاء العمل بقانون الطوارئ بالسرعة الكلية , تشكيل لجنة لمحاسبة المتسببين والمقصرين في أحداث درعا, زيادة الرواتب للعاملين في الدولة بصورة فورية , تعديل مرسوم 49 Welatê Me, 24 March 2011.

لأول مرة قناتين تلفزيونيتين سوريتين تغطيان نوروز سوريا والكرد يحييون فيها انتفاضة 15 آذار السورية Soparo, 22 March 2011.

دمشق والمحافظات تشهد احتفالات بعيد النوروز.. المشاركون: تعكس التنوع الثقافي والحضاري وتعبر عن الألفة والمحبة بين أبناء الوطن SANA, 22 March 2011.