One year anniversary of #TwitterKurds

It’s coming up later this month. The one year anniversary of #TwitterKurds!! Never heard of it? It’s a campaign on Twitter to raise awareness of Kurdish issues. It’s for anyone who wants to give voice to the Kurdish struggle for freedom of expression, freedom to be Kurdish, and freedom to speak Kurdish. It is a movement to raise awareness of human rights abuses perpetrated against the Kurdish peoples of the Middle East. It is a powerful social media tool to overcome media bias and spread the truth. #TwitterKurds has even been mentioned on Al Jazeera’s The Stream. It is a force to be reckoned with!

The power behind #TwitterKurds comes from the hundreds of dedicated global voices sending out 140-character messages hour after hour, day after day, gathering followers, users, believers; changing minds, changing hearts. When #TwitterKurds knocks on your social media door you might ask, ‘Who’s there?’ and #TwitterKurds responds, ‘The truth.’

In honour of #TwitterKurds‘ first anniversary, there will be a mass tweet campaign to raise global awareness of the issues in all parts of Kurdistan. Join us on 25th May from 10 to 10GMT.

Want to learn more? Go to Twitter. Follow #TwitterKurds for more information. You can also join the #TwitterKurds FB page!

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)

Conference: On the Way to a New Constitution

Click for full-size conference poster

The organisers of this conference have asked us to announce this on Kurdistan Commentary. The overview and programme are below. The programme concept (in .pdf format) can be downloaded here (Turkish & English). The conference will be livestreamed at this site: http://www.anayasayolunda.com. Looks as though there will be lots of room for discussion about the Kurds given the topic of the conference and the line-up of speakers.

Conference Overview:

The events of the Arab Spring brought tremendous change for all Arab countries. Old dictatorships had collapsed, governments had to introduce reforms; the whole process is still ongoing and the results of the events are yet to be seen. In many countries a process of replacing or at least reforming the constitution started. Different models of participation of society and various forms of demands from the people are to be observed.

This conference wants to bring together the various experiences from around the region with a comparative civic/human rights perspective. It intends to focus on the question as to what does it meanto be “free” after the revolution, and try to understand the current dynamics that shape the very basis of a social contract in respective countries? This is an important task, given that for the first time since the modern state building experiences, people of the region now have the chance to develop a common vision on issues pertaining to democratic citizenship, based on their will and internal dynamics in a mutually learning environment. As such, the conference will be dealing with issues and problems of the following sort and similar others:

Programme:

On the Way to a New Constitution:
Middle East, North Africa and Turkey
28th April 2012, Istanbul
Point Hotel Taksim

09:30 Registration
10:00 Opening Remarks
FES Turkey & Helsinki Citizens Assembly

10:15 1st Panel : Regional Caucus on Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey
– Iran:
Abbas Vali, Boğaziçi University
– Syria:
Christian Sinclair, University of Arizona
– Kurdistan Regional Government:
Rebwar Kerim Wali, Rudaw
– Turkey:
Cengiz Çandar, Radikal Daily

Moderation: Nigâr Hacızade

12:00 Coffee Break

12:15 Discussion

13:30 Lunch

15:00 2nd Panel: Regional Caucus on Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Turkey
– Egypt:
Amr Shalakany, American University of Cairo
– Tunisia:
Choukri Hmed, Université Paris-Dauphine
– Algeria:
Omar Benderra, International Committee of Solidarity with the Algerian free Trade-Unions
– Turkey:
Ayhan Bilgen, Democratic Constitution Movement

Moderation: Işın Eliçin

16:45 Coffee Break

17:00 Discussion

18:15 Concluding remarks: Herta Däubler-Gmelin, Former Minister of Justice, Germany

English-Turkish simultaneous translation will be provided during the conference.

SPEAKERS:

Abbas Vali
Vali obtained a BA in Political Science from the National University of Iran in 1973. He then moved to the UK to continue his graduate studies in modern political and social theory. He obtained an MA in Politics from the University of Keele in 1976. He then received his PhD in Sociology from the University of London in 1983. This was followed by a post-doctoral research fellowship funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in 1984. Abbas Vali began his academic carrier in 1986 in the Department of Political Theory and Government at the University of Wales, Swansea. He was invited by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to establish and lead a new university in Erbil in 2005. He was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kurdistan before he was removed for disagreements with the KRG over the management of the university in May 2008. Professor Vali has since been teaching Modern Social and Political Theory in the Department of Sociology at Bogazici University in Istanbul.

Rebwar Kerim Wali
Rebwar Kerim Wali started to work as a journalist in 1995, and is currently the editor-in-chief of the Rudaw Newspaper which is being published in Iraqi Kurdistan and Europe. Furthermore he is also the chief editor of the newly formed Rudaw TV. Rebwar Kerim Wali worked as a journalist during the civil war that erupted due to the dispute between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Kurdistan Partriotic Union. Before he was imprisoned in 2002 because of his articles, he continued to work as a domestic journalist. In 2003 he started to work as a correspondent and representative for foreign press agencies such as BBC Turkish, RFI Farsi, Independent Europe Radio. In 2004 he established the Peyamner News Agency, the first independent news agency in Kurdistan. He is also the founder of Zagros TV where he functioned as the chief editor for 1,5 years. Furthermore, Wali is the founder of the following newspapers: Hewler Post, Bevada, Rudaw. Hewler Post was also the first newspaper to be published online in Turkish. His mother tongue being Kurdish, Wali also fluently speaks Persian, Arabic and Turkish. He also has intermediate knowledge in English.

Christian Sinclair
Christian Sinclair is deputy director of the University of Arizona’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and director of the university’s program in Jordan. He is also a member of the executive committee of the US-based Kurdish Studies Association. Sinclair teaches “Democratization and Human Rights in the Middle East” at UA and “Ethnography of the Middle East” in Jordan. He has given more than a dozen talks in the past couple years in the US and Europe, mainly on the human rights situation of the Kurds, with particular focus on media, language, and politics. His most reason article, published in MERIP, is “The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria.” Sinclair lived in Syria for seven years in the 1990s and has returned regularly since then.

Amr Shalakany
Amr Shalakany has served as associate professor of law in American University of Cairo since 2004. He served for four years as LL.M. Program Director since the Law Departments establishment in 2005. He also holds a joint appointment as Assistant Professor of Civil Law at Cairo University Faculty of Law. Before joining AUC, Shalakany was the Jeremiah Smith Junior Visiting Assistant Professor at Harvard Law School, where he taught Comparative Law and Islamic Law. Earlier, he served as legal advisor to the PLO Negotiations Support Unit in Ramallah during the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, and also taught at Birzeit University and helped set up the Law Clinic at the Law Institute. His recent projects include completing his Carnegie Scholar book manuscript tentatively entitled “The Redefinition of Shari’a in Modern Egyptian Legal Thought: 1798 — Present;” co-editing with Prof Khaled Fahmy the collected papers from “New Approaches to Modern Egyptian Legal History,” a symposium held in June 2009; and “A Short History of the Modern Egyptian Legal Elite” (forthcoming in Boutiveau & Maugiron eds., Egypt and Its Laws (2011).

Choukri Hmed
Choukri Hmed is an Associate Professor in Political Science at the Paris-Dauphine University since September 2007. He is also Visiting Associate Professor at Bing Overseas Stanford Program in History and International Relations (Centre of Paris). He is currently director of the Master, Social and Political Researches, at the Paris-Dauphine University, and associated researcher at the Institut de recherche interdisciplinaire en sciences sociales (IRISSO, UMR CNRS 7170). Since 2011 he carries out a fieldwork research on the revolutionary process and contentious politics in Tunisia. Among his publications are: Choukri Hmed, 2011, “Apprendre à devenir révolutionnaire en Tunisie”, Les Temps modernes, 664; Choukri Hmed et al., eds, 2011, “Observer les mobilisations”, Politix. Revue des sciences sociales du politique, 93.

Omar Benderra
Omar Benderra, born in Algiers (Algeria), now living in Paris (France), has studied economy and finance in Algiers. He is the former chairman of an Algerian state-owned bank for the period 1989-1991. Since then, he’s been working as a consultant and journalist. Omar Benderra is member to the International Committee of Solidarity with the Algerian free Trade-Unions (CISA) –Paris, director of the Frantz Fanon Foundation, and a fellow of the Centre for North African Studies in Cambridge University.

Cengiz Çandar
Cengiz Çandar is a journalist and former war correspondent from Turkey. He began his career as a journalist in 1976 in the newspaper Vatan after living some years in the Middle East and in Europe due to his opposition to the regime in Turkey following the military intervention in 1971. As an expert on the Middle East (Lebanon and Palestine) and the Balkans (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Çandar worked for the Turkish News Agency and for the leading Turkish newspapers Cumhuriyet, Hürriyet, Referans and Güneş. Currently, he is a columnist at Radikal Daily. Çandar served as special adviser to Turkish president Turgut Özal between 1991 and 1993. Between 1999 and 2000, he conducted research on “Turkey in the 21st Century” as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and as a Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

Ayhan Bilgen
Ayhan Bilgen is a journalist and Kurdish human rights activist. He studies Public Management at Ankara University and functioned as the Head of the Ankara Office of MAZLUMDER and was a member of the board of directors in the very same association. In May 2006 at the 7th General Assembly he was elected to become the president of the association for two years. Furthermore, Bilgen works as a columnist for the Ülkede Özgür Gündem newapaper. In the general election on 22 July 2007 he ran as an independent MP candidate from Konya as part of the Bin Umut Adayları (a campaign backed by mainly Kurdish independent MP candidates in response to the 10% threshold). He has recently been working on issues relating to the writing of a democratic and encompassing new constitution.

Kurdistan Commentary announces two new authors

Shiler Amini and Christian Sinclair will be joining Kurdistan Commentary as regular authors.

Shiler Amini

Shiler Amini is a PhD candidate in Kurdish Studies at the University of Exeter. She is a news journalist with a background in sociology, with interests concentrated around Kurdish politics, media, women’s rights, linguistics and the Kurdish diaspora. Amini currently writes editorials for online journals such as Rojhelat: The Kurdish Observer and Kurd.se | Den Kurdiska Rösten and will now be doing the same for Kurdistan Commentary.

Christian Sinclair

Christian Sinclair, who has posted with Kurdistan Commentary before, is assistant director of University of Arizona’s Centre for Middle Eastern Studies. He is also on the Kurdish Studies Association’s executive committee. Sinclair’s interests — as they relate to Kurdish Studies — include human rights, politics, media, and language and he is a frequent speaker on Kurdish issues. His article, The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria, was published by MERIP last August. He will write a fortnightly column, which will appear Mondays beginning on 7th May.

Kurdistan Commentary is very excited to have these two join the team. Their expertise in the region and exceptional writing skills will afford Kurdistan Commentary’s readers new insights into the field of Kurdish Studies.

Kurdistan Commentary welcomes other authors/bloggers to share their stories. If you are interested in joining the Kurdistan Commentary team, send an email to us at kurdistancommentary@googlemail.com. There is no editorial oversight for authors with a proven track record. Authors will be given an author account and post directly to Kurdistan Commentary.

Press freedom takes another hit in Turkey as Özgür Gündem is shuttered for one month

Özgür Gündem, the pro-Kurdish daily, was suspended again after a court decided on Saturday that the paper was ‘spreading terrorist propaganda.’ Police then raided the printing press where Özgür Gündem is published and confiscated Sunday’s edition of the newspaper. The newspaper will be closed for a month because the court ruling says that news, photographs, and commentaries published on pages 1, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the 25th March edition were making propaganda for a terrorist organisation. See those pages via the online edition of yesterday’s paper here.

Huseyin Aykol, editor of Özgür Gündem, said the court cited the newspaper’s reporting of Newroz celebration from the Qandil mountains as one example of spreading terrorist propaganda. Supporters of press freedom gathered yesterday in Istanbul’s Taksim Square to protest the decision to close the daily.

Huseyin Aykol, editor of Özgür Gündem

Last November and December, police raided Özgür Gündem offices, detained several of the newspaper’s journalists and carted away computers as part of a crackdown on Kurdish media outlets. At present, 11 Özgür Gündem journalists are behind bars due to their alleged links to the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).

Özgür Gündem, which prints in Turkish to raise awareness of the Kurdish issue, was first published in 1992 but was banned two years later and only began publishing again on 04 April 2011. During that time employees, including reporters, were attacked and even murdered to silence the newspaper. After its closure in April 1994 it re-opened under the name of Özgür Ülke. Eight months later, in December 1994, three offices of Özgür Ülke were bombed, which resulted in the death of one of its employees in addition to 21 wounded.

Because of the gross abuses against the newspaper, a case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey. The case originated in an application (no. 23144/93) against the Republic of Turkey lodged with the Commission under former Article 25 by then editor-in-chief (Gurbetelli Ersöz), assistant editor-in-chief (Fahri Ferda Çetin) and two owners of the newspaper Özgür Gündem. The newspaper was closed after being subjected to a series of attacks and harassment which the applicants claimed were the direct or indirect responsibility of Turkish authorities.

The basic premise of the case, as described in the brief, was as follows:

Özgür Gündem was a daily newspaper the main office of which was situated in Istanbul. It was a Turkish language publication with an estimated national circulation of up to 45,000 copies and a further unspecified international circulation. It incorporated its predecessor, the weekly publication Yeni Ülke, which was produced between 1990 and 1992. Özgür Gündem was published from 30 May 1992 until April 1994. It was succeeded by another newspaper, Özgür Ülke.

The case concerns the allegations of the applicants that Özgür Gündem was the subject of serious attacks and harassment which forced its eventual closure and for which the Turkish authorities are directly or indirectly responsible.

The court document then describes the details of circumstances in which several persons connected with the paper were killed; newsagents were attacked, arson attacks were perpetrated against news-stands and newsagents, and bombs exploded at the newspaper’s offices and a news-agency.

On 16 March 2000, the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously against Turkey that this was violation of freedom of expression (Article 10) and must pay compensation.

The evidence showed that there were numerous incidents of violence involving the newspaper, journalists, distributors and other persons associated with it. The concerns of the paper were brought to the attention of the authorities; no measures were taken to investigate the situation, and no protective measures were taken save in two incidents.

In one instance, the Court noted the provocative nature of some of the articles which spoke of Kurdistan, implying that it was or should be a separate territory. However, said the court, the public enjoys the right to be informed of different perspectives on the situation in Southeastern Turkey no matter how unpalatable to the authorities.

A film has been made about that time period and the struggles of the newspaper. Press (Sedat Yılmaz, 2010) presents its problematic through the daily struggles of the Özgür Gündem reporters in Diyarbakır for acquiring news and delivering them to the readers. They are after the news that were ignored and concealed by the “holding newspapers”, which are mainly about the illegal operations of the military and paramilitary forces and the deep state. The Diyarbakır team consists of a small team of correspondents, who are threatened and murdered one by one. They play cat and mouse in the narrow streets of Diyarbakır and in the bus terminals of the neighbouring towns. The distribution of the paper in the region is not allowed. Besides, the kiosks are threatened to be burnt. Read more here.

Film clip from Press:

sources:

Toksabay, Ece. Turkish court bans pro-Kurdish daily for month-editor. Reuters, 25 March 2012

The daily Özgür Gündem closed for a month. GIT- North America, 25 March 2012

Ozgur Gundem v Turkey. Article 19, 16 March 2000

Rojnameya Ozgur Gundemê ji bo mehekê hat girtin. Azadiya Welat, 25 March 2012

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…

And the 2012 Der Steiger award goes to…

Protesters in Bochum, 17 March 2012

Well, not Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan. Close to 30,000 protesters flooded the streets of Bochum yesterday in a pre-planned rally to criticise the decision to honour the Turkish Prime Minister with this year’s Der Steiger award. Protesters were local Alevi, Kurdish and Armenians, who oppose the ruling AK Party’s policies in Turkey. Der Steiger is awarded in various categories and Erdoğan was to have received it for humanity and tolerance.

One leading German conservative had criticised the decision to award a prize for tolerance to Erdoğan, citing what he called a lack of press freedom and the ‘suppressing’ of religious and ethnic minorities in Turkey. Alexander Dobrindt, general secretary of the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition government, said it would be more appropriate to award Erdoğan a prize for intolerance.

One news source said organisers of the German prize decided against honouring Erdoğan in light of the protests and criticism. However, the official Der Steiger website only says that Erdoğan cancelled the trip to Germany due to the deaths of Turkish soldiers in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Award organisers, according to the German news agency DPA, said they changed their mind because Erdoğan was not travelling to the award ceremony in Germany.

Tilman Zülch, President of the Society for Threatened Peoples International sent an open letter several days ago to the Mayor of Bochum in which he urged Mayor Scholz to reconsider this decision. He wrote:

To accord Erdoğan this honor although he is responsible for massive human rights violations in Turkey is not only a slap in the face for the victims of arbitrary imprisonment and torture in Turkey, it also tarnishes the reputation of this award.

There has been a steady wave of arrests in Turkey since 2009, primarily targeting Kurdish journalists, politicians, human rights activists and opposition members. There are currently 103 journalists, 13 members and leaders of the Turkish human rights organization IHD, 52 leaders of the KESK trade union, and thousands of members of the democratic Kurdish party, BDP, awaiting trial. In spite of the complete lack of evidence, they are accused either of belonging to the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) or of denigrating the Turkish people.

The anti-terror law provides the Turkish government with a foundation for massive restrictions on freedom of the press. Pro-Kurdish statements made in public, including those made at peaceful demonstrations organized by the opposition party, are frequently the entire basis for arrests.

In recent days it has also come to light that from 2006 to 2010, more than 4000 Kurdish youths were sentenced. These twelve- to seventeen-year-olds were accused of expressing pro-Kurdish sentiments or throwing stones at a demonstration. The children who have been released describe torture and abuses. Thousands of children and youths, however, are still being held as “terrorists” in Turkish prisons. They are often without protection of any kind, at the mercy of judicial authorities and adult fellow prisoners. The authorities have been aware of this situation since 2011, but have done nothing.

In spite of Erdoğan’s announced intention to continue emphatically advocating for equal rights and for the protection of everyone living in Turkey regardless of ethnicity, Muslim and Yazidi Kurds as well as Christian Assyro-Aramaeans still suffer direct and indirect discrimination, persecution and violence.

The Steiger Award should be an acknowledgment of extraordinary service and dedication. It sends a signal, and confers recognition. A government leader who uses an anti-terror law to legitimize grave human rights abuses should not be encouraged to continue running roughshod over the basic rights of citizens in the country he governs.

2012 IPI Free Media Pioneer Award: call for nominations

NOMINATE AZADIYA WELAT FOR THE 2012 IPI FREE MEDIA PIONEER AWARD!

The International Press Institute (IPI) is looking for nominations for the 2012 Free Media Pioneer Award. Since 1996, IPI has recognized the work of one media organisation each year that has improved press freedom and media independence in its home country or region.

IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie says that her organisation believes ‘in the power of journalists helping journalists, and media helping media. With the IPI Free Media Pioneer Award, we want to put a spotlight on those media organizations that are pushing press freedom forward in their countries through their sustained efforts, professionalism and boldness, and often in the face of great risk.’

Sustained efforts, professionalism and boldness, and often in the face of great risk. Often in the face of great risk. One organisation, I believe, truly stands out in its relentless pursuit of the right to freedom of speech. That is Turkey’s sole Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat.

The newspaper Azadiya Welat has been suspended multiple times by the Turkish justice system, its staff routinely harassed and imprisoned, the newspapers confiscated.

Three editors-in-chief have been sentenced to a total of 325 years in prison amongst them: Vedat Kurşun, Ruken Ergün and Ozan Kılınç. Thirteen journalists/ correspondents from Azadiya Welat are in prison. Aziz Tekin became number thirteen less than a week ago.

Writing about Kurdish issues from a Kurdish perspective in Kurdish remains taboo and is used as a pretext for legal proceedings against too many media outlets and journalists in Turkey. Journalists and editors alike are charged using Turkey’s vague anti-terrorism laws in an effort to silence the Kurdish minority.

Please join me in nominating Azadiya Welat for the 2012 IPI Free Media Pioneer Award. Send an e-mail to office@freemedia.at no later than 10 February 2012 and request that Azadiya Welat be nominated!

New article on Kurdish politics in Syria

Have you ever read a news article that makes mention of Kurdish political parties in Syria? If so, you’ve probably been terribly confused by the many similar party names and who all the players are. Trying to sort out Kurdish politics in Syria is reminiscent of that great scene from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. You may remember all naming of all the parties…the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean Popular People’s Front, the Judean People’s Front, and so on.

Well, an article was just published that sheds some much needed light on Kurdish politics in Syria and was just released on Middle East Report Online. The article, The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria, was written by Christian Sinclair and Sîrwan Kajjo. Sinclair is the assistant director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Kajjo is a Syrian-Kurdish journalist and human rights activist based in DC.

Together they’ve put together a piece that looks at historical origins of the parties, the fractious nature of Kurdish politics, an inside look at party membership, and a framework of how these parties relate to the regime in Damascus, and, now their relationships with the Kurdish youth movements.

You can find the article here: http://www.merip.org/mero/mero083111

The Democratic Opening and Illusion of Advanced Democracy in Turkey

By Muharrem Erbey, president of the Diyarbakır chapter of the Human Rights Association of Turkey, writing from Diyarbakır prison

Muharrem Erbey

Voltaire said, “those who have lost freedom it lost it because they didn’t defend it.” The American Declaration of Independence of 1776, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789, and the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights all emphasize resistance to repression as a right and personal duty. Rights and freedoms can be restricted in any society; the issue is to what extent, and that extent mustn’t tip the scale of justice. Human rights defenders and people of conscience set out to fulfill their personal duties when repression in defense of power intensifies and destabilizes this scale.

Both in authentically democratic societies and those where the exercise of rights is a façade maintained through an illusion, we human rights defenders have adopted as a principle the protection of human honor without regard to race, language, ethnic identity, religion, class, or sex.

Founded in 1986, the Human Rights Association of Turkey (İHD) has struggled to help peoples’ search for freedom access justice. Twenty-three of our members have been extra-judicially executed because of their human rights work, hundreds of members and managers have been imprisoned for prolonged periods, and the organization has been subjected to thousands of lawsuits.

İHD documents the rampant violations committed in our region with data, reports and observations, and supporst victims both in the legal process and the wider struggle for justice. We share our data with the local, national and international community. We criticize. To those who claim that human rights abuses have ended, we say no, they’re continuing. We have been and are being targeted for this reason.

The president of the İHD branch in Diyarbakır, the largest city in the Kurdish region of Turkey, was last arrested in 1995, during one of the darkest periods of the conflict here. No other branch presidents have been arrested in the last 15 years, although they’ve been subjected to about 300 investigations and lawsuits. I was abruptly arrested in December 2009 as part of the single investigation currently pending against me. I’m not currently facing any other lawsuits or investigations.

Human rights has become chewing gum for everbody, but we’re being silenced.

When deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç and interior minister Beşir Atalay came to Diyarbakır to meet with us, we told them that we heartily supported the so-called ‘democratic opening’, which was begun by the government at the end of 2008. We emphasized that we wanted to help give the initiative substance, and that concrete steps were urgently needed to stop violence and put an end to deaths. Regarding the Kurdish issue, we pointed out that a solution required legalizing the use of the Kurdish language in the public realm, transfer of authority to local administrations, the creation of a civilian, egalitarian, pluralist constitution, and PKK members’ entry into civilian politics through an unconditional amnesty. Our work caused discomfort.

The Kurdish issue, which is Turkey’s oldest and most life-claiming, can be resolved through the participation and joint effort of a wide range of institutions, organizations, and other actors. Most human rights violations in Turkey are related to the Kurdish issue in one way or another. There have been 29 successive major Kurdish rebellions in the last 205 years, the first one occurring in Mosul in 1806. The 40 million Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria are deprived of basic rights and freedoms, perceived as second-class citizens, exposed to torture and maltreatment, prevented from freely exercising their language and culture, without status, and unable to sufficiently participate in administration.

It’s significant that, although history has known the Kurds for thousands of years, neither the dominant powers in Kurdish lands nor international forces recognize the Kurds, choosing instead to ignore the posture adopted against them.

I’ve been in prison since 24 December 2009, for approximately 18 months, due to claims that I ‘belittled’ the state in speeches about human rights and the Kurdish issue I delivered at the UN building in Geneva as well as the English, Belgian, and Swedish parliaments; advised victims in their applications to the European Court of Human Rights; prepared projects on women’s, children’s, and human rights; participated in work on preparation of a civilian, pluralist constitution; frequently participated in press statements delivered by various NGOs, and that I did so well; gave the PKK ‘morale’; wrote to public prosecutors and the Turkish parliament’s human rights commission on behalf of victims (indeed, the government prosecutor later characterized these writings as if they are furthering the goals of PKK); and that I’m a member of the Turkey Assembly of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK/TM), an organization said to be an extension of the PKK.

When I went before the public prosecutor and judge responsible for my case, I admitted to all of these activities (with the exception of being a KCK member), said that I stand behind them and have no regrets, and stated that I’ll do them all again when I’m out of prison.

In May 2010, and 7,500 page indictment was released. The folder dealing with 152 suspects, 104 of whom are being held in prison pending the result of the trial, amounts to 132,000 pages when supplementary ‘evidence’ is included; among those facing prosecution are 15 elected mayors, 2 chairmen of general provincial councils, and scores of politicians. We’ve been in prison for 18, 20, 24 months each. The claims about me include evidence from a ‘secret witness,’ and promote false and illusionary statements. In our first trial, we declared that we’d be giving our statements in our mother language, Kurdish, as well as Turkish. The chief judge turned off our microphones, characterizing Kurdish as an “Unknown Language”, and the prosecution has stalled.

Since the Turkish Republic was established in 1923, there’s been an effort to homogenize all ethnic identities through such methods as repression, forced migration, assimilation, arrests and extrajudicial killings carried out by unknown perpetrators.

The Turkish system has always resisted change by adopting a conservative stance against different identities and demands for freedom. In 2002, there were 52,000 convicts and suspects in Turkish prisons; as of April 2011, there are 123,000 inmates, most of them convicted.

Does the imprisonment of opposition politicians, critical journalists, and human rights defenders signify that Turkey’s regime has become totalitarian? All developments are implemented in the name of advanced democracy. The acceptance of difference is the essence of genuine equality. Attempts to suppress difference indicate inequality.

A little more tolerance, cooperation, empathy. Let’s not forget that everyone has the right to comment on their own society’s development and that doing so is a moral duty.

People must know how to embrace suffering and pain for freedom, to take nourishment from these difficulties. Notwithstanding those whose hearts have hardened, who feed on their own rage, who place unbearable emotional burdens on their heart, we stubbornly find nourishment and power in freedom. Everything for equality, freedom and justice…

Translated from the Turkish by Jake Hess / jakerhess@gmail.com

CrossTalk: Pax Kurdistana

How critical is Kurdistan to Iraq’s stability and prosperity? Should Kurdistan be granted sovereignty? Why is the US always willing to protect the region, even though its human rights record is very low? How would the US withdrawal affect the Kurds? And will they find common ground with Turkey? CT-ing with Sami Ramadani, Brendan O’Leary and Peshwaz Faizulla.

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.

Summary

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.**

Kurdish perspectives on the protests in Syria from an activist and a political leader

A 32-year-old Kurdish activist from Syria, called ‘Jan’ in an interview with KurdWatch, says that there are many different Kurdish groups working together to organise the demonstrations in the Kurdish areas of the country. They primarily work online and in secret, and work together with other Syrian opposition groups in a vast online network.

While Kurds are very active now, Fawzi Shingar, founder of the Kurdish Wifaq Party in Syria, said in a recent interview with Rudaw that the Syrian Kurds were surprisingly quiet when demonstrations started, ‘keeping a wary eye on the protests but not joining them.’ But he calls the organisation of the demonstrations ‘haphazard and without proper leadership.’ Wifaq, a minor political party, was founded in 2005 by splitting from the PYD (Partîya Yekîtî ya Demokratîk or Democratic Union Party), which is closely linked to the PKK. Wifaq is the Arabic name and it is sometimes referred to as ‘Kurdish Accord’ in English. Its Kurdish name is Rêkeftina Demokrat a Kurd ya Sûrî.

Protests in Syria have been going on for more than three months. Kurds began protesting on 01 April, about two weeks after demonstrations started in Dera’a.

When asked who is involved in the demonstrations, Jan responded that it is ‘mostly young people,’ but that demonstrations attract people from all walks of life. He also said that some join the protests because they are ‘unhappy with their own personal situation and are hoping for improvement.’ And they all take part despite the fact that they know they could be arrested. He also adds that there are many who are ‘sympathetic to our demonstrations, but don’t take part.’ One reason for their reluctance, he says, is ‘the absence of Arabs and Christians’ at the protests in Qamişlo.

Fawzi Shingar of Wifaq

Shingar seems to agree with Jan’s observation that participants are ‘mostly young people’ saying that the ‘biggest influence on the demonstrations is the Kurdish youth.’ Wifaq and other parties have participated in the protests, but ‘those who started and continue them today are the youth,’ said Shingar.

Jan, the activist, said a general representative from the Kurdish groups is in constant contact with the representatives of other Syrian groups. They make suggestions for the slogan for the weekly Friday demonstrations online and then the representatives of the various groups agree on one. On 19 May the slogan was Azadî (Freedom in Kurdish). This was done, said Jan, ‘to show that the Kurds and the Kurdish language are a part of Syria.’

By the middle of the week the slogan is agreed upon and banners are distributed in each city. In Qamişlo activists gather at the Qasimo Mosque every Friday and wait until people are finished with the Friday prayer and then join the activists. Most demonstrators come to the mosque not to pray, but just to take part in the demonstration. In the days before the demonstration, Jan says, flyers, word of mouth, and Facebook are main tools used to notify everyone of the demonstration, which lasts half an hour. It usually ends with various speeches by parties and other organisations. Afterwards, the banners are immediately destroyed.

Shingar said that the government’s policy so far has been to make the Kurdish areas neutral so they won’t have to attack them. Some military outposts that the Syrian regime stationed in the Kurdish areas after the 2004 uprising were withdrawn at the outset of the protests. According to Shingar, the area is now mainly controlled by the police and intelligence services.

Says Jan, intelligence services are ever present and observe the demonstrations and film them, but have orders not to attack the demonstrators. After the demonstrations, some activists are routinely arrested and later released from custody. They are often charged with participating in an unauthorised demonstration.

Jan says that the activists are in regular contact with the Kurdish parties. The Kurdish Union Party in Syria (Yekîtî), The Kurdish Freedom Party in Syria (Azadî) and the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria in particular support the demonstrations and take part in them and many activists have a partisan political background.

Shingar said that some Kurdish parties, mentioning the same three that Jan makes note of, joined the protests, adopting the motto of regime removal, after Syrian security forces had intervened and made the situation worse. Referring back to the importance of the youth in the demonstrations, Shingar said however that ‘the political parties cannot be compared to the power of the people.’

Each of us has a task related to getting information out, says Jan. Some record videos and others take photos with their cell phones. Material are immediately whisked off to a secret location and sent to the media or published online. Being so close to the Turkish border, many activists have Turkish Internet connections, which allow for faster and easier transfer of information.

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The interview with Fawzi Shingar is at Rudaw here.

The interview with ‘Jan’ is at KurdWatch here.