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…

36 seats in Parliament. Now what?

Labour, Freedom and Democracy Block

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leyla Zana speaks in Diyarbakır

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all convictions are created equal

YSK (Election Board) office

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leyla Zana (left)

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

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

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

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

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

Demonstrations in Diyarbakır

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kurdish Culture, Literature and Art Conference in Diyarbakir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s as mad as hell? Anyone?

Bengî Yildiz, BDP Parliamentarian, holds up Kurdish-Turkish dictionary in parliament where he also gave a speech in Kurdish. Yildiz said that all BDP MPs will speak Kurdish everywhere necessary until it is understood that the language they speak is Kurdish.

Apparently Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir’s remarks that armed struggle is no longer valid have resulted in admonishment by imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan.  This comes at a time when civil disobedience seems to be gaining ground, a non-violent alternative to armed struggle. In mid-September thousands of school children across Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast stayed away from school to protest the lack of Kurdish-language education in Turkish state schools.

There is now a campaign afoot called ‘Read, Speak, Write in Kurdish Everywhere’, launched against the prohibition of the Kurdish language in certain spheres in Turkey.

TZPKurdî (Tevgera Ziman û Perwerdahiya Kurdî) is one of the organisations spearheading the effort.

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

NGOs and associations that support the campaign plan to coordinate Kurdish language courses at their offices. Those indicted with charges of speaking in Kurdish intend to defend themselves in court in Kurdish.

Some organisations which have announced their support for the ‘Read, Speak, Write in Kurdish Everywhere’campaign include: Human Rights Association Diyarbakır Branch, Education Trade Union Diyarbakır Branch, the Association for Disappeared People’s Families in Mesopotamia (MEYADER), Federation of Association for Solidarity with Families of Prisoners, Municipality Workers’ Trade Union, Trade Union for the Workers of Religious Affairs Department (DİVES), the Women’s Centre (KAMER), Kardelen Women’s House and the Dicle-Fırat Culture Centre.

I'm as mad as hell! (Network, 1976)

So now I want to ask a question. Has anyone seen the film ‘Network’ from 1976? I saw it a few years ago and then recently saw a clip of the now iconic scene in which the main protagonist Howard Beale (played by the late, great Peter Finch) galvanises the nation with his impassioned diatribe, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ and persuades Americans to shout out their windows late one night. They are fed up with the status quo and vent their anger by shouting into the streets.

This is a part of Beale’s rant:

All I know is first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a human being, Goddamnit! My life has value!’ I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’

This whole ‘mad as hell’ thing has been stuck in my head and resurfaces when I start thinking of the KCK trial and all the linguistic injustices the Kurds have suffered. Then I started imagining the scene from Network, but transplanted to another locale…somewhere perhaps where lots of people speak an ‘unknown’ language, for example.

Mad as hell? Yep.

Isn’t it time to galvanise against the shockingly absurd ban on the Kurdish language? Isn’t it time to throw your window open and yell at the top of your voice: Ez bi hêrs im wekî pêta agirî û ez nema xwe radigrim!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear these shouts in Kurdish from rooftops and windows in Amed or Elih or Şirnex or Wan or Mêrdîn or wherever?  Someone gets fined for using the letter ‘Q’, just shout: Ez bi hêrs im wekî pêta agirî û ez nema xwe radigrim! Someone calls Kurdish an unknown language, just shout: Ez bi hêrs im wekî pêta agirî û ez nema xwe radigrim!

When Leyla Zana spoke Kurdish in parliament all those years ago, or when Ahmet Türk spoke Kurdish in the Turkish parliament last year to show the meaninglessness and unfairness of language bans, they were acts of civil disobedience that have paved the way for what is happening today.  Osman Baydemir has been using Kurdish in the municipality’s promotional posters and in many of his talks.  Such direct and public use of Kurdish is important for him, and an act of civil disobedience.  Baydemir says it’s a way of signalling the failure of the state’s effort to destroy Kurdish culture.  Investigations have been opened against him for printing invitations to events in Kurdish and for using the letter ‘W’ in a Newroz card.  Ez bi hêrs im wekî pêta agirî û ez nema xwe radigrim!

Now is the time to read, speak, write (or shout!) in Kurdish everywhere: Non-violent acts of linguistic disobedience. Embrace the campaign. Open your mouth and shout: ‘Ez bi hêrs im wekî pêta agirî û ez nema xwe radigrim!’  Or maybe put it on a t-shirt.

Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk seek restoration of parliamentary seats

Aysel Tuğluk and Ahmet Türk

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

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

So why are they petitioning to get reinstated in parliament?

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

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

Burhan Kuzu

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Interview wth Ahmet Türk

Ahmet Türk: 'The government and the state must assure that rights and freedoms will be guaranteed'

Interview wth Ahmet Türk from Today’s Zaman

05 September  2010 – The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has made another move and topped the country’s agenda.

The democratic initiative, the events following the entry of inhabitants of the Makhmour camp into the country, the unexpectedly escalating violence, the local demands for “democratic autonomy” and the organization’s decision to de-escalate the situation, etc. — all of these recent developments show how difficult it is to analyze the Kurdish issue. Which moves means what? What sort of developments may we expect from the region? Why does the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) insist on boycotting the referendum although this means shooting itself in the foot? The questions can go on. And these questions were answered by the co-chairman of the BDP-affiliated Democratic Society Congress (DTK), Ahmet Türk, speaking to Sunday’s Zaman.

Türk, a veteran politician, inherited the post of “agha” from his grandfather and father and the profession of politician from his elder brother, who was assassinated when he was a deputy. He tries to express the intricate balances unique to the region, although at times this might contrast with the democratic values he upholds. For instance, he says that he supports the boycott, but does not refrain from asserting, “I prefer ‘yes’ from a conscientious and ethical standpoint, if we are to chose only between ‘yes’ and ‘no’.” As he expresses dissatisfaction with the amendments, he acknowledges that “even if very radical amendments are made, the current Constitutional Court will not approve them.”

Do you really want the Kurdish problem to be solved?

We not only want it to be solved, but also are ready to do anything to this end. Our sole desire is to put an end to the suffering and create a country where people can live freely, equally and peacefully. Who benefits from lack of a solution? We do not benefit from it. Rather, we are victimized by it. The lack of solution leads to the growth of hatred and anger.

Now consider this: You are the ruling party and you are supposed to deal with a problem which hasn’t been resolved for 80 years. What would your approach be?

A problem that’s been unresolved for 80 years means that the core of the issue has always been ignored. Today’s conditions are different. There is now a group that does not accept the denial of their language, culture and identity. If people express their demands, then the problem can be solved in a more constructive manner. Acceptance of Kurdish identity is neither the state’s nor the government’s favor.

Yet we know what the approach toward the issue was just 15 or 20 years ago.

Of course, this is true. But there is a group of people who are developing a sense of community. These people seek a system where they can enjoy their own identity, culture and language and participate in it. The fact that debates amount to this level stems from the intensively expressed demands. It is obvious that in today’s democratic world, denying identities and cultures does not play nice with democratic values.

But in the past, there was a ban on speaking Kurdish, and this ban has been abolished. Can’t you acknowledge any progress?

We need to see one thing clearly. Neither the Justice and Development Party [AK Party] nor the governments led by Süleyman Demirel or Bülent Ecevit have ever said: “There are Kurds among my citizens. Their differences are an asset.” The point where we stand today does not owe anything to their mentality. Rather, any progress we have made owes to much suffering and debate [on the Kurdish question].

Let’s suppose you are in power and you are preparing for the elections. You get different reactions from different parts of Turkey. What would your approach be under these circumstances?

Of course, we know about the balances in Turkey and are aware of a nationalist, racist mentality blocking the country’s progress. We also know that the government has backpedaled from its former polities under the influence of this mindset. I always reiterate that if the government could garner support from the opposition, it might have been easier to make progress with regard to certain demands from the Kurds. We need to be realistic. But leadership requires courage. To become the chairman of a political party or head of the ruling party is one thing, and to be a leader is another. A leader is supposed to make important decisions for the prosperity of the country, even if this involves some temporary difficulties. There are many examples of this around the world. For instance, very radical steps were taken in Spain in decisions relating to the Basque and Catalan regions.

But our case may not be similar to them. There is the Ergenekon problem here.

There were gangs and Gladios there as well. To do nothing just because our case is different, is that acceptable? No event is identical to another. Basque is not the same as our case and neither is Catalan, South Africa, Scotland, Ireland or Wales. But, how will we find a fitting example? Leadership is not an easy task. No leader has risen up in Turkey to lead the general public. The country has always been governed by those who were submissive to the status quo. This is a fact. The power that founded, or claimed to be the owner of, the republic has always blocked political venues. And since politicians did not have full trust in democracy or since their perspective on the people and their diversity was not within a democratic framework, they failed to handle this problem.

What unexpected steps can the people in the region take in order to exhibit their determination concerning the settlement of the problem?

Actually, they are already taking such steps. Until now, there have been cease-fires seven or eight times. It is not easy to manage these processes properly. The risk of provocation is always there. You may in all sincerity want to attain a peaceful solution, but you may unexpectedly face a provocation which you do not like and which is not approved by the government or the state either.

What will happen if the PKK lays down its weapons as a sign of good intentions?  The PKK should be disbanded. OK, but how? Shouldn’t the state provide an atmosphere of confidence for this?  Suppose it declares its intention to lay down its arms. What difficulties may arise after such a declaration?

Do you trust your state so much that you expect the people with guns to do so and accept being disbanded without any guarantees or assurances? Suppose the PKK is disbanded. What will happen next? Will its members be imprisoned? Can they become involved in politics? Will they mingle with other people as ordinary citizens? I am not suggesting that they should not leave their weapons, but this will not be possible unless suitable conditions are prepared. We should not deceive ourselves. I recently said that they may be disbanded under the supervision of the United Nations. People raised hell even about this statement.

But shouldn’t very serious steps be taken in order to solve the problem?

Of course there should be, but what I am saying is that the government and the state must assure that rights and freedoms will be guaranteed. If this is not done, you and I may trust [the state], but someone else will not. These people have been in a struggle for 30 years. That’s why we say that assurance should be give to them. A big country like Turkey can no longer be governed using a strictly centralist mentality.

In your opinion, what unexpected steps may come from the government toward the solution?

Some of the executives and mayors that belong to our party have been in jail for one-and-a-half years. They have yet to be brought to court.

So you think they have been denied a fair trial?

Yes. We want them to be released. There is also the unfair election threshold which is fixed at 10 percent. We want it to be decreased to 5 percent at least, which is the highest among European countries. The antidemocratic laws under which we are litigated according to counterterrorism procedures whenever we make a statement must be abolished as well. Even the government’s declaration of intent will be a great chance for a peaceful process.

So both parties demand a lot of things from each other.

But it is the government which must take steps as it is they who govern Turkey. I am not ruling the country. If you are running a country, then you are responsible for every single matter, small or big. No one should try to put the blame on the Kurds.

We have been in Diyarbakır for several days. The majority of the people here say the referendum package should be accepted. Indeed, you also say, “If Kurds have to choose between ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ all of them will say ‘yes’.” Given this, the BDP fails to satisfy the people’s expectations. Isn’t this a sort of tutelage?

Mr. Prime Minister and the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) leader claim that they are the true victims of Sept. 12. If you do not mention what Kurds suffered in Diyarbakır Prison, no one will accept that victimization. Kurds represent the group that was victimized the most. Still, there is not a single article in the referendum package that will improve the situation for Kurds, is there? We cannot say “no” to the amendments. But we do not have any reason to say “yes” either because these arrangements have been made without taking Kurds into consideration.

Will the changes to the structure of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the Constitutional Court not have any effect on the Kurdish people?

I am not comparing the amendments with current practice. Of course, they are better than the current situation. But I am expressing my reaction. I am telling the government, “I have been victimized and I have suffered, but you have not taken any steps to improve the situation for Kurds.” The amendments you propose do not satisfy me, so I do not go to the polls, I say. This is what you fail to see.

Why didn’t you lend support to the article concerning party closures? Weren’t you supposed to support that amendment?

If only that article failed to pass while all other articles were easily approved, we are not to be blamed. The AK Party had the power to pass it.

Aren’t there Kurdish civil servants or disabled Kurds? Aren’t there Kurdish women, children or victims who are adversely affected by the current structure of the judiciary?

The package fails to satisfy me, in a nutshell. Ask a number of times, and my response will be the same. The package is far from satisfying me as a human being and as a politician. I am not comparing Sept. 12 with the current situation. Already, no one is discussing the individual articles. Listen to the politicians. Are they talking about the content?

But the package is raising the standing of living for all of us, isn’t it?

We, too, care about these steps. But if democratization, transformation or change does not happen, and if the tutelary regime does not disappear, this is because there are Kurds here. If you do not take steps to ease conditions for Kurds, it will not satisfy me. Throughout the history of the republic, there were three things which were mentioned as obstacles to change. The first one was communism, and it’s gone. What were the two that remained? The Kurdish issue and Shariah. The status quo and the tutelary mentality survive by leaning on these two factors which they use as threats in the face of demands for change. And the Kurdish issue is the most complicated one. If you do not take it as a basis and enact change and transformation, then Kurds won’t say, “Good things are happening.” This is because the system that denies their existence will still be firmly in place.

With what you say, you seem to imply that not a single good step has been taken during the process?

No, it is not true. If you compare the 1980s and today, you must honestly acknowledge they are poles apart. We don’t deny that. Although significant steps have to be taken to help create suitable conditions for coexistence, it is meaningless to make mention of small moves such as the opening TRT Şeş, which is intended to silence Kurds.

Won’t you be happy with a change in the high judiciary?

We are talking about democracy, not a transfer of power from one hand to another. We are discussing how judges should see Turkey and democracy.

What are the changes you find important?

I am not comparing the content with the Constitution of Sept. 12. But there aren’t any amendments that will fulfill Kurds’ democratic demands. There is also this: When you combine them into a package, you postpone the possibility of a new constitution. This, too, should be acknowledged. This was always the case.

But the prime minister says they will draft a new constitution. Let me give you another scenario: When the preparations for a new constitution start one year before the general elections, the opposition will say: “You don’t have the legitimacy. Let the new parliament do it.”

True, let me tell you something more serious: Even if very radical amendments are made, the current Constitutional Court will not approve them.

In which case don’t you shoot yourselves in the foot?

No. We exhibit a stance. You cannot deny Kurds’ demands.

But you say the people will choose “yes” if they are left to themselves. If their demands are not fulfilled, why do they vote “yes?”

They are already left to themselves. No one is saying a thing to them. We take the will of the people as our basis. But what we say is that we, as politicians, are not satisfied with the package.

You say that you won’t go to the polls since there is nothing that will satisfy Kurds. This statement implies that the BDP no longer claims to be a party that represents the whole country, doesn’t it?

Rather, it is the state or the government that forced the BDP to become or seem like a regional party. If you impose the 10 percent election threshold and force the BDP to nominate candidates from a limited staff, then you eliminate the possibility of its becoming a party representing the whole country. If the election threshold is lowered to 5 percent, I will have the chance to nominate not only Kurds or BDP members, but also Turkish intellectuals, democrats and Islamists. Only in this way can a political party start to appeal to the whole country. In this way, I can address the people with projects that have a broader appeal.

How would you interpret a “yes” coming out of the referendum?

What if those boycotting equal those saying yes? Let us see what happens. I would like to comment on this after seeing the percentages. Both “yes” and “boycott” will come out, in almost equal terms. Their percentages will be similar. There will be a serious boycott.

Is there any likelihood of the boycott decision being loosened or lifted?

As I said before, there are expectations and if they are fulfilled, this attitude may change. To make use of a process where weapons are silenced is, for us, more important than the referendum. The referendum does not excite us very much. Let me reiterate: I prefer “yes” from a conscientious and ethical standpoint if we are to choose only between “yes” and “no.” But by exhibiting a political stance, I say that the package lacks any real steps for solving Turkey’s biggest problem. If people have expectations from me as a political party and if Parliament and the government, which are supposed to fulfill them, do not take our demands seriously, then I don’t have the right to tell my people to go to the polls to say “yes.”

In Turkey, governments always suffer from an inability to wield power. As this tutelage is being eliminated, you would expect a swift response to your demands. Doesn’t this play into the hands of the tutelage?

Are you kidding? Which tutelage is being eliminated? Yes, some steps are being taken, but you cannot say that the government is killing that mentality. Rather, we want it to show that this distorted, small move will not solve the issue. An accurate assessment and a radical solution are required. The statement made today will not bring progress. It is time a new mentality is asserted. Our expectation is that the state should acknowledge this.

The PKK decided to de-escalate the situation after declaring its boycott decision. And then the opposition started to argue that the AK Party is in the same boat as the BDP and the PKK. Some see the decision to de-escalate the situation as referendum trap.

We are not in the same boat as anyone. We are not supporters or opponents of anyone. We side with an approach that makes democracy and solutions its foundation. Our decisions may be likened to those of another party. But these may differ in the future. We support an approach that is reasonable, that is aware of popular expectations and that is based on democracy.

But you gave up just on a signal from İmralı?

No, I was actually telling my colleagues that it was incorrect to withdraw since the beginning. In the final analysis, one needs to consult with the views of all groups when formulating a policy. The demand for democratic autonomy is not new. We have been expressing it since the beginning. It is in the program of both the Democratic Society Party [DTP] and the BDP. We want to ensure integrity in the proper manner, and not to seek separation.

After meeting with Jalal Talabani you said, “The PKK’s armed struggle is doing harm to the Kurdish people.” Do you still back this idea?

I have always asserted that problems cannot be solved with guns. Democracy and civilian politics should be reinforced. Guns should no longer be used to secure one’s rights.

05.09.2010 – CEMAL KALYONCU / AYŞE ADLI

Today’s Zaman