Kurdish Hunger Strikers in Strasbourg End the Hunger Strike after 52 Days

The hunger strike in Strasbourg has ended after 52 days. A press release from the hunger strikers state that the hunger strike has reached its goal, and the action is therefore ending  as of today”.

Photo: Rojhelat.info

The statement also stressed the continuous struggle of the hunger strikers for the release and well-being of the Kurdish leader Abdulla Ocalan and the freedom of the Kurdish people, also in the future.

The statement comes after a press conference in the European Parliament attended by the MEP Jürgen Klute, Coordinator of the European Parliament – Kurds Friendship Group amongst others.

Also present at the press conference was winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and member of the Turkish Parliament Leyla Zana.

Leyla Zana stressed the importance of the preventing casualties stemming from this hunger strike and declared that the many meetings had been conducted with members of the European Parliament to ensure a quick resolution and adherence to the demands put forth by the hunger strikers.

Also present at the press conference was hunger striker Nigar Enayati, a norwegian citizen and former Red Party (Rød Valgalliance) Oslo Municipal Council member. She called on the CPT* to listen to as soon as possible visit the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan on the prison island of Imrali in Turkey. Ocalan has been in isolation for 270 days, during which has been denied visits from both his family and lawyers.

The European parliament ensured to look into the health condition of Ocalan and called upon the hunger strikers to finish their action.

A question which was raised by an attending journalist, in which he questioned the sincerety of the European Union in adherring to the demands of the hunger strikers despite    the promise made, was answered by panel by stating that if the demands are ignored the campaign will continue!

Press conference in the EU parliament regarding the Kurdish hunger strikers

*CPT= The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment or shortly Committee for the Prevention of Torture

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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.

Zana says government fears a solution

Leyla Zana in Silvan

Thousands of Kurds were in the streets today protesting against the ongoing military and political operations carried out by police and army. Close to 900 people have been detained since Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK) barred a group of parliamentary candidates from running in the upcoming election. The YSK reversed its decision a few days later.

Leyla Zana, independent candidate for parliament, spoke to a huge crowd in her hometown of Silvan. Zana is running as a candidate from Diyarbakır in the ‘Labour, Democracy and Freedom’ bloc, an umbrella group for independent candidates in the 12 June general elections. Many are supported by the BDP.

Said Zana to the crowd, ‘This country is witnessing very dark forces trying all they can to prevent the Kurdish Question from being solved. These forces do not want peace, do not want this question to be resolved. Indeed they fear a solution.’

Zana also said of Turkish PM Erdoğan, ‘You are not bigger than these people.’

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.

Leyla Zana turns 50 on Tuesday.

Watch video:

YSK REVERSES COURSE!

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

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

The six BDP-supported candidates who were reinstated are:

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

Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Bianet Project Coordinator and journalist (Mersin)

Leyla Zana, former MP and political prisoner (Diyarbakır)

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

Sebahat Tuncel, lawyer and Istanbul deputy (Istanbul)

Salih Yıldız, former mayor of Yüksekova (Hakkari)

Not all convictions are created equal

YSK (Election Board) office

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leyla Zana (left)

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

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

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

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

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

Demonstrations in Diyarbakır

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Leyla Zana talks about perceptions of peace

Leyla Zana meets Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament

Below is the English text of Leyla Zana’s speech at the EU Turkey Civic Commission’s (EUTCC) 6th annual conference on EU, Turkey and the Kurds at the EU Parliament in Brussels.  The conference took place 03-04 February 2010 and the theme was ‘Turkey and the Kurdish conflict: Political dialogue & Peace-building.’

Esteemed participants,

I would like to extend my love to you all. Welcome.

The issue in hand is to build peace. We must then, frankly, boldly and sincerely ask and debate the questions that have so far merely crossed our minds…

How is peace perceived in Turkey?
What is peace for Kurds?
What does peace mean for Turks?
How do we define the issue for peace in Turkey?
How are we positioning the parties while we define it?
What are we doing to let the two peoples understand each other?
Are we really trying hard to enable values to be mutually understood?
How should the language and stance of peace be?

I would like to first talk about how peace is perceived by Kurds:

‘Peace’ in Batman is the recognition of the Kurdish identity,
In Uludere it is the yearning for education and learning in the mother tongue without any fear,
In Adiyaman, it is the right of Kurds to be able to talk and make recommendations about their future,
In Igdir, ‘peace’ is the emergence of the possibility for all differences to be able to live together and freely,
In Van, it is voluntary settlement, residence based on one’s will, instead of forced relocation
In Bingöl and Dersim, facing and settling accounts with the past,
In Istanbul, being able to see Kurdish characters on one’s birth certificate,
In Urfa it is to be able to call Sanliurfa, ‘Riha’,
Whereas in Diyarbakir it is the freedom to say ‘Kurdistan.’

Well, what does ‘peace’ mean for Turks?

For the west of Turkey, I do not have such concrete data as those I have itemised above. In some areas Peace is ‘surrendering’ or ‘liquidation’…
In other places it is for everyone to be ‘Turkish’ and remain ‘Turkish’…
Mostly, finding peace again, is taken to mean cleansing of the area from Kurds.

Peace, perceived as a gain among Kurds, is written off in the debit column for the majority in the west of the country. It is perceived as a loss of sovereignty, loss of status, loss of authority, and most importantly, the loss of the emotional reflex of being the principal founding element of the republic. Kurds’ demand for equal rights creates a real sense of loss. For those in the west of the country, the panic and concern that is created has turned, and continues to turn Kurds into almost creatures one should be fearful of. For this reason, a part of the society in Turkey perceives recognition of rights of Kurds as a confiscation of their own rights. On the contrary, the togetherness of Kurds and Turks must be perceived as strength for this country. If truth is not perceived the right way, acceptance may prove to be difficult.

Then, can we say that Kurds are envisaging a different life when they talk about ‘peace’? Well, what kind of life is it?

For instance;

Military aircraft should not fly across the skies of Kurds;
Armoured police personnel carriers should not roam the streets;
Military or police uniforms should not scare people off;
Trees should not be burned;
Plants should not be poisoned;
The fury of the children throwing stones at security forces should be quelled;
Whoever they may be, nobody’s dead body should be dragged around in the streets;
Their organs should not be mutilated.

In this case, for Kurds, peace has to do with the starting point, that is, the very essence and heart of the issue. It has to do with the fact that, just as a citizen of Turkey living in Bodrum is not confronted with armoured police personnel carriers when going to the bakery to buy bread in the morning, neither should the one living in Hakkari. The issue is to grant him the same right. The issue is to take care that this right is protected. The issue is to decide whether Hakkari belongs to this country, whether it is part of this country or not.

These two different pictures that emerge should not be interpreted as an issue between peoples: two psychological states, two sociological realities, two pasts, two cultures and two peoples. What is important and urgent is to be able to demonstrate the skill to be able to live together in the same state,www.ekurd.netdespite these dualities. Even during the hottest periods, conflict or hatred among the two peoples were not experienced. But to depend on this fact alone for peace, is an illusion. Other data is necessary to be able to accept the society’s will as a positive one. Looking for support without first accessing these facts leads to disillusionment.

Whether we call it solution or opening, in either case, unless the relevant parties or sides are included in the issue, lack of trust may increase. This mistrust nourished by uncertainty may lead to new fault lines. Additionally, the negative political discourse that spills over from the parliament to the streets and even to the media and the fact that this discourse is used as one which is used as if there is imminent danger of a civil war support this picture. This, in turn, adds fuel to new concerns. It weakens hope. Emphasises the feeling of we have won-we have been beaten, or the feeling of victory over defeat. It is observed that this feeling can be juxtaposed between the two peoples from time to time.

When this is the case, how will it be possible to understand and make others understand? Is the problem solely one of explaining or understanding? I believe reducing the issue solely to this level would both be superficial and also unfair. Within this context, I would like to make some suggestions to Turks, Kurds and our non-Turkish friends.

We are all agreed on the fact that this issue must be resolved through peaceful means. But there are some problems regarding the means, method, discourse and style regarding the solution. At this juncture, I believe we should not disregard some fault lines that are being experienced while all interested parties interests coincide on a compromise. While we are trying to build peace, we must state our point of view regarding the process, plainly and transparently. The issues that are debated, the relevant parties and positions must be defined with clarity. Because it will not be possible to support an initiative whose contents, plan and components are unknown.

We must always bear in mind that the Kurdish issue is a unique and multi-party issue. It should be borne in mind that pushing one of the parties outside the process will only deepen an impasse. Great care must be taken to refrain from saying the last thing that needs to be said right at the beginning. It is vitally important that persons, institutions and parties bearing political responsibility should be careful about their discourse.

In addition to all these, the State must make the people feel with its entire institutional domain that it has taken full ownership of the Kurdish Initiative. The people are questioning the state’s approach to the issue. This plays a major role in convincing the Turkish people for a solution. I am afraid that the majority of the Turkish people would not accept what the state does not want.

Moreover, no project or step that does not satisfy the PKK may not be acceptable for the majority of the Kurdish people. Then, starting of a political dialogue can only develop in direct proportion with the warring parties meeting at common points. Common points should be not to lose more people, prestige, energy, resources and time. Then, the parties must display an integral approach in discourse and practice and must avoid propaganda to the contrary. They must use their resources and area of influence to create a new language of discourse and organisation.

Dear friends,
Compromise, political dialogue and peace cannot be achieved without the other side. Then, the other side may be more important than we think. If one side believes it can make the old times survive while the other side expects revolutionary moves, it means the process is not moving forward. Of course, neither the Kurds nor the Turks should have a discourse and stance that is abstracted from the developing and changing world.

Distinguished participants,
Instead of hoping for some self-glorification from peace, let us all together facilitate peace.

There is a cry for peace coming from the very bosom of this geographical area full of conflicts. This is one strong scream. It is a stubborn cry as well as being a strong one. It is also full of conviction. It is one that dotes on its pride, and insistent on peace. This cry for peace will therefore definitely find its owner. It will flow into peace just as the waters of Tigris and Euphrates do so…

Thank you for being kind enough to listen to me.

I greet you all with respect and friendship.

Leyla Zana