Solidarity with Hunger Strikers: Urgent Call from BDP



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Events on Hunger Strikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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”.


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

Doctors warn of casualties for Kurdish hunger strikers in Strasbourg on their 48th day


Hunger strikers; Fuat Kav, Gönül Kaya, Ahmet Çelik, Mecbure Özer, Harun Yilmaz, Ahmet Kiliç, Emine Benek, Gulistan Hasan, Nigar Enayati, Erol Polat, İmam Yildiz, Oner Uludag, Kerim Sivri, Tarik Yusufi and Hasan Acar (Photo:YeniOzgurPolitika)

15 Kurdish activists started an unlimited hunger strike in Strasbourg, France, on 1 March 2012. The aim of the action was to support the then ongoing hunger strike of imprisoned BDP parliamentarian Selma Irmak, amongst others. That hunger strike started on 15 February at the same time as the still ongoing hunger strike of 2000 Kurdish political prisoners in Turkish prisons, now on its 63rd day. New people join the hunger strike in prisons on a regular basis, and 500 new people joined  this week resulting in 2000 prisoners currently being on hunger strike in Turkish prisons.

So far three of the hunger strikers in Strasbourg have been in such a bad condition that they have been taken to the hospital but they all were refusing treatment and nutrition supplements and instead demanded to be taken back to rest of the hunger strikers to continue.

The hunger strike in Strasbourg was initiated outside the office of the European Council under the heading of “Freedom for Ocalan” and has so far gathered the support of Kurds and non Kurds alike from many of the European countries. Kurdish artists, internationally renowned public figures and politicians as well as the people of Strasbourg have showed support and solidarity with the unlimited hunger strike.

The demands are concluded in five bullet points (see below) and focus mainly on the health condition of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan and the ongoing state violence of Turkey against the Kurdish people.
The hunger strikers demand;

• that the isolation of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, held in solitary confinement in Imrali prison in Turkey, should immediately stop and that his health condition is improved and guaranteed.
• that representatives from the CPT (European Committee for the Prevention of Torture) visit Imrali to investigate the conditions at the prison island and thereafter notify the public of the results.
• that the European Council takes the correct measures against the Turkish state’s oppression of the Kurdish people
• that the European Union will reconsider their relations with Turkey and if there are not any improvements, the relations with Turkey will come to cease.
• that the PKK is removed from the EU list of terrorist organisations.

The hunger strike has caught the attention of many politicians and the last public figure to raise his voice against Turkish state violations against the Kurdish people is Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from 1984, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. He calls upon the Secretary General of the European Council, Thorbjørn Jagland, to take action in this matter of urgency.

New article on Kurdish politics in Syria

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

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

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

You can find the article here:

Cartoon: Who’s doing what to topple the regime?

Click image to enlarge

Cartoon from Soparo perhaps represents the disagreements amongst some Kurdish political parties in Syria and the ‘Kurdish street.’ Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president, sits comfortably atop a chair. The Arab on the right is holding a sign that reads ‘The people want the fall of the regime’, which has become a common refrain in Syria in all parts of the country, and shows him standing with a Kurd, united in their call. The guy with the ax, maybe representing the Kurdish youth and their groups, is also trying to ‘topple the regime.’  But the cartoon shows some of the Kurdish political parties on the left who, according to some, haven’t yet put their full weight behind that slogan. Hence the impression that they are propping up the regime instead of helping to topple it. The sign held up by the man in grey reads ‘لجنة التنسيق’, meaning Coordinating Committee, which is a group of three Kurdish political parties in Syria: the Future Movement, Yekîtî, and Azadî. The PYD (Partîya Yekîtî ya Demokratîk or Democratic Union Party),  is closely linked to the PKK, hence Öcalan’s figure on the left.  These groups are the most anti-regime of the Kurdish political parties and the most actionist. Members of the PYD and the Coordinating Committee do support the protests and have been out protesting. So this cartoon is all about perceptions. If  you have any other interpretations of this, leave a comment.

Öcalan makes an appearance in ‘Afrin

The videos below are from ‘Afrin (Efrîn), uploaded onto YouTube yesterday,  07 May. I assume they are from Friday’s demonstrations. ‘Afrin, with a population of about 80,000, is located north of Aleppo and has been a traditional support base for the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, Kurdistan Workers’ Party). While there were far larger protests in other Kurdish areas in Syria, this one stood out for its manifestations of support for the PKK.

Banner from Friday: 'Democracy means the continuation of life'

It was a small protest compared to what’s been going on in Qamişlo, for example, but it is unique in what the demonstrators were waving…flags with the depiction of Abdullah Öcalan, PKK flags, flags of the PYD (Democratic Union Party), flying and waving with the Syrian flag. They shouted, ‘PYD, PYD, PYD’ as well as ‘Azadî, azadî, azadî’, which means ‘freedom’ in Kurdish. The PYD is the Kurdish party in Syria that has the closest links to the PKK. Demonstrators also broke out into the now-standard chant, ‘One, one, one, the Syrian people are one.’


Özgür Ülke: the story behind the bombings

An article appeared a couple days ago in ANF, Özgür Ülke: the bombing of a Kurdish newspaper 16 years ago, that touches upon an important era in the history of the Kurdish press in Turkey. The article though did not give any context to the tragic ‘black’ years of the early 90s for Kurdish journalists and journalism, nor does it relate the importance of this and other newspapers to the development of the Kurdish press. This background information is crucial to really appreciate the story of Özgür Ülke.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, 03 December 1994 three synchronised explosions rocked the main office and printing house of the daily Özgür Ülke in Istanbul, as well as the paper’s office in Ankara.

Shortly before 3am an explosion ripped through the daily’s printing house in the Cağaloğlu neighbourhood of the Eminönü district in Istanbul, causing extensive damage. The Eminönü district is home to many publishing houses. Half an hour later, an explosive device, perhaps an explosive-laden truck, detonated on the ground floor of the daily’s main office in Kumkapı in the Fatih district of Istanbul. The four-story building was gutted. All told, one person was killed and 23 were injured. Ersin Yildiz, the lone fatality, died on the way to hospital.

Meanwhile, an explosion rocked the Özgür Ülke office on Menekse Street in Ankara causing extensive damage. There were no casualties at the Ankrara office.

Interior Minister Nahit Mentese said that the reason for the bombings of the Özgür Ülke offices in Istanbul and Ankara might be provocation or a dispute among its various factions. He added that every possible angle was being investigated.

However, others had different ideas as to who bombed the Özgür Ülke offices. The newspaper blamed the state for the coordinated explosions. Mehmet Cifti, Ankara representative of Özgür Ülke claimed that the attacks on the newspaper, which had recently come under increased police harassment, were an attempt to ‘silence’ the paper for defending Kurdish rights. He claimed the decision to attack the offices had been taken during Turkey’s military-dominated National Security Council meeting three days prior to the attacks. Both the Turkish Chief of General Staff and the Interior Minister are on record saying ‘Özgür Ülke should be stopped.’

The editor-in-chief, Baki Karadeniz, said that it was obvious who the perpetrators were, adding: ‘These attacks will not silence us. Our newspaper will be published tomorrow and the days after that…’

And it was published the next day with the headline ‘Bu ateş, sizi de yakar’ (This fire will burn you too).

On 19 December 1994, the paper published an article under the banner headline: ‘[former Turkish PM] Çiller Gave the Orders To Bomb the Paper.’ The Prime Minister’s Office Press Centre issued a statement saying that ‘the newspaper in question is misleading the citizens and the world. Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution and the law in Turkey, which is a democratic state of law.’ The statement went on to say that ‘the Turkish Republican Government considers freedom of the press as sacred as other rights and freedoms and values it as such.’

Replying to reporters’ questions in Ankara after the attack, Interior Minister Mentese said that even insinuating state involvement in these attacks directed against human lives and property was unthinkable. He added that the state had always tried to ensure the prevalence of the laws. In reply to a question on whether it was a coincidence that the bombings took place soon after the PKK called for a cease-fire, Mentese said that every possibility was being taken into consideration.

Prior to the bombings…

Turkish PM Yıldırım Akbulut announced in 1990: ‘We have decided to answer guns with guns,’ and with that new restrictions were placed on the reporting of the conflict in the southeast; all news reports would have to be ‘coordinated’ with the Interior Ministry, and publishers would be liable for hefty fines and immediate closure upon conviction of printing any material considered to ‘pose a threat to the rule of law.’

The restrictions stemmed from a Council of Ministers order, Decree 413, which equipped the regional governor in southeastern Turkey with extraordinary powers, among them, to censor the press. Following this and other decrees issued later that month, an almost complete censorship was imposed on news from southeastern Turkey. Most news from that region was then based solely on information released by the regional governor’s office. Journalists who tried to cover Kurdish issues or investigate allegations of abuse on the part of security forces ran a serious risk of criminal charges and prison sentences. Some were expelled from towns in the region.

These were the first shots to be fired in a new war against the Kurdish press, which was to escalate into a barrage of assassinations, arson, judicial persecution and confiscations.

Widespread attacks on journalists working for left-wing and pro-Kurdish newspapers began in 1992. These assaults and murders, which continued and escalated over several years, must be seen in the light of the state’s tight control on the expression of unorthodox views, and particularly of any material which was seen as ‘subversive.’

Article 8 of the newly-implemented Anti-Terror Law of 12 April 1991 armed the state with a handy weapon against the pro-Kurdish press. A catch-all provision said that: ‘No written or verbal propaganda, meeting, demonstration and march, which targets the indivisible unity of the people and country of the Turkish Republic, for whatever thought or aim, are allowed.’ Article 8 was used against any manifestation of Kurdish identity, illustrated most starkly by the experience of the pro-Kurdish press.

Up to the end of 1992, 48 confiscation orders or lawsuits were filed by State Security Court prosecutors based on 114 issues of the weekly newspaper Yeni Ülke, which first appeared in October 1990. Start up funding for Yeni Ülke was provided by the PKK and was enthusiastically backed by Kurdish activists.

The monthly magazine Özgür Halk started publication in November 1990 and lasted for 27 issues. During that period, 15 issues were confiscated and lawsuits were filed against 22 issues. Eight employees of the paper were arrested and tortured; the Diyarbakır office was bombed; the Diyarbakır representative Huseyin Ebem was given a 26-month prison sentence and a 45 million TL fine for ‘making propaganda against the indivisible integrity of the state’, and two of the paper’s representatives were murdered.

The daily paper Özgür Gündem paid the heaviest penalty for the right to publish during this phase of the state’s operations against the press. Between 31 May 1992, when it was launched, and 15 January 1993, when it was forced to stop publication, confiscation orders were issued against 39 issues; fines amounting to billions of TL were imposed on the management; seven correspondents and distributors of the paper were murdered; 55 correspondents were arrested, and three of them were severely tortured; employees’ homes and the paper’s offices were repeatedly raided by the police, and property used by the paper was subjected to regular arson attacks.

Özgür Gündem, which typically published interviews with Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, and frequently printed statements by the PKK, was regarded by most Turks as the mouthpiece of the outlawed organisation. Öcalan also had a weekly column in the paper using the pen name Ali Firat. The papers’ reporters were constantly stopped by police, and distribution of the paper was obstructed by security forces in the southeast.

Turkish officials refuting claims of harrassment of the paper say the state has nothing to fear from a newspaper whose circulation is a mere 12,000. Other reports estimated circulation anywhere from 15,000 to 50,000.

The year 1993 began with the closure of the newspaper on 15 January, driven out of business by harassment, confiscations, raids, arrests, and violence. On 26 April 1993, Özgür Gündem was publishing again, after merging with another paper that had also been relentlessly persecuted, Yeni Ülke. But that did not last for long. Throughout the following 7 months, the paper suffered a crescendo of attacks, both physical and legal. By July, the publishers and editors had been fined a total of 8.6 billion TL ($736,500 at that time) and sentenced to prison terms totalling 155 to 493 years. By the end of November 1993, there were 170 further cases outstanding against the paper, including an action to close the paper on the grounds that ‘the chief editor Davut Karadag did not communicate his new address to the Istanbul Governorate.’

The main charges against the paper were ‘making separatist propaganda’ and ‘praising the PKK’ contrary to Articles 7 and 8 of the Anti-Terror Law. These were due to be heard before the State Security Tribunal, a special court designated under Article 143 of the Turkish Constitution to hear ‘offences against the indivisible integrity of the state…,’ on 21 September 1993. On that date, however, the proprietor Yasar Kaya was unable to appear, because he was in custody on another charge.

On 10 December 1993, International Human Rights Day, 200 police raided the paper’s offices in Istanbul, arresting 100 employees and seizing equipment. In simultaneous raids on all the other offices of the paper except Ankara, another 50 were taken into custody.

By the end of 1993, six of the paper’s journalists and 14 other staff members had been killed, one journalist, Burhan Karadeniz had been shot by unidentified gunmen and paralysed for life, and one journalist had disappeared.

On 14 April 1994 Özgür Gündem was shut down temporarily, in the first of 200 such cases to come to the Supreme Court. On 27 April, the owners of the paper decided to cease operations, and a new title, Özgür Ülke, was launched. But on 14 June 1994, the editor, deputy editor and 11 journalists from the defunct title were put on trial in Istanbul. The editor, Ms Gurbeteli Ersöz and four others were charged with membership of an illegal organisation, the remainder with ‘separatist propaganda.’

Özgür Ülke fared no better than its predecessor, Özgür Gündem, and two months after the bombings, on 03 February 1995, Özgür Ülke was closed down altogether when a court ruled that it was subject to the same ban as Özgür Gündem. When yet another paper representing a Kurdish viewpoint, Yeni Politika, was planned, its premises were raided before even the first issue appeared in April, six of its journalists were detained, and the inaugural issue was confiscated for containing ‘separatist propaganda.’

This was all taking place around the same time the Turkish military was carrying out a ‘scorched earth’ policy in the southeast, with roughly 2,000 Kurdish villages erased from the map, and two million Kurds driven from their homes. The villages were forcibly evacuated and later burned or partly destroyed. Nearly 300,000 troops—more than half of Turkey’s armed forces at that time—were stationed in the region.

There were also attacks on Kurdish political parties. In the spring of 1990 the Peoples’ Labour Party (Halkın Emek Partisi, HEP) was formed. It tried to articulate Kurdish identity as far as it could without running into trouble with the vaguely worded Anti-Terror Law. The party was threatened with closure at the behest of State Security Court Chief Prosecutor Nusret Demiral, for making ‘separatist propaganda’ and it was eventually banned in July 1993.

The Democracy Party (Demokrasi Partisi, DEP) was founded in May of 1993 by members of the HEP as a successor party in anticipation of the ban. In March 1994, the Turkish Grand National Assembly withdrew the immunity of the Kurdish MPs in the DEP.

Six of the MPs, Hatip Dicle, Leyla Zana, Orhan Doğan, Sirri Sakik, Ahmet Türk and Mahmut Alınak, were arrested on the withdrawal of their immunity.

The DEP was dissolved by the Constitutional Court on 16 June 1994. On 08 December 1994, five days after the bombing of the offices of Özgür Ülke, Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Ahmet Türk, Orhan Doğan and Selim Sadak were found guilty under Article 168 (2) of the Turkish Penal Code of membership of an illegal armed organisation, and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Sedat Yurtdaş was found guilty under Article 169 of having provided support to an armed organisation and given 7 years six months imprisonment. Mahmut Alınak and Sirri Sakik were found guilty under Article 8 (1) of the Anti-Terror Law of having engaged in separatist propaganda and were sentenced to 3 years six months, plus a fine of 70 million TL, but released on bail.

Aliza Marcus, in her book Blood and Belief, says that ‘[t]here is no question that Kurds gained from the opportunities created when the PKK, starting in the early 1990s, carved out or otherwise gave backing to new, legal Kurdish institutions and publications. A whole generation of journalists developed in Özgür Gündem and its related newspapers, and for the first time, Kurds could read news of direct relevance to their lives.’


TRT TV. ‘Interior minister denies state involvement in Özgür Ülke bombings’ as reported in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts (6 December 1994); LexisNexis.

TRT TV. ‘Explosions at offices of pro-Kurdish paper’ as reported in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts (5 December 1994); LexisNexis.

Human Rights Watch World Report 1990 – Turkey

Avebury, Eric. Turkey’s Kurdish Policy in the Nineties. Paper presented at the Middle East Studies Association meeting in Washington, DC, December 1995. Accessed at American Kurdish Information Network.

Fraser, Suzan. Pro-Kurdish paper blames state for bombings. Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 03 December 1994.

Kanal-6 TV. ‘Paper’s editor vows to keep publishing’ as reported in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts (5 December 1994); LexisNexis.

TRT TV. ‘Çiller denies issuing order to bomb newspaper’ as reported in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts (23 December 1994); LexisNexis.

Marcus, Aliza (2007). Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish fight for independence. New York University Press.

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.

Images from Dörtyol

Entrance of Mezbaha neighbourhood in Dörtyol. Banner reads: 'We have a rebellion in Mezbaha, salute to Öcalan.'

Damaged shop

BDP office burns

Another ruined business

Ultra-nationalists patrol the streets

Police and military stop BDP convoy from entering town

BDP supporters clash with police

Toxic blame game spiralling out of control

Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan has called for party leaders to meet to discuss terrorism, but the opposition parties aren’t biting. Opposition party leaders are adamantly opposed to such a gathering, saying that the office of the Turkish President should convene the meeting to discuss Turkey’s ‘mounting terrorism problem.’

No one will argue that there has been an upsurge in violence in the past few weeks, specifically since 01 June.    The arguments, rather, are centred on the origins of the violence and how to control it.  A toxic blame game is in play threatening to spiral into further uncontrolled violence, taking the country back to the dark days of the 1990s.

So who is saying what about the current situation?

Erdoğan and the AKP

Turkish PM Erdoğan

Erdoğan has a three-tiered approach for laying blame: the EU, the media, and the opposition parties.

He has been lambasting the EU of late for not offering more support in Ankara’s ‘long-running struggle against terrorism,’ saying that EU member states turn a blind eye to PKK activities there.  He wants Europeans to cut PKK financial channels, close down any organisation with PKK affiliations, and stop PKK propaganda.  The last demand is a reference to ROJ-TV, a Kurdish satellite TV station broadcasting from Denmark, long accused by Ankara of being a ‘mouthpiece’ for the PKK.

He blames the media in Turkey as well and was recently quoted as saying, ‘I beg your pardon, but unfortunately the media is intentionally or unintentionally supporting the terrorist organisation in a serious way. I am being this harsh.’

He has singled out the pro-Kurdish BDP in particular for supporting terrorism. During a recent address in the AKP’s meeting in Parliament, Erdoğan accused the BDP of supporting terrorism, saying they were ‘collaborating with the outlawed terror organisation.’  He added that those ‘who are in direct or indirect contact with the PKK are accomplices to murder.’

Despite the recent surge in violence, Beşir Atalay, Turkish Interior Minister, says the government will continue its efforts to advance the Kurdish Opening.  However, he expresses frustration at the lack of support from the US and the KRG to combat the PKK.  He says that PKK camps in the Qandil mountains ‘must be destroyed’ and that the ‘time for action is now.’

Like Erdoğan, Atalay is touchy about the media.  He said the government expects ‘the media to show sensitivity on news reports regarding terrorist acts.’  ‘The press unintentionally contributes to that propaganda.’

The Opposition Parties

Devlet Bahçeli

Firebrand Nationalist Party (MHP) Leader Devlet Bahçeli says he will not meet with the Prime Minister until Erdoğan admits that ‘he made a mistake with the (Kurdish) initiative, he escalated clashes, he aggravated terror and he led to the deaths of soldiers.’

Bahçeli has a laundry list of other demands and pre-conditions.  He wants Erdoğan to:

• clarify his relations with the PKK, the US, and the KRG;
• give up the Kurdish initiative;
• announce his commitment to Turkish identity, and give up dividing the country into pieces;
• say that he will not listen to the US and will not seek shelter in the US after every terrorist attack;

• bring Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani in line, and
• apologise to the citizens of Turkey.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) says that Erdoğan should visit the CHP first before any summit to discuss terrorism, but ‘we are waiting for him to return from his holiday.’  He also says that Erdoğan’s vagueness on the Kurdish initiatives has brought the country to the brink of division.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s recent comment that ‘blood cannot be cleaned with blood,’ meant, he said, ‘that you can’t solve terror on the security front alone. The fight against terror has different dimensions, including economic, social, psychological and cultural aspects.’

He also claimed that one of the most apparent weaknesses in Turkey’s fight against terror was its reliance on foreign intelligence.

Selehattin Demirtaş

BDP leader Selehattin Demirtaş says that Erdoğan’s statements accusing the BDP of ties to terrorism were a kind of ‘call’ for the top court to close the BDP.

Demirtaş is careful to distinguish the state from the current AKP government.  ‘The state is closer to the solution, but it is the AKP that congests the process.’ Even so, he says, the Kurdish Opening didn’t go far enough.

Gültan Kışanak, deputy leader BDP, stated that the AKP’s failure in its Kurdish move has led to the re-emergence of the conflict.

Kışanak said Erdoğan didn’t want to pay a price for the AKP’s Kurdish move, but instead wanted to make supporters of the initiative pay the price.

The BDP deputy leader also criticised Erdoğan for blaming external powers for the recent conflicts in an attempt to escape responsibility for those who have lost their lives recently. ‘The ruling government has so far blamed external powers to veil their failure for problems inside the country,’ Kışanak said.


Sozdar Avesta

The PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) holds Ankara responsible for the current situation.  Sozdar Avesta, one of the top five commanders of the PKK and the highest-ranking female member, says that instead of developing a peaceful solution, Ankara has ‘unleashed more violence’ and is pursuing a ‘policy of annihilation.’  She said the ‘Turkish government has failed to develop a peaceful solution of the Kurdish issue.’

In a recent interview describing what the military situation might look like in the months ahead, Avesta said ‘It’s going to be very hot.  Guerrilla units across Turkey have been activated. We have started a period where we are going to actively defend ourselves.’  These actions, she added, are a response to Turkish repression.

During that same interview with Avesta, another PKK member said: ‘The Turkish government saw our ceasefire as a sign of weakness and is trying to exploit that. They are preparing a total war.’

Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned leader of the PKK, said peace with Turkey was possible.  He listed several suggestions, including constitutional reform and the abolishment of anti-terror laws.  He foresees these as fundamental to any solution of the Kurdish question and says the AKP is fully responsible. Öcalan has called for a period of no conflict, but warned that if the AKP fails, then special war lobbies in the judiciary, the army, and elsewhere will take over.


Murat Karayılan

The head of the KCK (Kurdistan Democratic Confederation) Executive Council, Murat Karayılan said in an interview with Firat News Agency that the AKP is not sincere in the solution [Kurdish Opening] and is using the stances of the CHP and MHP as an excuse not to take necessary steps to a real solution.  But he feels that the AKP government and the Turkish state have no intention to make peace with the Kurdish people.

He said that the KCK is planning to announce a ‘Democratic Autonomy’ solution.  The Democratic Autonomy is a democratisation of Turkey and means ‘respecting and promoting different cultures rather than subjecting them to assimilation and genocide policies. It is recognising the right to autonomy of different cultures living within the country. It does not mean secession or establishing a new state, but enjoyment of full rights.’

If AKP does not accept democratic autonomy, then the only option left, he added, would be to ‘enter a total war period.’

What next?

Erdoğan has returned from his brief holiday.  Sanity is still on holiday.  Dangerous rhetoric frames the current situation only in terms of security and terrorism and detracts from the issues at hand.  Ordinary Kurdish citizens are left in the dust of political manipulation.

The AKP vows to press on with the Kurdish Opening, but elections are looming. Any push to continue reforms will only strengthen the hard-line opposition.  Pushing too hard will cost the party dearly in the elections.

There seems little chance of bringing the parties together to form any kind of consensus before the elections.  Given the current positions, however, consensus seems all but impossible anyway. Demirtaş, an idealist perhaps, thinks that 2010 will bring a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue.  Others seem to be preparing for all-out ethnic conflict. Can the path to more conflict and bloodshed be stopped?  Can anything be done to steer the country towards Demirtaş’ hoped-for scenario?  Anything?

The Fading Colour of a Woman’s Hope

Photo from Gündem Online

The fourth editor-in-chief of the only Kurdish-Turkish women’s magazine in Turkey has now been in detention for three months, with a 20-day extension just announced by a Diyarbakır court.  Gurbet Çakar of the magazine Rengê Hêviya Jinê (Colour of a Woman’s Hope), was arrested three months ago by the Diyarbakır public prosecutor’s office when she appeared there to give a statement.  The charges related to her arrest were ‘making propaganda for the PKK via the media.’

In a hearing on 10 June, the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court dismissed the request for her release.  She had previously been sentenced to more than three years in jail.

Çakar’s lawyer, Servet Özen, said that a total of five cases have been filed against Çakar. Servet Özen was also on the legal team that defended Mehdi Tanrıkulu, managing editor of the Kurdish newspaper Azadiya Welat.

Turkish authorities frequently use harsh anti-terrorism laws to stifle freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Turkey, particularly against Kurdish-language publications and Kurdish journalists.

In the case of Rengê Hêviya Jinê, Özen explained that the cases were filed on the grounds of calling imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan ‘leader of the Kurdish people’ and for publishing photographs of him and members of the PKK.

Gurbet Çakar

Özen is preparing appeals on behalf of Çakar. Other charges against the editor include ‘membership in an illegal organisation and committing a crime on behalf of the organisation.’ The case related to her detention will continue on 1 July.

Rengê Hêviya Jinê began publishing in November 2007.  It is a bi-monthly publication with articles that focus on political, cultural and social issues from women’s perspectives.  Thirteen issues have been published despite constant harassment from the Turkish judiciary.  There are currently 16 open court cases involving the magazine and its editors.

Çakar is one of four successive editors to be charged. The first managing editor, Sultan Sonsuz, was sentenced to one year and three months in one of the ‘propaganda’ related charges. Sonsuz is facing imprisonment of between four years and nine months and 20 years in total for the remaining four cases. Her successor, Ruken Aktaş, is facing imprisonment of up to three years and nine months. One trial against Aktaş was dropped. The Diyarbakır 6th High Criminal Court handed down a one year and three month prison sentence to Aktaş’s successor, Sibel Esmer. Esmer has appealed to the decision.

**UPDATE (08 October 2010): Prosecutors have announced they will seek a 20-year sentence in their case against Gurbet Çakar on charges of ‘making propaganda for an organisation, being a member of the organisation and committing crime on behalf of the organisation.’


Hêviya Jinê, yargı kıskacında. Gündem Online, 11 April 2010.

Önderoğlu, Erol. Chief Editor of Women Magazine Detained since March! Bianet, 14 June 2010.

Arrest warrants issued for Tuğluk, Türk, Demirtaş and Ayna

Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk

Turkish police are searching for former DTP deputies Aysel Tuğluk, Ahmet Türk, Selahattin Demirtaş and Emine Ayna after they failed to appear in court.  They staged a raid at the BDP headquarters in Ankara this morning looking for the four.  Officers left the premises after fifteen minutes without locating them.  The four face charges of promoting the PKK.

Charges against former DTP head, Ahmet Türk, stem from statements he made after a meeting with former members of the closed DTP, Democratic Society Party.

The investigation launched by the ‘Bureau on Media Crimes’ will be conducted in the context of charges pursuant to Article 215 ‘praising the crime and the criminal’, and Article 216 ‘inciting hatred and hostility’ of the Turkish penal codes.

Türk had announced at that meeting that ‘the intellectuals, authors, academics have presented a case for being in the parliamentary system. On Wednesday, Mr Öcalan met with his lawyers. We have been told that at this meeting Mr Öcalan expressed to his lawyers the need to stay in the Parliamentary system to continue their with fight.’

Former DTP deputy Aysel Tuğluk was sentenced in October of 2009 to 18 months in jail for ‘spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organisation’ in remarks favouring the PKK in a speech made at a rally in Diyarbakır in 2006.  In the speech, made before she was elected to parliament, Tuğluk praised a declaration signed by tens of thousands of Kurds upholding Öcalan as their leader.

Tuğluk faces several other charges and could receive up to a 50-year sentence if convicted of all charges.

Türk and Tuğluk were removed from Parliament and banned from participating in politics for the next five years by the Turkish Constitutional Court on 11 December 2009. But according to CNNTürk, as the verdict has not yet been published in the Official Gazette, the former deputies technically still enjoy immunity from prosecution and questioning.

Demirtaş and Ayna are still sitting deputies and therefore have immunity from prosecution.

The four members are refusing to make a deposition, saying that, as deputies, they had parliamentary immunity and therefore could not be judged.

The court, however, said the former DTP members were accused of being involved in separatist activities, which made it impossible for the deputies to exercise their right to immunity from prosecution under Article 14 of the Turkish Constitution.

This photograph of the 35 detainees, handcuffed, as they enter the court to give testimony, has caused outrage among many. Sezgin Tanrıkulu, former chairman of Diyarbakır Bar Association, says the handcuffing is illegal.

Commenting on the court decision Tuesday, Türk said, ‘The decision is against the law. We have not testified so far to highlight this illegal situation. We will go to the court and testify, when the time is right.  And we believe the decision for them [Demirtaş and Ayna] is against the law.’

News of the warrants for the four deputies comes on the heels of last week’s raids by the security forces around the country against the KCK, or Kurdish Democratic Council (Koma Civakên Kurdistan), an umbrella organisation which includes the PKK.  More than 80 former DTP members, mayors, and human rights activists were detained.  Many have been released, but the massive arrests have led to more outbreaks of violence in the streets. A Diyarbakır court is still holding 23 people in detention of the 35 detained on 24 December.


Turkish court orders Kurdish lawmakers to be forcibly brought to trial.  Hürriyet Daily News, 29 December 2009.

Ankara Republican Prosecutor opens an investigation on Ahmet Türk. Turkish, 22 December 2009.

Kurdish Politicians Kept in Detention.  Bianet, 28 December 2009.

NPR: Turk-Kurd tensions flare

A story from today’s radio show on National Public Radio in the US. Discusses Turkey’s ‘Democratic Initiative’, the possible ban of the DTP, recent protests, language laws, human rights issues, etc. A good story (just over 5 minutes in length). And great to hear news about the Kurds on a major news outlet.

Listen to story: Turk-Kurd Tensions Flare

Parliament for the first time came to think about Ahmet Türk

Ahmet Türk, President, Democratic Society Party (DTP)

From Hürriyet Daily News…

Opinion by Mehmet Ali Birand

Monday, November 16, 2009

In politics it’s always like that.

Those who want to cover up the issue will succeed to a certain extent. But no matter how hard they try in the end it will surface.

And those who want to solve the problem first start by discussing the issue.

If a society started to discuss a subject it means we are getting somewhere. For, everything that nobody dares to talk about during discussions becomes part of your daily life.

For example, once it was a crime to say, “Honorable Öcalan.” People were tried for that.

What happened next?

Discussions became so widespread that now everybody says Honorable and Honorable became casual.

Last week in meetings at the Parliament words were spoken that indicated that the Kurdish initiative has progressed much. It was understood that this was not to be stopped anymore. This meeting was a historic one. With its content and broad discussions regarding the Kurdish issue the meeting was a turning point

I was not able to write about this session. Even though a few days passed since, I wanted to make an analysis of the discussion.

Ahmet Türk gave one of his most brilliant speeches

It was not very catchy but DTP leader Ahmet Türk gave one of his most sensitive, calm and brisk speeches loaded with never-before-heard reality I have ever witnessed before. He confronted us with the past and made us feel ashamed when he talked about how we treated our Kurdish citizens. And he did it without exaggeration. He calibrated.

When he said, “Please put yourselves in our place,” he reflected his most sincere feelings.

The most important aspect of the speech was the part where he said that the Kurdish issue is in fact a Turkish issue. He approached the subject from Turkey’s perspective. He looked at it from the Turkish perspective, not the Kurdish.

Türk, for the first time under the roof of the Parliament, said the PKK is a result of ill treatment of Kurdish citizens in public. He openly revealed this reality that everybody knows but ignores.

Ahmet Türk couldn’t help but touch on the weakness of steps taken so far. But nevertheless he contended himself by saying he left the door open to see what will come next. He criticized the government but did not break bridges. But his strongest criticism, which was in fact justified, he directed toward the CHP.

In this respect Türk was the star of the session.

Prime Minister obligated himself strongly

The prime minister‘s speech was full of signs of how he adopted the Kurdish initiative. He might have had to take on such an attitude in view of brisk criticism from the opposition. Sentences he used in his speech would have put prosecutors into action five or six years ago.

Erdoğan while assuring that his administration will stand behind this process, tried to be careful not to appear cooperative with the DTP but still keep in touch. He only applauded Ahmet Türk out of all the opposition parties.

Speeches in Parliament once more showed how difficult a job the administration does. Despite that it was interesting to see how strong the AKP stood in respect to this subject. To tell the truth, I did not expect the prime minister and the AKP to carry this subject this far. Now we know how right a decision it was to appoint Atalay as the coordinator.

I can’t help but say this much.

Initiative packages suggested so far are in my eyes still insufficient. If no real steps are taken it means we’ll only try in vain.

For the rest of Mehmet Ali Birand’s opinion piece, click here.