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The plight of the Kurdish people

editorial - SchNEWS,  6 May 2005

Kurds and No Way

"If you say, 'there is a Kurdish question in Turkey,' this is unfortunately creating an artificial problem. There is no such problem for us." - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The plight of the Kurdish people is one that has been in the news recently. Supporters of the War on Iraq are quick to point out that the Kurds, who suffered heavily under the rule of Saddam Hussein, are now better off. But you don't hear much from Tony Blair or Michael Howard about the Kurds who live in Turkey - who have been victimised by widespread acts of State violence that include extra-judicial killings, torture, large-scale destruction of homes, forced evacuations, and the denial of basic human rights- such as the right to speak their own language or even call themselves Kurds.

You see Turkey, as friends of the west, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, can do no wrong despite massive human rights abuses in their countries, while "enemies" like Iran and Syria have the threat of military invasion never far away for behaving in much the same way but not towing the Western line.

The Kurdish people are the world's largest landless people, numbering around 40 million. In 1923 their homeland Kurdistan was partitioned between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Their treatment by the Turkish Government led to an armed uprising in 1984 by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which continued until they called a ceasefire in 1999. As a result of the armed conflict an estimated 4,000 villages were destroyed, approximately three million people were forced to flee their homes and over 30,000 people died.

Due to the Turkish state's continuing repression, the conflict began again in June 2004 and this month saw the re-founding of the PKK.

Kurdish Delight

SchNEWS has received this report from a British Activist who recently visited the Kurdish area of Turkey to observe the Kurdish Newroz celebrations and to report on changes in the human rights situation in the area since the start of the EU accession process.

"The Newroz spring fire festival, which had been illegal until 2000, took place on 21 March just outside Diyarbakir, the cultural capital of the Kurds in Turkey. The police stopped the coach before we entered the event and our passport details were noted. Police and military surrounded the event and had commandeered some nearby buildings.

This year's celebration was the largest ever, with an estimated one million people taking part in spite of the distance from the city and a ban on all civil servants attending. Many people made the journey on foot, others utilised whatever transport they could find, overloading motorcycles, hanging off the backs of lorries, with a few riding in on horseback. It was a display of unity, peaceful defiance and pride, with real warmth shown to outsiders who wanted to share it with them. There was much traditional dancing and people displayed their red, yellow and green national colours, making endless and enthusiastic peace signs, waving various Kurdish flags and placards of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdish movement.

The police were moderate in their behaviour but the military sent their jets screaming noisily overhead several times and helicopters constantly circled the event.

Dam Statistics

We also visited the ancient city of Hasankeyf, which is at risk from the new plan to build the Ilisu Dam. The Turkish government has begun negotiations with the Austrian firm VA Tech to build the dam. When complete the dam would not only flood Hasankeyf but also forcibly displace 80,000 people.

Although physical brutality by the police and security forces has been reduced, it has often been replaced by psychological torture and increased harassment of Kurdish and human rights activists. This takes the form of prosecutions, raids, threats, intimidation, and bureaucratic obstacles. There had been an improvement in the incidences of torture and violence in the preceding period but, regrettably, despite the reduction in extra-judicial killings and disappearances there had been recently a resumption of killings. These included the state murder of 12-year-old Ugur Kaymaz and his father. This atrocity has evoked fear and alarm that the country was returning to the terror and lawlessness of the past.

The Diyarbakir branch of GOC-DER (Immigrants' Association for Social Cooperation and Culture) which works with internally displaced people expressed concern over the new compensation laws for those internally displaced during the conflict. The government has refused the offer of EU assistance stating there was no problem - a point vehemently disputed by GOC-DER, who also reports that the burning of villages by the state was continuing.

One of the most moving visits for me was to the Diyarbakir branch of Mothers for Peace, an organisation made up of the mothers of guerrillas who had died and now worked tirelessly to promote peace. These indefatigable women, many of whom were in their seventies, reported being severely harassed, their homes raided and they are constantly stopped at police checkpoints and regularly beaten whilst demonstrating. But as one of the women told us, "We have nothing left to lose, what else can they do to us?"

The distinctive red, yellow and green of the Kurdish flag is banned in Turkey, indeed at the height of the conflict in Batman, one of the largest towns in the Kurdish area had the amber light of the traffic lights removed as the red, amber and green was seen as symbolizing the Kurdish struggle! The Turkish flag however, was flying everywhere, some of the flags so big they covered the fronts of entire buildings. Also written everywhere above the streets, in very large letters was the slogan, 'How happy is he who calls himself a Turk?' - Maybe, but what about the Kurds?"

For further information or to get involved, please email the Kurdish Solidarity Committee -

- SchNEWS  (6th May 2005)

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revised 18 November 2005