The Defence of Human Rights

Spreading information on the Human Rights situation is a part of the objectives in the Institutes constitution. Often acting as a relay and interface for those people on the spot who are working to promote democracy, secularism, peace and human rights, on the one hand; and the Western NGOs, institutions, Parliamentary bodies and media on the other, the Kurdish Institute has played an important part in developing the awareness of public opinion of the terrible tragedies, hidden by a wall of silence, that millions of Kurds lived through;the destruction of 4,500 Kurdish villages and the massive deportation and gassing of the Iraqi Kurds; the prohibition of the Kurdish language and culture, the destruction of 3,200 Kurdish villages and the forced and massive population displacement of the Kurds in Turkey; the "holy war" waged by the Iranian Islamic regime against the Kurdish minority and the assassination of the main Iranian Kurdish leaders in Europe (Vienna, 1989; Berlin 1992).

Starting with rigorously checked information, the Kurdish Institute has, with the support of NGOs and leading Western public figures, including about twenty Nobel Peace Prize winners, waged campaigns to arouse awareness of the media and organised lectures, conferences symposia and seminars to co-ordinate efforts engage in collective thinking to seek solutions.

Some of these actions have enjoyed varied forms of support from the French government. (The Human Rights fortnight in May 1995, the Paris International Conference in October 1989), of representative institutions like the U.S. Senate (Washington Conference in February 1991) or the European Parliament. Others were financed by contributions from NGOs, local councils, and private gifts. Sweden and Norway, both very attached to the defence of Human Rights, democratic freedom, and the building of peace through dialogue, have regularly participated in the financing of the Institute's activities in these fields, a summary of which is given below:

The International Appeal for the Defence of Kurdish Culture in Turkey, signed by almost a thousand people from thirty different countries, including 24 Nobel Prize winners, which appeared as a adverting insert in Le Monde of June 30th 1988, The International Herald Tribune of June 29th and The Guardian of July 12th 1988. (See Appendix N° 1).

The cost of these advertisements was entirely taken care of by Iraqi Kurdish businessmen settled in London. Following the international impact of this appeal calling on the Turkish authorities to lift the bans on the use of the Kurdish language in Turkey, a public debate took place in that country. Finally, in 1991, the Turkish government repealed a law that forbade even the spoken use of Kurdish, However, teaching and publishing in Kurdish still remain forbidden.

The Human Rights Fortnight, 16 - 31 May 1985, organised as part of a series of actions to raise awareness of Human Rights problems in the world, launched in Paris by the Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, and the Minister of Culture Jack Lang. An Exhibition of photos in the Institutes on the Armenian genocide: lecture/debates on the genocides of the 20th Century (Armenians, Jews, Gypsies (Roma), Cambodians); encounters with Roma writers; exhibition of photos and lecture/debate at the Rachi Centre on the fate of the Kurds. The high point of these actions was a Symposium on May 30/31 at the National Assembly, bringing together 80 public figures from 5 continents engaged in the struggle for the defence of Human Rights, including the President of the Kurdish Institute. (See Appendix N° 2 for advertisement by the Ministry of Culture announcing these actions).

Translation into Kurdish of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, preceded by the 1789 "Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen". This first translation into Kurdish, made on the occasion of the Bicentenary of the French Revolution, gave rise to its publication in five languages (Kurdish, Arabic, English, French and Turkish) for distribution in the Kurdish Diaspora. In 1992, the Institute had this reprinted in 50,000 copies and sent to Iraqi Kurdistan for distribution to the population by the Kurdish Organisation for Human Rights, created with the support of the Kurdish Institute.

14/15th October 1989: Paris International Conference. "The Kurds: Cultural Identity and Human Rights" was held at the International Conference Centre of the Foreign Ministry, jointly organised by the Fondation France-Libertés and the Kurdish Institute, with the financial and political support of the French Government. The participation included 240 public figures and 85 journalists from 32 different countries from East and West Europe, America, the Near East, North Africa, Asia and Australia, including a US delegation led by the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Commission; a strong Soviet delegation, Turkish Members of Parliament, Arab public figures. Messages of support were received from the Austrian Chancellor, Bruno Kreisky, the Soviet Academician, Andrei Sakharov, U,S, Senator E. Kennedy (See Appendix N° 3). This Conference, which enjoyed a very wide media coverage, was a key moment in the public awareness of the tragedy of the Kurds in Iraq and in the internationalisation of the Kurdish problem. Its success inspired similar actions in Lausanne (April 1990) and Stockholm (September 1990.

As from October 30th, the American Congress's Foundation for Human Rights organised a Congress hearing where Mrs Mitterrand and Kendal Nezan were invited to present the conclusions of the Paris Conference. The Conferences Transactions were published in French, English, Arabic and Turkish

25/26 July 1990: Moscow Conference organised by the Marxism-Leninism Institute of the CPSU, with the help of the Kurdish Institute of Paris. About 600 Kurdish delegates coming from 9 Soviet Republics and about 15 public figures from outside debated, for the first time in Soviet history, the identity and cultural status of the Kurdish communities in the USSR and the means of resolving them. Several of President Gorbatchov's advisers followed the debates. They also received a wide press coverage, including interviews with the President of the Kurdish Institute in the principal Soviet papers.

14/15 February 1991: the Marly-le-Roi Seminar. On the initiative of the Kurdish Institute of Paris, about 90 public figures and representatives of the principal societies and organisations of the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, America and Australia met at Marly-le -Roi to pool their ideas on the situation of the Kurdish people in the Gulf crisis.

27 February 1991, International Inter-Parliamentary Conference on the Kurdish problem was jointly organised, at the American Senate, by the Senate Commission on Foreign Affairs and the Kurdish Institute of Paris, with the participation of experts and of European and American members of parliament. This conference, held on the last day of the Gulf War, played an important part in informing the American representatives and making them more sensitive to the fate of the Kurds in Iraq. Half a dozen influential Senators, including E. Kennedy, invited the Kurdish and European participants to lunch, which led to the emergence of a pro-Kurdish trans-Atlantic network. The Transactions of the Conference were published in English (See Appendix N° 4 for a list of speakers).

30 March 1994: Appeal for a Peaceful Settlement of the Kurdish Problem in Turkey, signed by a dozen Nobel Peace Prize winners. This appeal, calling on the Turkish authorities to recognise the Kurdish identity and proposing the mediation of a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners for a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish problem through dialogue and respecting existing borders was handed to Mr Boutros Ghali, Secretary General of UNO, by a delegation consisting of Mrs. Mitterrand, Mrs, Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Mr Kendal Nezan, President of the Kurdish Institute. Ankara rejected the Secretary General's offer of mediation and let it be known to an exploratory mission that it would refuse to see a delegation of Nobel Peace Prize winners. However, thanks to a wide press coverage of these initiatives, the idea of peace and of a peaceful settlement began to progress in the minds of Turks and Kurds.

22/25 September 1995, a seminar for studying the settlement of the Kurdish problem was organised by the Norwegian Institute for Peace, with the help of the Kurdish Institute of Paris, with the financial and political support of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry and the participation of Turkish and Kurdish public figures and representatives of Western NGOs and experts on conflict resolution.

8/9 May 1997: in Ankara, an International Conference for Peaceful settlement of the Kurdish problem, was organised by the Turkish Association for Human Rights, in co-operation with the Kurdish Institute, the Olof Palme Foundation, the Fondation France-Libertés, the CCFD (Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development) and with the support of about 50 Western NGOs and Turkish Trade Unions. The Swiss and Danish Foreign Ministers announced their participation in their capacities of past and present Chairmen of the OSCE. Eleven Turkish Ministers in office at the time and several dozen Turkish members of Parliament of all parties also let it be known that they intended to be present at this Conference which, however, was banned at the last moment by the Government on orders from the Army. The foreign delegates, nevertheless, went to Ankara to support the Turkish and Kurdish peace supporters and discuss with them perspectives for the future, in the course of informal meetings and dinners. The American State Department and several European Governments publicly condemned Ankara's decision to ban the Conference.

Hearing before the Parliaments of European countries. The urgency of the Kurdish tragedy led the Members of several European Parliaments to consult the Kurdish Institute for its specialist knowledge. In this context, the President of the Institute was heard several times by the French National Assembly, the British, German, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish Parliaments. In particular, as from 1987, a regular dialogue developed with the European Parliament. In addition to frequent hearings, the more recent of which was on 10th March 1998, which often resulted in the passing of resolutions on immediate issues, this dialogue led to the European Parliament's adoption of a most important "Resolution on the Rights of the Kurdish people" of 1st June 1992, which remains its position of principle. Moreover, it was on the Institute's suggestion that Mrs. Leyla Zana, the Kurdish M.P. jailed in Turkey solely for her opinions, received the Sakharov Prize of Freedom of Spirit, awarded on January 17th 1996 in an official ceremony at the European Parliament.

Information Campaign on the Destruction of Kurdish Villages in Turkey. With its policy of a complete blackout on its Kurdish provinces, where it carries out a scorched earth policy, the Turkish government has long sought to hide the reality behind the evacuation of Kurdish villages from public opinion. About fifteen local journalists as well as members of the Turkish Association for Human Rights, who tried to breach the official censorship on the situation in Kurdistan have been assassinated. An appeal, co-ordinated by the Kurdish Institute, signed and financed by about twenty European NGOs appeared in Le Monde on June 8th 1994 and in The International Herald Tribune on the 9th of June, with a list of the first 1,000 villages destroyed. The signatories asked to be allowed to go on the spot accompanied by the international press, to check the truth of this information. The Turkish authorities finally admitted the destruction of these villages "for security reasons". In July 1997, the Migrations Committee of the Turkish Parliament published a report establishing the forced evacuation of 3,428 Kurdish villages destroyed and 2 to 3 million Kurdish civilians displaced, according to official records dated November 30th 1997.

The Defence of Prisoners of opinion. From the start, the Kurdish Institute has contributed to making known the fate of prisoners of opinion such as the Turkish sociologist Ismail Besikçi and the ex-mayor of Diyarbekir, Mehdi Zana, condemned to long sentences of prison for their peaceful defence of their Kurdish identity. In March 1994, when the Kurdish Members of Parliament of the Party for Democracy (DEP) were arrested and imprisoned for having peacefully born witness to the fate of the Kurdish population, the Kurdish Institute took up their defence. This work was then taken up by a special Committee, CILDEKT (French initials for: International Committee for the Liberation of the Kurdish M.P.s Imprisoned in Turkey), presided over by Mrs. Mitterrand, and created with the support of the Institute, the Fondation France-Libertés, the CCFD, Médecins du Monde and the FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights). This Committee, composed of eminent Western public figures, with a prestigious Sponsorship Committee, (François Mitterrand, the Dalai Lama, Elie Wiesel, Oscar Arias etc.) benefits from the documentation resources of the Institute but is totally independent. It plays an important part in the dissemination of information on the problems of Human Rights and the situation of prisoners of opinion in Turkey.

The work of the Institute in defence of Human Rights is very much appreciated, by the Kurds, evidently, but also by artistic and intellectual circles. This appreciation won the Institute the honour of being awarded the Prix de la Memoire in 1990 by a jury formed of well known personalities (Michel Piccoli, Costa Gavras, Carlos Fuentes, Jacques Séguela, the Dalai Lama, Adolfo Perès Esquivel, Rigoberta Menchu etc.). The prize was handed over to the President of the Institute at a ceremony at the Palais Chaillot, attended in particular by Mrs. Mitterrand, President of Senegal Diouf, several French Ministers and almost two thousand guests.