ON 18 February 2000, 38.7 million Iranians, aged 15 years or over, were summoned to the polls to elect the 290 M.Ps of their single chamber Parliament, the Majlis. There was a very high rate of participation: 83%, that is 12% more than for the 1996 General Elections, despite the calls for abstention made by the Iranian parties in exile, including the Mujahiddin and the monarchists.
The coalition, bringing together 18 organisations that support President Khatami’s policies, won over 20 million votes out of 29 million cast. It carried 178 seats, that is 81% of the 218 carried in the first round. in Teheran, a city of over 10 million inhabitants and with 30 seats being contested, the "reform" list, led by Mohamed Reza Khatami, the Iranian President’s brother, elected 26 members of Parliament in the first round, including 3 clerics, while his main opponent, former President Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani only just scraped in. The former Majlis Speaker Mehdi Karubi, head of the "reli-gious fighters" also only just scraped in.
By massively turning out to vote, the new generations, in particular the youth and the women, wanted to express their rejection of the mullarchie and their hope of seeing the partisans of democratic reform finally give concrete effect to their promises.
In the Kurdish provinces, still feeling the impact of the assassination of its political leaders and their staff (Dr. Ghassemlou in 1989, Dr. Sharafkandi in 1992) and of respected Kurdish religious leaders – Mullah Ahmad Moftizadeh of Sanandaj (1993) and Mullah Rabiei of Kermanshah (1996) – remained skeptical. The level of participation was only 60%, and candidates identifying themselves with President Khatami only won 40% of the votes whereas at the Presidential elections of May 1997 70% of the Kurds had voted for Khatami, who had promised to take their cultural aspirations into account, in particular that of Kurdish language education in the schools.
These promises have not been kept, and the perspective of "consolidation of a system, whose pillars remain Islam, spirituality, freedom, independence and progress" preached by the President hold little attraction for the Iranian Kurds who, for decades, have been struggling for an autonomous Kurdistan in a democratic and secular republic. Moreover, only those parties authorised by the Shiite establishment were allowed to take part in the poll, which excluded the Kurdish autonomist parties (KDPI and Komala) which had overwhelmingly carried the free elections of 1979.
In this restrictive context, the Kurdish electors who did go to the polls voted on the basis of local issues and of the personality of the candidates. Here are the results for the four provinces that form Iranian Kurdistan:
The second round of the elections will take place in April, on a date that has not yet been specified.
Despite their overwhelming majority in the Majlis, President Khatami’s supporters, who are a coalition of clerical and secular groups with differing aspirations and interests, will not be in a position to control the main levers of power (the Army, the Revolutionary Guards, the Courts) which remain under the control of the conservative clergy and its head, the Supreme Guide Khamenei, Ayatollah Khomeiny’s successor, who for Shiite Iran is veritably "God’s representative on Earth" and can thus invalidate any laws passed by Parliament or dismiss the elected President, and who remains Commander in Chief of the country’s Armed Forces.
The electoral landslide in favour of reform has aroused great hopes and a dynamic for change whose natural development cannot long be contained in the rigid straight jacket of the Islamic Republic. Wishing, as he does, to be the reformer of the latter, the Iranian President, if he wants to remain in tune with his electorate’s aspirations, may well become its grave-digger, like Gorbatchev who ended up by provoking the collapse of Soviet Communism.
ON 25 February 2000, the American State Department published its 1999 report of the Office of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour on the Human Rights situation in Turkey. Extracts:
Firstly, the report stresses that ‘’The military exercises substantial, but indirect, influence over government policy and actions–and politics–in the belief that it is the constitutional protector of the State (…) The armed forces, in support of the police and particularly the Gendarmerie, carry out operations against the PKK in the state of emergency region (…) Although civilian and military authorities remain publicly committed to the rule of law and respect for human rights, members of the security forces, including police "special teams," other police personnel, village guards, and Gendarmerie committed serious human rights abuses. "
" (…) The Ecevit Government adopted measures designed to improve human rights and some officials participated in a broad public debate on democracy and human rights. Extrajudicial killings continued, including deaths due to excessive force and deaths in detention due to torture. There were few reports of mystery killings and disappearances of political activists; however, the authorities failed to adequately investigate past disappearances. Torture, beatings, and other abuses by security forces remained widespread, at times resulting in deaths. Police and Gendarmerie often employed torture and abused detainees during incommunicado detention and interrogation. The lack of universal and immediate access to an attorney and long detention periods for those held for political crimes are major factors in the commission of torture by police and other security forces. With the decrease in operations and detentions in the southeast, there were fewer reported cases of abuse; however, the proportion of cases in which abuse occurred remained at high levels"
" The rarity of convictions and the light sentences imposed on police and other security officials for killings and torture continued to foster a climate of impunity that remained the single largest obstacle (…) Investigations and trials of officials suspected of abuses continued to be protracted and inconclusive (…)"
The report continues by denouncing the attacks on freedom of expression: " Authorities banned or confiscated numerous publications and raided newspaper offices, encouraging self-censorship on reporting on the southeast. Security forces at times beat journalists. Police and the courts continued to limit freedom of expression by using restrictions in the 1982 Constitution and several laws, including the 1991 Anti-Terror Law (disseminating separatist propaganda), Article 159 of the Criminal Code (concerning insults to Parliament, the army, Republic, or judiciary), Article 160 (insulting the Turkish Republic), Article 169 (aiding an illegal organization), Article 312 (incitement to racial, ethnic or religious enmity), the Law to Protect Ataturk, and Article 16 of the Press Law (…) "
Regarding the political parties, the State department notes that " Both the HADEP and the Islamist Fazilet parties, whose predecessors had been closed, were the subjects of closure cases during the year for alleged anti-constitutional activities". It also announced that "The PKK continued to commit abuses as part of its violent 15-year campaign against the Government and civilians, mostly Kurds. In the first half of the year, PKK terrorists committed random killings and attacks throughout Turkey to protest Ocalan’s capture (…) In recent years military pressure significantly reduced the PKK’s effectiveness, and some PKK members–though not all–are heeding Ocalan’s call for an end to the armed struggle and PKK withdrawal from Turkey (…) According to President Demirel’s year-end address, since 1984, 25,139 PKK members, 5,882 security force members, and 5,424 civilians lost their lives in the fighting (…)"
"The exact number of persons forcibly displaced from villages in the southeast since 1984 is unknown (…) Government statistics tend to minimize the number of persons who left against their will. Observers agree that 3,000 to 4,000 villages and hamlets have been depopulated. The Government reported that through 1999 the total number of those evacuated was 362,915 persons, from 3,236 villages and hamlets, of whom 26,481 have been resettled with government assistance in 176 villages and hamlets (…) However, observers in the region estimate that the total number of displaced persons is approximately 800,000, and a few NGO’s put the number as high as 2 million."
You can obtain the full report on Web site http://www.state.gov/www/global/human rights/1999 hrp report/turkey.html
The Institute’s Cultural and Scientific Council met on Sunday 27 February in PARIS.
After a plenary session in the course of which the retiring President recalled the major events in the life of the Paris Kurdish Institute since 1996, evoked the transformation taking place in its organisation and opened up the perspectives for the future, the sections then met separately in the various rooms at the Institute to formulate proposals for activity and elect their representatives.
The voting, by secret ballot, gave the following results:
Language and Literature Section
Reporter: Joyce Blau
Out of 14 members, 7 were present in person, 4 by proxy and 3 were absent.
By unanimous vote of all those present and represented:
Mr. Reso Zilan, linguist, founder of the Kurdish Teachers’ Training College of Sweden, was elected President.
Mr. Salih Akin, linguist and lecturer at Rouen University, was elected Vice-President.
Human Science Section
Reporter: Hamit Bozarslan
Out of 13 members, 7 were present in person, 2 by proxy and 4 were absent.
By unanimous vote of all those present and represented:
Mr. Abbas Vali, Professor at Swansea University, in Great Britain, was elected President.
Mr. Ali Babakhan, academic and journalist, was elected Vice-President.
Information and Human Rights Section:
Reporter: Akil Marceau
Out of 16 members, 8 were present in person, 5 by proxy and 3 were absent.
By unanimous vote of all those present and represented:
Mr. Reso Zilan, linguist, founder of the Kurdish Teachers’ Training College of Sweden, was elected President.
Dr. Najmaddin O. Karim, neuro-surgeon and President of the Washington Kurdish Institute, was elected Vice-President.
For the position of Vice-President there were two candidates: S. Othman, academic and journalist and Mrs. S. Izouli, legal expert and the Institute’s representative to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, who both won the same number of votes. Mrs. Izouli, stressing S. Othman’s long professional and international experience, withdrew in his favour, and Mr. Siyamend Othman was elected Vice-President.
Arts, Music and Socio-Cultural Activity Section
Reporter: Barzan Yassin.
Out of 22 members, 12 were present in person, 4 by proxy and 6 were absent.
There were two candidates, and it was agreed that the one to secure the higher vote would become President and the other Vice-President.
As a result of the secret ballot, Kamuran Çeçen, lawyer, who secured 7 votes was elected President and Adnan Mohammed, musician, who secured 6 votes was elected Vice-President.
After the sectional meetings, the CSC members met again in plenary session. The reporter of each section presented both the election results of their section and the proposals for activity in the coming year. Each report was subjected to discussion and debate.
Beginning at 14.00 hours, the CSC ended at 19.00. Then, after a friendly drink at the Kurdish Institute, the members went to a dinner to celebrate the 17th anniversary of the foundation of the Kurdish Institute.
The following day, Monday 28 February at 15.00 hours, a Board of Directors, consisting of the newly elected Section Presidents and representatives of the Ministries of Culture, Social Affairs, National Education and of the Interior and Kendal Nezan, ex officio member, met to co-opt 3 qualified public figures, as laid down by the Constitution.
After some debate, two of the persons proposed: Mrs. Joyce Blau, a University Professor, and Mr. Fuad Hussein, an Amsterdam based Kurdish academic were co-opted unanimously. A third public figure will be co-opted on the proposal of the Ministerial representatives at the next meeting of the Board.
The Board then proceeded to elect the new Bureau for the next three years. Kendal Nezan was unanimously re-elected President of the Kurdish Institute of Paris for three years. The Council also unanimously elected:
Mr. Abbas Vali, Vice-President,
Mr. Fuad Hussein, Vice-President,
Mrs. Joyce Blau, Treasurer,
Mr. Kamuran F. Çeçen, Secretary all for three years.
Of the 11 members of the new Board, there are 3 women. Having aimed, from the start to be both pan-Kurdish and European, the Institute’s Board includes 3 Kurds originally from Turkey, 2 from Iraq and I from Iran. 32 of its 65 members and 4 members of its Board live outside France (the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden). They contribute to spreading the Institute’s influence in the principal countries sheltering Kurdish communities and, but their experience and their contacts, the collective action of the Institute in support of the Kurdish cause and culture.
Directing the Institute in a period when dialogue, lobbying and mediation are considered by large sections of Kurdish society as means of making the Kurdish question known, the new Board will have to ensure a stable financial base, the proper working of the Institute and to develop major initiatives to make a contribution to the debate around the peaceful settlement of the Kurdish problem, especially in Turkey.
ON 26 February, the Kurdish Institute organised an symposium in the Richelieu lecture hall of Sorbonne University on the subject of "Turkey’s application for membership of the European Union and the Kurdish Question". Two months after the decision of the Helsinki summit of 13-14 December 1999 to include Turkey on the list of official candidates for admission to the European Union, Turkish and Kurdish academics, specialist journalists and public political figures, in two Round tables survey the state of affairs, to describe the dynamics and developments taking place and to discuss the issues raised by Turkey’s application and the perspectives for the future.
The symposium was opened by a speech by the Kurdish Institute’s President explaining the reasons for organising this meeting of information and reflection and regretting the fact that the deterioration in the political situation in Turkey had prevented several Turkish public figures from attending this very necessary exchange of ideas.
The Mr. Patrick Baudoin, President of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) expressed the "lively concern" of his organisation regarding the development of the Human Rights position in Turkey. Recalling the recent arrest of the Kurdish mayors and the leaders of the HADEP party, the trials of intellectuals and Human Rights activists Mr. Baudoin asked himself how, with such a deplorable record, Ankara could enter the European democratic family. Entry to this family presupposes the observance of the Copenhagen criteria regarding democracy, Human Rights and Minority Rights but the Turkish regime does not seem disposed seriously to commit itself to this path, he added.
A Kurdish academic, Hamit Bozarslan, described the ideological blockages, obsessions and dreads of the Turkish system, which seems unable to survive without crises and the need to constantly secrete internal and external enemies to justify itself.
His Turkish colleague, Ahmet Insel, Professor at the Galatasaray University in Istanbul devoted his contribution to an analysis of Turkish civil society, where the europhiles cover business circles, the liberal intelligentia, the more moderate Right wing parties (ANAP, DYP) but also a large section of the Islamist tendency that sees, in Europe, a factor of dekemalisation of the Turkish system and its ideological and authoritarian straight jacket. The euroskeptic camp and the europhobes include the ‘left’ nationalists (DSP), the extreme right as well as some groups of the "anti-imperialist" extreme left. The Army top brass fears that integration into Europe would weaken its hold over political life and a serious limitation of its sovereignty. The ordinary citizens, for their part, expect greater freedom and an appreciable improvement in their standard of living from joining Europe. The Kurds, of all tendencies, are ardent defenders of Europe which, through its pressure on Ankara should enable them to secure a minimum of their cultural rights. However, because of the "massive authoritarianism " of the Turkish regime, the populations aspirations are not reflected in the government’s policy, Mr. Insel particularly affirmed.
Marc Semo, a journalist on the daily Libération, while sharing this analysis of Turkish society tried to draw a parallel with French society of thirty years ago on the question of Europe. According to him, Turkish political culture, essentially Jacobin, was not very different from the French, and in both countries one can find ‘sovereignist’ defenders of the Republic and pro-European liberal democrats, more tolerant of cultural pluralism and minority aspirations. Certainly the proportions are not the same here and there, but that is just a matter of time.
His colleague, Marie Jego, journalist on le Monde, saw no sign of development in the Turkish regime, where the interpenetration of an important part of the political caste by the Mafia, the predominance of the system’s political life by the Army through the National Security Council hinders the advance towards democratisation.
The popular singer Ahmet Kaya, in a moving personal account, illustrated the injustices of this system that has forced him into exile in the face of the threat of several years imprisonment just because he wanted to sing a song in Kurdish. And this in a country shady businessmen, mafia bosses and hired assassins wanted by Interpol are free to roam the streets, he said.
For his part, Yavuz Onen, President of the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, observed that, despite some declarations of intend flourished in meetings with Human Rights activists, especially on the eve of visits by Western leaders, no tangible progress had been made in the fields of democratisation or Human Rights. The future remains uncertain, the rare voices that are still raised in civil society are strongly threatened.
In introducing the round table on future perspectives, Gerard Chaliand explained, with maps to back his exposé, the geo-political importance of Turkey for American strategy in the region , stretching from the Near East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia. On the strength of Washington’s support and of its military alliance with Israel, Ankara could well fall back on its own self-sufficiency and defy the pressures (in any case pretty timid and weak-willed) of a divided Europe much preoccupied by short term commercial interests. The defence of Human Rights being infinitely elastic and very dependent on power interests, the United States will continue ignore the massive violations of these rights committed by its Turkish allies, he concluded.
For Mr. Hannes Swoboda, Austrian Socialist M.P. and the European Parliament’s reporter on Turkey, Europe’s approach to Ankara is based on clear and untouchable principles:
"The European Parliament calls on the Turkish Government to keep the promises it made regarding Human Rights and democratic reform at the time when the Parliament endorsed the Customs Union. And it call on Turkey to fulfill its obligations in the context of the Customs Union regarding democracy, Human Rights and freedom of expression and that it put an end to the persecutions and tortures of which the Kurds are particularly victim.
As far as the Kurdish question is concerned, the Parliament has clearly said that it demands constitutionally guaranteed cultural rights, including freedom of expression and of publication in the Kurdish language as well as the right to education in their mother tongue for people of all regions of Turkey.
The Turkish leaders say: yes, but there is no minority in Turkey. We can talk about the rights of individuals. Yes, but it is also an individual right to express oneself in the Kurdish language , to watch Kurdish television programmes, to listen to Kurdish radio broadcasts. Are these cultural, collective or individual rights? One can start by making these rights for all people in Turkey – that’s the opinion of the European Parliament.
In 1999, the Parliament insisted on and reiterated this decision before and after the Helsinki decision, I myself went to Turkey twice, in October and December, in the days just before the Helsinki decision. We spoke to some people who are also in this hall. With Akin Birdal and others. We met Mr. Irtemçelik and other of Turkey’s leaders. We felt there was a slight change. A change in political but also cultural life. We felt some hope that there was a beginning – not just for the Helsinki decision but more long term.
But now I am beginning to have doubts. I am sure that the Helsinki decision was correct, – it was also right. Because now it is no longer the case of Europe not having invited Turkey, but of Turkey refusing the invitation. Because it was always an invitation under certain conditions. They can be accepted or not accepted. The argument of Turkey’s leaders "Europe doesn’t want us because there are Islamic fundamentalists, and different cultures" want wash. Europe has decided to invite Turkey, but it seems that Turkey has not, in reality, accepted Europe’s invitation. What is to be done?...
In my view there are two possibilities: we can interrupt the process and say that Turkey has, in all truth, said "No". Or, as I personally would prefer, we can be more concrete – define and fix concrete targets every year, that Turkey must reach to advance, in matters of Human Rights, the Kurdish question, democracy, the role of the Army etc. And Turkey can only advance after having reached these targets, the objectives agreed between Turkey and Europe. For each year it is necessary to define these aims, the steps along the path to follow; how many metres or kilometres can be advanced. For Europe there are kilometres to be covered, but if Turkey wants to advance only a few steps, a few metres, that is up to Turkey… But those steps cannot be taken tomorrow or the day after, concrete steps and improvements have to be made today. And I want to say that I don’t know whether the strategic objectives are more important to Turkey than democracy or Human Rights. As far as Parliament is concerned, it is not possible to accept Turkey as a candidate for negotiation, let alone as a member, without it observing Human Rights, without it observing the rights of the Kurds, of the Kurdish people. That is an absolutely necessary precondition for Turkey, if it wants to join the European Union".
Mrs. Claudia Roth, member of the Human Rights Commission of the German Bundestag, former President of the Green Group in the European Parliament, former co-President of the Turkish/European Parliamentary mixed Commission:
"What Turkey for what Europe? Much has already been said. Of course, in my view Turkey is part of this Europe. I do not share the geographic argumentation on the question of whether Turkey is too far or not too far, is or is not part of Europe. For me, it is undoubtedly clear that Turkey is part of Europe. But, of course, a democratic Turkey, based on a State of Laws, a Turkey based on respect for Human Rights, a Turkey of Turks as well as of Kurds.
For my part I have, for years, had the impression, and have seen and understood it confirmed, that European policy was always very hypocritical. The Turkish policy of the E.U. was essentially based on a double standard and on hypocrisy. The question of Human Rights has always been used when they wanted to exclude Turkey. At the same time arms were sent, tanks, especially by Germany. Germany holds the first place in Europe. The mooring Minister criticised the Human Rights situation in Turkey – criticised but at the same time made a generous present of the old weapons stock of the former GDR, not of East Germany, because it was economically advantageous to give them to Turkey.
it is thus hypocrisy to use, to instrumentalise the Human Rights question while at the same time economically profiting from Turkey. I am sure that, deep in the heart of the Union, this hypocrisy was based on the idea that the Union was a Christian club. It was not only the conservatives that said that there was no place for Turkey in the Union because they were not Christians; it was at the back of the mind of many people. And in my opinion, while talking about Human Rights behind the exclusion, especially at the Luxembourg summit, was basically the idea that Europe was a Christian club. For my part, religion must never be a criteria of European identity. Europe must be open to Christians, Moslems, Jews and atheists. Religion must not be the basis of the E.U.
Another point; the hypocrisy of the Luxembourg summit. I remember very well that a Minister said that he did not want to eat at the same table as people who engaged in torture. I found that very brave of him – but I asked him why, then, was Turkey still in NATO, if you consider that torture there is systematic? Why, at the same time, expel refugees back to Turkey from the countries of the Union? I find that hard to understand. He attacked me saying that I had no respect for Human Rights! At Luxembourg, Turkey did not succeed in gaining the status of candidate for membership. Two or three weeks later, in the second week of January, some hundreds of Kurdish refugees arrived in Italy. Immediately the E.U. called a conference in Rome and invited notorious Turkish security chiefs to discuss how to seal off Turkey’s borders. In my view that shows a completely hypocritical double standard. Now, with this Helsinki decision, you have a credible and realistic perspective for becoming members of the E.U. based on certain conditions. It must be stressed that the status of candidate for membership is in no way the same as membership. Becoming candidate can open a door which was closed, can act in favour of European influence in Turkey, can create a dynamic for political change in Turkey. Changes for Human Rights, for democracy – candidate membership is not a blank cheque. If it is said that now, by the Helsinki decision, Turkey has become a democracy, that would be dangerous. Because the German Defence Minister said: that’s fine, now that Turkey is a candidate we can more easily sell them tanks. No! Or that the Minister of the Interior said : now it’s easier to expel refugees. No!
Being a candidate for membership means that the door is open. But now begin the conditions. They are the Copenhagen criteria, and I believe that in Turkey the population, the government, no one really knows what that means. What are the criteria? They will cost, they will be hard, but they may help, for example, to end discrimination against the Kurdish people, put an end to the privileged role of the Armed Forces, of the control of civilians by the Army in Turkey. The respect for Human Rights, the end of the repression of opposition opinions, respect for freedom of expression, a free press, social rights (social security) and economic development. Those are the criteria, and the door has not been opened for the easy way. My Government and my Minister have also understood that this is not the time to send 1000 tanks to Turkey. I do not know if you have followed this issue, but for us in Germany, in our Government, there was a major clash over this. And it is starting again – people are saying that there has been progress. I, however, say that it is not enough that Ocalan has not been executed. Good, that’s not too bad, it’s not enough. It is not equal rights for the Kurds, it’s not recognition and political dialogue. It is not enough.
Reconstruction must be assisted, especially in the Kurdish region, where at least 3,000 villages have been destroyed. Those who have lost their homes must be guaranteed the possibility of returning. In my view the great dam , the Ilisu project, is not a way to democratise. It will cost at least 10 billion French francs (£1 billion or $1.6 billion). A lot better use can be made of this money – for example by supporting civil society rather than great environmentally dangerous projects.
Next time we may meet in Berlin, or perhaps again in Paris, and it wouldn’t be a bad thing if Turkey was then represented by an Ambassador called Leyla Zana, that the Turkish Ambassador to Germany were someone present here, Yavuz Onen, and of course Akin Birdal as Turkish Ambassador to Austria. It’s not a Utopia – it’s our task for the future".
What is the significance of Europe’s choice? Kendal asked. It is at once a choice from the heart and a choice from the mind, because the Kurds dream of belonging to an area of democracy, of freedom and of prosperity. Nearly a million of them already live in countries of the European Union and have already tasted this freedom. It’s a choice of reason because, after so many decades of fruitless and devastating armed struggle the European perspective could enable them to obtain their legitimate rights by dialogue, persuasion, political struggle and the force of Law. And perhaps one day, in the framework of a democratic Near East. the inter-Kurdish frontiers will lose their present traffic character and these Kurds will be able to move freely inside the country as do, today, the Catalans in France.
Concluding the debate, the well known journalist Marc Kravetz also expressed the hope that " the Kurds will cease to be a problem for the States that have carved up their country and instead become a link uniting the countries of the region. The Franco-German connection, coming after decades of wars and hostilities should serve as a example to the Kurds and their neighbours. This demands a revolution in attitudes. This path of dialogue and debate must be undertaken with perseverance to prepare people’s minds. Meetings, like today’s, between Kurds, Turks and Europeans, must become more frequent, so as to establish better mutual understanding of one another’s needs and interests and so find viable democratic compromises".
The transactions of this symposium will later be published in full.
ON 24 February 2000, the President of HADEP, Ahmet Duran Demir, and his predecessor Murat Bozlak as well as sixteen other members of their party were each sentenced to three years and nine months imprisonment by the Ankara state Security Court (DGM) for "supporting and receiving" on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). They were tried with 29 other accused, charged with being implicated in the hunger strikes and demonstrations organised by HADEP in support of the PKK chief Abdullah Öcalan, when the latter was staying in Italy.
A few hours before the Ankara Court’s decision, a Diyarbekir court charged and jailed Feridun Çelik, Selim Özalp and Feyzullah Karasalan, respectively Mayors of Diyarbekir, Siirt and Bingöl, all elected at the last local council elections in April 1999. The charges were the same as those against the HADEP leaders, namely under Article 169 of the Turkish Penal Code. HADEP, which had won over forty local councils, is thus threatened with banning by the Turkish Courts, that consider it a front for the PKK.
Demonstrations of protest, which were severely repressed by the Turkish authorities, took place in Diyarbekir on 22, 23 and 24 February to demand their release. The 33 HADEP mayors of the region went to Diyarbekir to protest against their incarceration. The Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister. Lydie Polfer, who was visiting Turkey, declared that she was "very concerned" and added "we find it hard to understand the arguments that have led to their being charged". Portugal and France, respectively present and previous acting Presidents of the European Union as well as the Turkish representative on the European Commission had discussions with the Turkish under-secretary of state for Foreign Affairs. Walter Schwimmer, General Secretary of the Council of Europe and Lord Russell-Johnston, President of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, declared in a communiqué dated 23 February "It seems surprising that, in the present political context, the Turkish authorities, in stead of seeking a dialogue with them, should imprison elected representatives who have received the broad confidence from the citizens of their towns" and called on Prime Minister B. Ecevit to do "whatever is necessary to protect the rights of elected representatives and create, in South-East Turkey, the conditions for a normalisation that would respect all its political and cultural components". The Turkish Prime Minister, Bülent Ecevit, for his part, accused the European countries of attempting to exert pressure on Turkey in the matter of the charging of the Mayors. "We are very irritated by the attitude of the members of the E.U. (…) we are very sensitive about our territorial integrity and will, if necessary warn the European countries" he declared to the Turkish daily Cumhurriet. Hüsnü Öndül, President of the Turkish Association for Human Rights (IHD) declared "these measures undermine the credibility of the State in the South-East. The atmosphere of peace that has reigned in the region for the last few months will suffer. (…) Since being accepted as a candidate for membership of the European Union, Turkey has not made a single positive step in the direction of Human Rights and democratisation".
Faced with the general uproar, Ankara decided to retreat and released the mayors after a week’s detention. They are, however, forbidden to travel abroad. Their trial before the Diyarbekir State Security Court is proceeding. They risk 7 year’s imprisonment.
Turkey is being shaken by yet another scandal that has brought to light the merciless struggle of the Turkish authorities in Turkish Kurdistan. Seeking to dismantle, at its roots, the fundamentalist Hizbullah organisation, which originated in Batman, Turkey has stumbled on the politico-military disorder reigning in the region. Salih Sarman, prefect (governor) of Batman from 1993 to 1997 has been pinned down by the press for having set up and organised a private military force of a thousand heavily armed men, to fight against "terrorism", thus giving himself the right to raise his own army. The Prefect also indulged in arms trafficking with People’s China and Bulgaria, where the company implicated had already been exposed 18 years ago by the celebrated journalist Ugur Mumcu, who has since been assassinated. Questioned on the subject, Nahit Mentese, Minister of the Interior in Mrs. Çiller’s government replied "I am not aware of any arms purchases. Prefect Sarman was in close contact with the Prime Minister". It has been observed that , during T. Çiller’s period in office, $ 2.7 million from the government’s secret funds, had been spent in importing arms for Batman. Even more, part of the stock of arms bought at the time seem today to have ‘evaporated’ there are many who state that they are now in the hands of the Hizbullah. Moreover, Mr. Mentese does not deny that, during a visit to the region in company with the prime Minister, they were welcomed by a mixed force of police, ‘village guards’ and soldiers.
In an interview given to the daily Milliyet on 11 February, Prefect Sarman stated: "I first put forward my project to Unal Erkan, Governor of the Emergency Powers Region (OHAL). The latter stated he could not give me the additional funds needed for the project. Later I sent it to the Prime Minister who found it appropriate. We were then sent the money from the special support fund. Sometimes the money was late in arriving, it was then that the Emlakbankasi Bank offered us a credit account. When we received the funds we repaid the Bank. Later, with Ministerial agreement, formed the first experimental group of a thousand men at Batman. The gendarmerie was responsible for training. After a month’s training we gave them a certificate in the course of a ceremony at which the Minister of the Interior Nahit Mentese took part.
I also had a discussion with the Commander in Chief of the Gendarmerie, Aydin Ilter (…) He congratulated me on my project (…) After I left that position, they did not continue the system and broke up the troop. Despite all this, the guards belonging to this group are still on active service in other regions". With respect to the arms trafficking, the prefect added: "It was the Treasurer of the Ministry of Foreign Trade that provided the import licence (…) With the authorisation of the Prime Minister, the arms and ammunition were transported to Batman by Turkish Air Force planes. All this is recorded. But after the opening of the enquiry I asked for documents from the Prefecture and they retorted that they had found nothing (…) We had given 90% of the imported weapons to the gendarmerie. The rest was given to the Security Directorate and other departments for distribution to these troops (…) 1800 weapons were imported, 1200 were identified and 600 others are said to have disappeared. But as I have stated, we handed them to the gendarmerie and the Security Directorate" Mr. Sarman, moreover, was proud of these summary methods: "in 1995 the troop carried by assault a PKK camp North of Sason (Mus) in two hours and wiped out 150 PKK activists".
The Turkish press is daily revealing the story of these dirty State scandals. Umur Talu, of the daily Milliyet, on 11 February under the heading "The Capital of Susurluk and Batman is Ankara", wrote: "On 20 June 1994, in the course of a meeting, a bomb aimed at the President of the ‘Democratic Left’ Party (DSP), Bülent Ecevit, exploded, making 5 victims. Ecevit’s first reaction was to designate organisations ‘within the State but beyond the control of the State’. Years earlier, at Izmir, following another attack Ecevit’s had made a similar statement, when he talked of the ‘counter-guerrilla’ (…) Today Bülent Ecevit is Prime Minister (…) Not everyone was as lucky as he. Some were famous, others unknown, but hundreds, even thousands of people have been kidnapped, assassinated, strangled and buried".
During Sarman’s period in office, Batman became one of the cities with the highest number of "unsolved murders" in Turkey, reaching the score of 205, including Mehmet Sincar, Member of Parliament of the Party for Democracy (DEP), who had go there precisely to conduct an enquiry on these "murders". Meanwhile Tansu Çiller denies all responsibility, maintaining that everything had been done in full accordance with the law. President Demirel stated, on 12 February, that the weapons imported between 1994 and 1996 were in the gendarmerie’s possession and had not been supplied to the Hizbullah, though some may have been to ‘village protectors’. However, the Turkish channel, CNN-Turk announced on 12 February that there was a serious difference between the weapons recorded as received by the gendarmerie and the Security Department and the list supplied by the Governor’s office. According to the channel, 443 automatic rifles, 115 rockets and 1450 hand grenades were on the list. The press talks of weapons worth $ 507,375 that have vanished. Finally, Mr. Demirel stated that the National Security Council (MGK) had not discussed the matter and that he was not disturbed by the present debate. "Routine matters don’t come to the notice of the State upper echelons" he declared.
THE 7th CONGRESS OF THE PKK CONFIRMS THE ABANDONING OF ARMED STRUGGLE. On 9 February 2000, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) published the conclusions of its 7th Congress, held between 2 and 23 January at an unspecified location, but probably in the Qandil Mountains in the Iran/Iraq borders. The PKK which says that, henceforth, it is "a party that aims at the democratic transformation and development of a settlement of the Kurdish question in Turkey" announced the broad lines of a "new strategy" which must "transform the armed guerrilla into a political organisation" and confirms the abandonment of the armed struggle launched in 1984.
The organisation announced that its military wing, the People’s Liberation Army of Kurdistan (ARGK) "must be changed and reorganised into a People’s defence Force". The political wing, the National Front for the Liberation of Kurdistan is renamed "People’s Democratic Union" charged with the task of "developing the legal organisations and the democratic political struggle in all areas".
On the other hand, the Central Committee, a term with marxist-leninist connotations, is replaced by a "party assembly". A new leadership has been set up and the chief of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, incarcerated in the island prison of Imrali, was elected "General Secretary".
The PKK also called on "all the cadres of the party, of our people and our friends to renovate themselves" and indicates that it has adopted "a peace project" and says it is ready to work with anyone "in the framework of just and reasonable projects to achieve a peaceful and democratic solution". The organisation wants to launch a major campaign to secure "the freedom of political work for President Apo and of peace for Kurdistan". However, the Turkish Premier, Bülent Ecevit has recently expressed his irritation at the numerous communiqués issued by A. Öcalan, through his lawyers, from his prison cell and had called on him to be silent. The Turkish press has been called to order and threatened with sanctions in the event of its publishing Öcalan’s statements.
The Turkish authorities seem unconvinced by the PKK’s change of course and talk of "camouflage" and "cosmetic changes". The daily paper Hurriyet, on the front page of its 10 February issue, headlined "The PKK removes Kurdistan from its name". The Turkish Daily News, on the same day wrote in a sub-heading "The actions do not line up with the rhetoric" and continues "Following its ‘Congress’, the PKK announced to its sympathisers and the general public that the aim of establishing a State was ‘mistaken’ and that this had been abandoned. And yet it continues to use the word ‘Kurdistan’ (…) Even more, acting as if it was the ‘government’ of Eastern and South-Eastern Anatolia, the terrorist organisation has take the decision to encourage cross-border trade, to create new commercial centres in suitable areas, ‘to give priority to the interests of Kurdistan in diplomatic relations with the Turkish Republic , to set up schools – including universities – to educate ‘the people of Kurdistan’, to maintain the activity of the People’s Democratic Party (HADEP), to keep the municipalities under its control ‘by aligning them on the interests of the people of Kurdistan’ and that all the press and distribution of cultural and artistic activity "in Kurdistan’ should be ‘subject to the responsibility and permission of the PKK".
Furthermore, dissidents meeting in a "Kurdish Initiative in Europe" have recently criticised the abandoning of armed struggle as a "historic concession". And the PKK Central Committee has recognised that its call, in September, for its fighters to retreat from Turkey has been ignored by at least two rebellious armed units that have chosen to remain and continue fighting.
In this context, "abandoning armed struggle" seems, for the moment, more like a prolonged truce, which depends of Öcalan’s fate, since the PKK still maintains a force of 4,000 to 5,000 armed fighters, principally based in the Kurdish mountains of Iraq and Iran. Which means that if its "new strategy" does not produce the desired results, or if Öcalan is, eventually, hanged armed struggle could again become an option.
ANKARA REFUSED DANIEL COHN-BENDIT PERMISSION TO VISIT LEYLA ZANA. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, President of the Parliamentary mixed Commission (which liaises between the Turkish and European Parliaments) asked the Turkish authorities for permission to visit Leyla Zana in the course of a visit to Ankara on 21/23 February 2000. Faced with a categorical refusal from the Turkish authorities, Mr. Cohn-Bendit canceled his visit. Moreover, Enrique Baron Crespo, President of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament is said to have been asking for permission to visit the imprisoned Kurdish M.P.s since 1994. In fact, since the signing of the Customs Union Agreement between the European Union and Turkey in January 1996, Members of the European Parliament are no longer authorities to visit their Kurdish colleagues, detained since March 1994 for crimes of opinion.
Over the last few months, the conditions of detention for Leyla Zana and her colleagues have appreciably worsened. According to some information received, the Turkish authorities plan to transfer them to different prisons to distant provinces so as to isolate them still further.
ABDULLAH ÖCALAN’S FORMER LAWYER LIABLE TO A 15 YEAR PRISON SENTENCE. On 7 February 2000, Abdullah Öcalan’s former lawyer, Ahmet Zeki Okçuoglu, was charged by the Istanbul State Security Court with offenses that carry up to 15 years prison sentences. The lawyer is accused of having "insulted and humiliated" the Turkish State by comments he made last March, two months before the beginning of his client’s trial. Mr. Okçuoglu had judged, on the pro-Kurdish TV channel Med-TV that the case was won before it had started because the Court would, in fact, be trying the Turkish State and it would become a platform from which Öcalan could expose the Kurdish problem in Turkey.
Mr. Okçuoglu is also charged with having claimed that Öcalan had been interrogated by officers after having been drugged and of "insulting comments about President Suleyman Demirel". He withdrew from the defence shortly before the trial began in May on the grounds that acts of violence and intimidation against him by ultra-nationalists and denounced the lack of protection provided by the authorities.
TWO MONTHS JAIL FOR SANGAR YURDATAPAN. The composer Sanar Yurdatapan, initiator of the "Freedom of Thought" project, and the journalist Nevzat Onaran, in charge of the Istanbul section of the Association of Contemporary Journalists, were sentenced on 1 February 2000 to two months imprisonment and $4.70 fine each under Article 155 of the Penal Code by the Army Headquarters court martial. On the occasion of the 38th issue of the bulletin "Freedom of expression", they had supported the woman singer Nilufer Akbal and the journalist Koray Duzgoren who had, earlier, been sentenced to 6 months jail for having supported Osman Murat Ulke, a Turkish conscientious objector. The sentence of the latter had been suspended, because of the law on the press , radio and television.
Messrs. Yurdatapan and Onaran were tried and sentenced by a court consisting of three judges and a Prosecuting Counsel – all army officers. The European Court for Human Rights had found Turkey guilty in the Incal case for having only one Army judge in a State Security Court – but these Human Rights defenders, although themselves civilians, had to face a court composed entirely of Army judges.
In addition, on 4 February 2000, Aykut Cengiz Engin, Public Prosecutor of the Istanbul State Security Court demanded 7.5 years imprisonment for the Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya on the grounds of "separatist propaganda" and "incitement to race hatred". Awarded the prize of the Journalists’ Association Magazine on 10 February 1999, Mr. Kaya had, in the course of the award ceremony, affirmed his Kurdish identity and expressed the wish to be able to sing in Kurdish.
THE METROPOLITAN POLICE (LONDON) SENTENCED TO PAY £ 55,000 FOR UNJUSTIFIABLY ARRES-TING 11 KURDISH ACTORS AT A REHEARSAL. On 2 February 2000, the London police agreed to pay £55,000 damages to 11 Kurdish refugees arrested while rehearsing a play be Harold Pinter with dummy weapons. Alerted by neighbours who stated that armed men were threatening the public in a local council hall, the police had alighted in force by helicopter in June 1996. The 11 actors had been arrested and carried off in Black Marias, where they were forbidden to speak in Kurdish. The Turkish authorities’ forbidding the use of their own language to Kurds is, in fact, the subject of Harold Pinter’s play, "The Mountain language". "It was a nightmare come true, in which life imitated art" declared the Kurds’ barrister Sadiq Khan, "the treatment they suffered was exactly what they had to endure in Turkey and from which they had fled". "I was horrified to learn that these Kurds, who had been arrested, handcuffed, and jailed were also forbidden to speak to one another in their own language" declared the author of the play, Harold Pinter
Reacting to the arrest of three Kurdish mayors, Hasan Cemal, editorial writer of the Turkish daily Milliyet denounced, in his 23 February column, the State’s policy towards its Kurdish citizens and called on Ankara to be more consistent so as to achieve democracy and membership of the European Union. Here are extensive extracts from his article entitled "Alienation encourages Separatism".
" A television station has been closed down in response to a question asked on the same television station’s screen as to whether or not [Workers Party of Kurdistan, PKK Leader Abdullah] Ocalan can become a second Mandela.
Thus, millions of viewers have been punished by RTUK [Supreme Radio and Television Board] in response to the above question being asked by Mehmet Ali Birand.
Come on and explain such a punishment from the perspective of democracy! Come on and say that freedom of expression is not curtailed in this country! Let us see who will believe you or take you seriously.
This is nothing but absolute censorship. This is a mentality that totally contradicts freedom of expression. RTUK is now acting like a censorship institution.
Is this censorship being implemented within the framework of the country’s laws? (…) The parliament must move into action in order to bring RTUK to the level of institutions operating in a number of democratic countries. This is the way to achieve democracy or to secure EU membership. That is, we must eliminate our deficiencies in the fields of democracy and human rights...
The leadership of the country is aware of our deficiencies in this regard. I found the
opportunity to talk to President Suleyman Demirel, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ismail Cem, and prominent figures from the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs. None of these individuals claimed that our democracy is working smoothly.
On the contrary, these officials told me that EU membership is Turkey’s most important target and that whatever is necessary will be done in order to achieve this target. Everyone is aware of what these necessary things are. These are the Copenhagen criteria that we embraced last December when Turkey was accepted as an EU candidate during the Helsinki summit...
The abolishing of the death penalty, the broadcasting of Kurdish programs, and the imparting of Kurdish education constitute some of these criteria.
Allowing our citizens of Kurdish origin certain rights in the same way that they have in France and treating them as equal citizens would not bruise our unitary state. The country’s unity would not be disrupted if the citizens of Kurdish origin are allowed to establish radios to broadcast programs in their own language or to establish schools where courses are offered in the Kurdish language.
In an article published in yesterday’s issue of Hurriyet, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and experienced diplomat Ilter Turkmen has said: "The EU is expecting us to recognize our citizens of Kurdish origin the right to use their original language and to maintain their cultural traditions." (Hurriyet, 22 February 2000, page 26).
The impression I got from Ankara is that the state is confused regarding this matter. Yet, there is no need for this confusion, because terrorism has been taken under control, the PKK has been defeated, and the PKK fighters are abandoning their weapons.
In a statement about the matter, President Suleyman Demirel has said: "The time has come to wrap the wounds of the southeast... The time has also come to normalize the situation, including the return of migrants to their homes..."
However, this normalization cannot be achieved through the healing of economic and social wounds alone. As Demirel has said, the problems involving cultural identities must also be resolved. The alienation between the state and the people living in the southeast, especially in the last 15 years, must be eliminated. This can be achieved by resolving problems concerning cultural identities.
?Are we on the right track regarding this matter? (…) The attempt at putting the pro-HADEP [People’s Democratic Party] mayors in Diyarbakir, Siirt, and Bingol under surveillance has raised the above question on the agenda. This surveillance created a tension in the region. People of the southeast have reacted to the incident (…)
The incident has been referred to the judiciary. However, I would like to point out one thing. HEP came into being first, and then it was closed down. Then came DEP [Democracy Party]. And now, we have HADEP (…) HADEP got most of the votes in the southeast in the last elections. It garnered 1.3 million votes and, had the elections been conducted under normal circumstances, it would have garnered a larger number of votes.
What are we going to do now? Are we going to reconcile with the system or are we going to alienate ourselves from it?
Will separatism become stronger or weaker if we continue maintaining an alienating policy despite the fact that terrorism has been taken under control and the PKK has been defeated? Will not this policy help those who want to create a separatist nucleus in the southeast and north Iraq in achieving their targets? We must assess all these issues.
?I would like to present to you an excerpt from Ilter Turkmen’s article: "The problem stems from our failure to maintain a consistent and realistic policy in a critical atmosphere created by developments following the alienation of Ocalan. We cannot achieve anything by avoiding the problems or by postponing difficult decisions. If we continue like this, we will lose a great opportunity for achieving internal peace and, at the same time, we will fail to start the EU accession talks".
Yes, it is time for us to think profoundly. We will encounter an impasse if we close down a television station in response to the asking of a single question or if we fail to understand the people’s game in the southeast"