The Newroz celebrations, marking the beginning of spring on March 21, the day of the equinox, and considered by the Kurds as the beginning of a new year, took place in relative calm, even though strictly controlled by the police in those towns where the local governors had authorised celebrations. President Demirel and Prime Minister Minster Bülent Ecevit sent messages to the population stressing that " Newroz was the occasion for expressing feelings of brotherhood, friendship and peace ". Unlike previous years, there were no bloody clashes between the police and the population. However, at least 147 people were arrested in Istanbul and an undetermined number in other towns were the celebrations had been banned. In the case of Istanbul, the governor, Erol Çakir, refused to allow the pro-Kurdish party, HADEP to organise celebrations on a quibble over spelling. According to the governor, authorisation was refused because the application referred to " Newroz ", the Kurdish spelling of the word, which means ‘new day’ instead of " Newruz ", the Turkish spelling which was borrowed from Persian in Ottoman times. " Written in this way, Newroz is not a Turkish word (…) the laws on political parties lays down that parties cannot use any other language than Turkish " argued Osman Demir, Deputy Governor of Istanbul in a letter to HADEP (Editor’s Note : In fact the letter W, present in both spellings, doesn’t exist in the Turkish alphabet !) A celebration was organised by the Governor himself. 27,000 police were mobilised and a special crisis command post set up for the event. Police College cadets and the gendarmerie of the Etiler and Florya districts also brought in as reinforcements.
Serdar Turgut, editorial writer on the Turkish daily Hurriyet, wrote an ironical article entitled " Down with the letter W " as follows : " The operation consists of effacing the WC on all public toilets and replacing it by VC(…) Beware ! If you’re from the East and buy a BMW try to get rid of it quick (…) Dear parents, grand parents or other people responsible for children ! Be careful – leave nothing to chance ! Don’t allow the young to walk in the street with a walkman ! Once under way there is no knowing how far the State machine will go (…) In any case I’ve had my doubts about these walkmen for some time (…) Now the truth has broken out in full daylight. These Enemies of the State are walking silently amongst us with their walkmen conducting separatist propaganda by displaying their letter W (…) We are trying to join the European Union (…) The day that happens, all the other member countries of the Union will leave the EU… "
In Ankara, 3,000 people took part in the celebrations with went off calmly. In Izmir, torrential rain prevented the celebrations. Over 10,000 people took part in the celebrations in Mardin and Adana.
This year, for the first time, HADEP was authorised to organise Newroz celebrations in Diyarbekir and in Batman Province. A thousand busses, trucks and minibuses transported the inhabitants to over 8 Km out of Diyarbekir. On the banners carried were slogans such as " Newroz = Brotherhood " and " Long live Peace ". HADEP’s President, Turan Demir, in a communiqué considered the Newroz represented " a fresh stage in the process of peace and democratisation (…) Newroz is our people’s symbol for peace, unity and brotherhood ". An immense crowd, estimated at 300,000 people took part in the Diyarbekir celebrations.
On the other hand, Turkey expressed its " unease " at the way Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party organised a reception in Ankara to celebrate Newroz. During the reception, held at a Major Ankara hotel, the KDP had presented a number of its members, who had come from Northern Iraq to take part, as " Ministers ", according to the media. No Turkish official attended the reception though, on the contrary, the ambassadors of several European countries, in particular Germany and Italy, did attend. Turkey is always irritated by any action of the Iraqi Kurdish parties, freed from Baghdad’s control since the Gulf War, that might be interpreted as the sign of the creation of an independent Kurdish State in the region, a firmly supports the territorial integrity of Iraq. Safin Diyayee, the KDP’s representative in Ankara, was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry on 22 March.
After a long legal battle, the civil division of the Court of Appeals has decided, for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic, to authorise the use of Kurdish first names. A petition had been presented by Nezir Durak, who wanted to change his daughter’s first name from Hatice, an Arabo-Moslem name imposed on him by the official registrar, to Mizgin (Editor’s Note: the name means ‘Good News’ in Kurdish) basing himself on Article 26 of the Turkish Civil Code and arguing that she was known by this name in family circles. The first court had rejected Mr. Durak’s petition, but a decision invalidating this reinforced his request and the case was placed before the Court of Appeals. Rejected the first time, the appeal was accepted on the basis of freedom of choice of first names. The ruling stipulates: "(…) first names which have been laid down by government authorities must be used, However, this may be seen to be a restriction in the way of living of individuals. We all know of first names meaning ‘brave’, ‘agile’, ‘rare’ or ‘prosperous’ commonly used in Turkish culture. This name cannot be considered to be in contradiction with tradition, because it conforms to the plaintiff’s traditions and with first names used by his ancestors. (…) The plaintiff has the right to chose a life style in conformity with his surroundings. If all first names had to have a Turkish origin, let us remember that names like Hatice and Mustafa are of Arab or Persian origin. Many others are of Western origin. It would be inconsistent to consider Persian or Kurdish names inappropriate at a time when other names of Western origin are not considered contrary to our national culture".
The popular daily Hurriet devoted the whole of its front page of 5 March 2000 to "this little cultural revolution". Its Editor in Chief, Oktay Eksi, who is also President of the High Council of the Turkish Press, in a long article welcomed the gesture of these "realistic judges" and derided the politicians who were incapable of promoting essential reforms for taking Kurdish identity into account.
On the other hand, in a declaration on 3 March, Tansu Çiller, former Prime Minister and leader of the True Path Party (DYP), stated that the TRT-INT television network (Editor’s Note: the Turkish State network) ought to broadcast programmes for neighbouring countries in the languages spoken there. In the same context, Kurdish language programmes should also be considered. This is a fresh example of the political wheeler-dealing of which Mrs. Çiller so adept. It was during her term as Premier that the most intense repression took place in Turkish Kurdistan and that the wholesale destruction of Kurdish villages was undertaken.
On 3 March, the Diyarbekir Public Prosecutor’s Office demanded sentences of 7 years imprisonment against three HADEP mayors, charged with "supporting the PKK". The Prosecution maintains that Feridun Çelik, Mayor of Diyarbekir, Selim Özalp, Mayor of Siirt, and Feyzullah Karaslan, Mayor of Bingøl, took advantage of a recent visit to Germany to meet members of the PKK, including one of the guerrilla chiefs, Murat Karayilan, who has applied for political asylum in the Netherlands. The three mayors were taken in for questioning on 19 February, charged on 24 February then released on bail and allowed to take up their offices on the 28th. Seven years imprisonment were also called for against 11 other people on the same grounds, while eight others also charged risk 15 years imprisonment for PKK membership. The date of the trial has not yet been set.
In Brussels, the European Commissioner for broadening the Union, Guenter Verheugen, made "progress" on the Kurdish question a precondition for Turkey’s membership of the European Union in an interview with the German economic daily, Financial Times Deutschland on 6 March. "Progress in the settlement of this question is absolutely necessary before beginning negotiations for membership (…) The status on candidate presupposes a series of obligations starting from now" Mr. Vereugen stressed.
Ismail Cem, Turkish Foreign Minister, declared on 3 March that Ankara is "disturber" by the "special" importance that the European leaders attach, when visiting Turkey, to their contacts with pro-Kurdish and Human Rights defence organisations. He added, on the Turkish NTV channel: "the officials who visit Turkey can meet all the legal organisations and associations, but to do so while giving them a special significance is, of course, disturbing". These remarks follow recent visits to Ankara by the Swedish, Swiss and Luxembourg Foreign Ministers, who all met the leaders of Human Rights associations.
A spokesman for the military circles, the influential journalist Emin Çölasan, in a long editorial published by the daily paper Hurriet of 6 March, bluntly evokes "the return to the era of the capitulations" and describes as "traitors" and "enemies of Turkey" the leaders of the Turkish Human Rights organisations that the European leaders so openly meet and who profit from these meetings to "denigrate their country like informers". According to him, these "enemies within" of Turkey have a better image abroad.
Mr. Ilter Türkmen, former Turkish Foreign Minister and an editorialist on the Turkish daily Hurriet, states that the Kurdish question needs more democratisation. her are some large extracts from his article which appeared on 7 March.
"In my article entitled "Lawful State," dated 29 February, I said that Minister of Internal Affairs Sadettin Tantan's decision to quickly remove the HADEP [People's Democracy Party] mayors from their posts after they were arrested conflicted with the parameters of innocence. The Ministry of Internal Affairs was kind enough to send me a memorandum on the matter. It said that the removal of the mayors from their posts were in accordance with Article 127 of the Constitution and Article 93 of the Law on Municipal Administrations. No one doubted Sadettin Tantan's compliance with the laws (…) The developments related to the mayors of Diyarbakir, Bingol, and Siirt have again brought to light our inconsistent policies. On the one hand, we want to obstruct the politicization of the Kurdish problem. In fact, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has drawn attention to the danger of such a development. And, on the other hand, we facilitate that process through our own activities. We create the impression that we yield to foreign pressure. Furthermore, we oppress a group of people and create a favorable situation for the politicization of the problem".
"The dreams about independence or the establishment of a federation or the recognition of an autonomous status for the Kurds were abandoned (…) Another point that should be considered is: The HADEP is an ethnic party, regardless of what its program calls for. Some of its voters are those who supported the PKK in the past and who still sympathize with the organization (…)In fact, it would have been useful if moderate parties such as the DKP [Democratic Masses Party] were not closed in southeastern Turkey. Obviously, that would have prevented any party from establishing monopoly over the votes in the region"
"(…) Politicization can be achieved if Turkey agrees to recognize a party or an organization or a group that claims to represent our citizens of Kurdish origin en mass (…) What the State should do is to unilaterally decide to fulfill some of the expectations on an individual basis. The Supreme Court of Appeals' decision that Kurdish names can be used can be an example. Undoubtedly, the feared threat of politicization will be avoided as the State adopts the measures that are required for democratization on a timely basis. The officials fearing words and behaving erratically will get us nowhere".
On 13 March 2000, the Parliamentary sub-Commission on Human Rights made public it report regarding the riots in September 1999 on the Ulucanlar Prison, in which 10 political prisoners lost their lives. Because of differences between the M.P.s, two separate reports have been drawn up : by M.P.s of the Motherland Party (ANAP), of Fazilet (FP — Islamist) and the True Path Party (DYP) who firmly put the blame on the prison authorities and the other by the M.P.s of the government coalition, the ultra-nationalist ‘‘Democratic Left’’ Party (DYP) and the neo-fascist National Action Party (MHP), who were much more lenient towards the authorities’ role.
In the first report, the Members Sebgetullah Seydaoglu (ANAP), Mehmet Bakaroglu (FP) and Musatafa Eren declare that, on the basis of the enquiry carried out and the evidence heard, they have come to the conclusion that ‘‘the operation had been planned’’. The Members of Parliament cast serious doubt on the existence of arms said to have been discovered (a Kalashnikov, 7 pistols, one shot gun) in the prison. They declare, in this respect, that during the first search not one automatic weapon had been found and that it only made its appearance when one of the prisoners maintained that ‘‘the first shots came from an automatic weapon’’. The Members continued by asking ‘‘if these weapons really existed, why were they not used against the security forces instead of only against the detainees?’’. Furthermore, doubt was also cast on the existence of any tunnel.
The report also denounces the fact that the Public Prosecutor of the Ankara Court had not deigned to reply to the M.P.s questions, and that the recording made during the riot were not handed over to the Commission. The M.P.s also ask why other, more appropriate methods (tear gas etc.) were not used. However, the darkest point remains the signs of torture, but also of acid burns found on the victims bodies. The report also stresses the late arrival of any medical assistance which, except for two cases, only arrived one to three hours after their deaths.
On 2 March, the Torture Investigation Committee of the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD) in Istanbul published its report for 1999. According to the IHD, 334 people called at its Istanbul branch to denounce the torture to which they had been subjected while in detention. The majority complained of "hanging, bastinado (beating on the soles of the feet), electric shocks, sexual abuse and rape ". The committee reported that amongst the 334 victims there were 27 children and 72 women, and that 63 people had produced medical reports that confirmed the violence suffered. The report stressed the fact that 146 people suffered physical damage and 104 others moral damage as a result of the ill-treatment suffered.
The Human Rights defence organisations in Turkey and abroad had regularly denounced the systematic use of torture in Turkish police stations. Indeed, recently the political authorities no longer dare deny the facts, but obstinately refuse to admit that the violence was systematic. Thus the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission, Presided by Mrs. Sema Piskinsüt, of Prime Minster Ecevit’s "Democratic Left" Party, in the course of its inspection of the little police station of Kükçükköy (Istanbul) confiscated the equipment used for the "Palestinian hanging" very popular with the Turkish police officers for interrogation. Mrs. stated that "we encountered no opposition, but the key to the interrogation room could not be found",
Mrs. Piskinsüt sharply reacted to the declarations of Erol Çakir, governor of Istanbul, who had simply denied the facts, saying that "certain persons had found an old stick" and accused the commission of being under foreign influence. As for the Minister of the Interior, Saadettin Tantan, he stated "I am totally against torture, but I have to work with the human material at my disposal". Seref Turgut, of IHD stated that "if similar searches were carried out, instruments of torture would be found in all police stations".
In 1998, the same Commission had been able to lay hands on several instruments of torture, such as sticks used for falaka and a device for applying electric shocks at the Mugla police station. But, so far, no proceedings have taken place as all the items of evidence have mysteriously disappeared. This time, the Parliamentary Commission decided to immediately confiscate the instrument. Although torture is forbidden by law in Turkey, it is extremely rare for police torturers to be sentenced. According to the American State Department (Bulletin Nº 162), out of 245 cases before the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office between 1996 and 1998, there were only 15 sentences, the longest being 3 years jail.
Moreover, on 3 March, the Islamic Human Rights association, Mazlum-Der, denounced the arrest of 68 children aged between 6 and 14, in a mosque in Urfa by the anti-terrorist section of the general directorate of the police. The authorities maintained that the lessons were being given illegally by the Hizbullah. The children all under 15 years of age, had to be freed subsequently.
On 10 March 2000, the Istanbul State Security Court sentenced the Kurdish singer, Ahmet Kaya, to three years and nine months jail in his absence, for ‘separatist propaganda in favour of the PKK’’. The authorities accuse him of having sung in a Berlin concert in 1993 where a map of Kurdistan and a picture of Ocalan were on the wall. The singer’s lawyers argued that this was the result of a piece of photographic faking carried out by the daily paper Hurriyet. The paper had never written anything on the subject at the time. Better still, in 1994 it had awarded a prize to Kaya. It was only when the singer, elected best musician of the year in February 1999, mentioned, in the course of the presentation ceremony, his Kurdish origins and his intention of making a video clip in Kurdish, that the Turkish authorities and their media turned against him And, during this media lynching campaign, Hurriyet published the famous photo which the Public Prosecutor and the Istanbul State Security Court chose to consider proof of the crime of separatism.
Realising how ridiculous it was to sentence a popular singer just for expressing his intention of composing a song in his own language, the State Security Court, determined in any case to silence the dissident artist fell back on this faked photo to sentence Kaya to 3 years 9 months jail for "separatist propaganda". Kaya"s lawyers revealed that this same court, at the time of the Susurluk scandal which revealed the links between the Turkish mafia, police and part of the political caste, had not found grounds to start proceedings "in the absence of proof ". But all it had needed as "proof" was a faked newspaper photo to sentence the dissident singer, who is also facing three other charges of "separatism ". "In these circumstances, how can we talk of justice or a State of Laws in this country?" the declared. Ahmet Kaya, who lives in France, was not present at the trial. The media gave a great deal of space to the case. On 21st March the FIDF (French based international Federation for Human Rights) organised a Press Conference, in which Ahmet Kaya took part, to explain the case and the Human Rights situation in Turkey.
The Turkish Prime Minister, Bülent Ecevit, announced, on 6 March, the elimination of the American Boeing Company and the Franco-German Eurocopter consortium from the very lucrative contract for 145 helicopter gunships put out by Ankara, and worth 44.5 billion. There remain in the running, the Italian company, Agusta, the American Bell-Textron and the Russian Kamov-A (the latter in partnership with the Israeli company IAI.
According to the experts, helicopters are the most effective weapons to use against fighters in isolated mountains, but the Defence Minister stated last month that they were also needed to protect the country from foreign threats to national security. The American Congress had vetoed previous attempts to increase its fleet of nine Bell Super Cobra helicopter gunships, arguing that they would be used for repression within the country’s borders.
Turkey wants to co-produce the selected helicopter in a factory near Ankara which, until recently built F-16 fighters. This aspect of the transfer of production is one of the principal factors being considered for awarding the contract. The contract is to operate in three stages, 45 helicopters being built in the first stage, 50 more in each of the next two. Turkey also wants to buy q thousand tanks by 2013 – a contract worth another $8 billion. The Minister of Defence declared last month that a first phase of 250 tanks, worth $ 1.5 billion would be allocated before the end of July 2000.
Berlin, France’s Eurocopter partner, embarrassed by Turkey’s human rights violations, had hesitated and was late in sending the Tiger helicopter to Antalya for demonstrations. The Greens, members of the German coalition government, had repeatedly stated that they would leave the coalition in the event of arms being sold to Turkey. But Eurocopter cannot sell its helicopters without the joint approval of Berlin and Paris. It is, no doubt this uncertainty that has lead Ankara to acting first by excluding the Franco-German firm from its "contract of the century". As for Boeing, competing with its Apache, it is said to be too expensive. However, Prime Minister Ecevit’s announcement is seen as a tactic to sharpen competition between the three remaining companies. Italy is being rewarded for its cooperation over the Öcalan affair, whereas Ankara’s traditional allies, the Israelis (partners of the Russians) and the Americans could have their share of the cake. However, some people think that there is a connection between the Turkish project of building nuclear power stations, postponed for the moment, and the helicopter contract, the winner of the second having no chance of winning the nuclear contract as well.
The French response was not long in coming, since on 24 March the Turkish daily Hurriyet announced that President Jacques Chirac had suspended his planned official visit to Ankara as a response to the Turkish decision. The Turkish daily Hurriyet put the headline " It’s not done Monsieur " on its front page and stated that the Turkish Ambassador to Paris, Sönmez Köksal, was recently summoned to the Elysée Palace for a meeting, together with his chief advisor. According to the paper, the President expressed himself in these terms : " Mr. Chirac has personally make every effort and done everything in his power to prevent the law on the Armenian genocide being passed by the French Senate. He has also worked like a real Turk throughout Europe in support of Turkey’s application for membership of the European Union an played a key role in its acceptance at Helsinki. (…) Mr. Chirac was greatly saddened and disappointed to see Ankara exclude France, a friendly country, from its helicopter contract. In consequence Mr. Chirac is adjourning his visit, planned for this spring, until ‘relations between the two countries be improved’ ".
The Turkish authorities reacted sharply to this, stating " apparently Paris only had mercantile interests at heart in it relations with Turkey. Ankara is very disappointed that a helicopter contract should make them react so strongly ". The paper continued by saying : " he has soon forgotten the past " recalling that, over the last three years, France has sold over a billion dollars worth of medium range rockets, helicopters and military equipment and that in 1993 Turkey even canceled its contract with the American Sikorsky Company to buy 20 Cougar helicopters.
Necmettin Erbakan, the Turkish Islamist leader, has been sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for incitement to hatred on the basis of a speech he made six years ago. Observers note that the Diyarbekir State Security Court’s verdict constitutes a further obstacle to his return on the political scene from which he had been pushed by the Turkish Army. The Turkish authorities accuse him of making the following remarks: "With God’s help, the period of harsh trials is ended. Like the fall of Communism in Russia, so subordination to foreigners and to the godless in finished in Turkey (…) There are not 12 political parties in this country but only 2 (…) This country’s children start school by reciting the first verses of the Coran. And you have come to replace that by ‘I am Turkish, straight and hard working’ (…) Now the child of a Moslem of Kurdish origin has won the right to say ‘And I am Kurdish, straighter and even more hard working’ ".
The Islamic Virtue Party (FP) which was created following the banning, in 1998, of its predecessor the Prosperity Party (RP) is greatly influenced by Erbakan. With almost a hundred members of Parliament, the Islamists are trying to clear the path for their leader by demanding revision of Article 312 of the Turkish Penal Code. A debate has been launched in Turkish politico-legal circles on the future of this Article which punished ‘‘incitement to race hatred’’ but is in fact used by the authorities to limit the area of freedom of expression. The President of the Turkish Court of Appeals, Sami Selçuk has declared himself in favour of suppressing it, stating ‘‘We are faced with an Article that threatens freedom of expression in our country and Turkey’s entry into the European Union (…) The State should not interfere with the cultural market. It should not intervene to protect a culture – neither to encourage it or to hinder it’’. (Milliyet 16/3/2000) In this field he is in conflict with the Court of Appeals’ Public Prosecutor.
• 10,856 CASES OF "UNSOLVED" MURDERS. On 6 March, the Turkish daily, Hurriet, under the headline: "Hizbullah has cleared up 400 unsolved murders – there remain 10,856 others" maintained that since 1999 and the operations against the Hizbullah, 400 murders have been cleared up through ballistic tests on weapons seized by the Turkish police in the 11 Kurdish regions. Gökhan Aydiner, Governor of the State of Emergency Region (OHAL) moreover states that, in the course of a month and a half of operations, 650 Hizbullah members have been arrested and that the struggle is identical to that waged against the PKK. According to him, there still remain 600 armed PKK fighters in the region.
Questioned by the same newspaper, Arif Altunkalem, member of the Diyarbekir bar, recalled that at the beginning of the year 2000 the number of cases of unsolved murders in the provinces of Diyarbekir, Mardin, Batman, Bingöl, and Siirt stood at 11,256. There is still a long way to go to reach the truth about these crimes.
• TURKEY TWICE FOUND GUILTY FOR MURDERS COMMITTED IN KURDISTAN. The European Human Rights Court has found Turkey guilty of having failed to take any measures to prevent the assassination, in 1993, of a Kurdish journalist and a doctor and for having made no serious attempt to investigate the two cases.
In both cases, the judges considered that Ankara had violated Article 2 of the European Convention for Human Rights, which guarantees the Right to Live. The verdict was reached unanimously regarding the failures to investigate and by six against one (the Turkish Judge) regarding the assassinations themselves. The Court considered by six votes to one that Turkey had also violated Article 13 of the Convention, guaranteeing the effective right to appeal to a Court.
The first case concerned the assassination, at Urfa, of Kemal Kiliç, journalist on the pro-Kurdish daily paper Özgür Günem, shot down on 18 February 1993 by four men who were waiting for him as he came home from work. Two months earlier, Kemal Kiliç had asked the Governor of Urfa, in vain, for protection, for himself and other of the papers corespondents, because of threats and physical attacks to which many of them had been subjected.
On 16 March last, the European Court had already found Turkey guilty of attacks on freedom of expression with respect to Özgür Gündem. taking note of the many acts of censorship, condemnations and acts of physical aggression to which the paper had been subjected during its brief existence from 1992 to 1994.
The second case concerned Hasan Kaya, a doctor who disappeared on 21 February 1993 in the company of a lawyer friend, Metin Can, President of the Elazig Human Rights Association. The two men were found, shot dead, six days later. "Hasan Kaya, as a doctor suspected of links with the PKK, ran an especial danger of being victim of illegal aggression at the time " the judges considered.
In both these verdicts, the European Court for Human Rights, considered that the Turkish authorities "did not take the measures to which they could reasonably have had recourse" to prevent the assassinations. It also condemns Turkey for having refused to bring before the court "an important witness, an officer of the State " thus failing in its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Ankara is, furthermore, condemned for "inhuman and degrading treatment " under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of Dr. Kaya, whose corpse showed that he had been subjected to physical ill-treatment.
In both cases, the heirs of the victims received £ 17,500 damages and £ 20,000 and £22,000 costs respectively – an insignificant financial reparation to which the Turkish government can easily adapt itself.
• AKIN BIRDAL BACK IN JAIL Akin Birdal, former President of the Turkish Human Rights Association and Vice-President of the International Human Rights Federation (FIDH) returned to prison on 28 March to serve the balance of his one year sentence for "racial provocation ". The Turkish courts rejected a medical report, handed in to it last week by an Ankara hospital, certifying that he was "unfit" to return to prison because of the after effects of the 1998 attempt on his life, in which he was seriously wounded. He has been incarcerated in the Ulucanlar prison in Ankara.
This imprisonment has aroused many reactions, as much in Turkey as abroad.
Thus James Foley, US State Department spokesman described Akin Birdal on 28 March as "a responsible voice for peaceful change and reconciliation in Turkey " and added that "all citizens of Turkey should be able to fully exercise their right to peaceful expression of opinion, as recognised by the international laws on Human Rights (…). Putting Mr. Birdal back in jail is incompatible with this principal…"
Furthermore, Human Rights Watch has also called for the immediate freeing of A. Birdal and for the repeal of Article 312 of the Turkish Penal Code, which penalises freedom of expression.
• ANKARA DOES NOT WANT TO SEE MAX VAN DER STOEL. On 22 March, the Turkish daily, Hurriyet announced, under the by line of Mehmed Ali Birand, that Turkey refused to made an appointment for Max van der Stoel, OSCE High Commissioner for Minorities. Former Dutch Foreign Minister, Mr. Van der Stoel had also been UNO special rapporteur on Iraq, is due to take part in a seminar on minorities in Antalya on 11 April 2000. On that occasion a request was made for a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem and Minister for Human Rights, Mr. Ali Irtemçelik, so that the High Commissioner could form an opinion on the Ecevit Government’s policy regarding " the protection of the cultural rights of minorities ". According to sources close to the government, Ismail Cem is said to be completely opposed to any meeting with Mr. Van der Stoel and considered such an appointment " harmful ", whereas Mr. Irtemçelik would be perfectly ready to meet him but his colleague’s attitude puts him in a difficult position. According to Mr. Ali Birand, Ankara has still not replied to the request of the OSCE senior official. " To date, the only member country that has refused an appointment requested by Mr. Van der Stoel was Mr. Milosevic’s Yugoslavia " wrote the journalist. According to OSCE regulations, any member country that refuses to see the High Commissioner must explain itself to the Council. People close to the Foreign Minister are said to have stated that : " We know who are the minorities in Turkey and they have obtained all their rights. To grant an appointment to the High Commissioner could lead some people to launch a campaign to grant the Kurds that status ". Mehmed Ali Birand concluded by saying that : "we want to apply the Conventions and Regulations to which we have subscribed in our own way ".
• WALID JUMBLAT PLEADS IN FAVOUR OF KURDISH CULTURAL RIGHTS. In an interview given to the Turkish paper Sabah on 21 March, Walid Jumblat, Lebanese business man and leader of the Druze and Socialist groups in the Lebanese parliament, pleaded in favour of cultural rights for the Kurdish people. " We are of Kurdish origin. I have relations with Kurds all over the world. Everyone agrees that cultural rights and identity must be granted to the Kurdish people within the borders of Turkey. I am aware that I am not popular in Turkish political circles because of my opinions. And yet Turkey is the country that Nora (his wife) and I would most like to visit ".
• MURAT KARAYILAN’S APPLICATION FOR POLITICAL ASYLUM IS REJECTED, SEVERAL PKK EUROPEAN OFFICIALS SENTENCED TO IMPRISONMENT. The application for political asylum filed in the Netherlands on 18 November 1999 by Murat Karayilan, one of the principal PKK military chiefs, was rejected by the first level court. Turkey had asked for his extradition in February but the examination of this request would probably take six months. Mr. Karayilan can appeal against this decision. In an interview granted to the Dutch News Agency ANP at the beginning of March, Mr. Karayilan had declared : "I am here to present our new peaceful strategy to all our members (…) The PKK is ready to do anything for peace(…) We want peace, but if our leader is hanged we will feel that like the death of all the Kurds. It would then see the beginning of another war(…) We are asking for very little – just legal recognition of Kurdish identity ", and regretted that "there has been no positive sign of response from Ankara ".
In addition, the alleged PKK co-ordinator in Germany was arrested on 30 March at the Elten border post. On the 29th the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office had announced that two alleged PKK leaders would be brought before the Courts for "membership of a criminal organisation ", "forged papers in an organised gang " and "violation of the law on carrying arms ".
Moreover, the 14th Chamber of the Paris Criminal Court sentenced Irfan Balsak, considered to be a leading PKK official, to 4 years imprisonment and 10 years banning from French territory. Four other people were condemned, in the same context, to prison sentences varying from three years immediate to 18 months suspended, and banned from French territory.
• IMMUNITY AND PARDON FOR 20 TURKISH POLICEMEN CHARGED IN THE GAZI AFFAIR. On 3 March 2000, the Trebizond State Security Court decided to free the 20 Policemen accused of having opened fire on demonstrators in March 1995 in the Gazi quarter of Istanbul. 21 people died in the course of four days of rioting in the quarter. After long drawn out procedures and several postponements, the Turkish judges have acquitted 18 police and sentenced two others. Adem Albayrak, charged with four murders, was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment for each crime and Mehmet Günogan was also sentenced for the murder of two demonstrators. However, they benefited from the clemency of the Turkish judges, who reduced A. Albayrak’s sentence to 6 years and Gündogan’s to 3 years. Since the Court also took into account their period of detention, the only two to be sentenced left the court as free men…
• THE RECOGNITION OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE AGAIN POSTPONED BY THE FRENCH SENATE. The conference of senate chairmen has, for the second time, refused to allow time to debate the recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915, which caused the death of 1.5 million Armenians of the Ottoman Empire. This decision seems to have been taken at the personal request of President Chirac, an ardent advocate of Turkey in Europe. The Left parties, who are in the minority in the Senate, voted in favour of debating the Bill. Turkey has never recognised what was to be the first genocide of the 20th Century, limiting itself to talking of some limited deportations and massacres in the confusion of the first World War. The French National Assembly had, on 29 May 1998, unanimously passed a Bill recognising the Armenian genocide, but pressures exerted by the Turkish authorities and negotiations over juicy arms sales have once again prevented a vote being take in the Senate.
The Armenian community expressed its indignation and anger, and various radio stations and publications published a special joint four page edition with a 100,000 distribution. It organised a national demonstration in front of the Senate, on Saturday 11 March which rallied many thousands of people and received wide media coverage..
• ACCORDING TO THE TURKISH AUTHORITIES, PHONE TAPPING IS NOT AN ATTACK ON PRIVACY. The phone tapping scandal continues. The Minister of the Interior has declared that the demand for 25 billion TL damages by Naci Unver, President of the 8th Criminal Division of the Turkish Court of Appeals, who had been phone tapped, was ‘‘inconceivable’’. The Minister rejected the idea that these tappings could be attacks on privacy. In a memo. Sent to the 10th Division of the Ankara Administrative Tribunal, the Minister stressed : ‘‘phone taps have not only been carried out on the plaintiff but also on other organisations and senior officials. If damages were awarded to him, they would set a bad example for other interested parties, and would create a needless source of enrichment’’.
• A TURKISH REPORT ON THE KURDISH QUESTION IS BEING PREPARED. The English language Turkish daily, Turkish Daily News, announced, it its 15 March 2000 issue, that ‘‘Turkey is drafting a global report’’ on the ‘‘Kurdish problem’’. According to the paper, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is at the moment preparing a ‘‘complete report regarding Turks of Kurdish origin and Turkish policy regarding minorities in Turkey’’ so are to conform with the Copenhagen criteria as required for its membership of the European Union.
The report has set itself the aim of examining the Turkish Constitution and the 1925 Lausanne Treaty. The Kurdish question, but also the subordination of the Minister of Defence were two of the principal sensitive issues removed from the report drawn up last February by the secretariat of the Prime Minister’s Council for Co-ordinationon Human Rights. That report had been included in the 8th five year development plan of the DPT, the State planning organisation.
The new report examines the situation in other European countries, with particular attention to France. It also reveals that Article 26 of the Turkish Constitution is in contradiction with Article 39 of the Treaty of Lausanne. This latter lays down that ‘‘there should be no restriction imposed on the free use by Turkish nationals of any languages, in private, in trade, religion, the press or in publications and all public meetings’’. Turkey only recognises as minorities the non-Moslem communities.
• TURCO-AMERICAN MILITARY CO-OPERATION. Turkey will take part in the American programme to develop the ISF (Joint Strike Fighter) fighter, the American Secretary for Defence, William Cohen confirmed. The programme, which will have an overall cost of 200 billion dollars, is aimed at designing an ultra-modern fighter and associated equipment. Over 3000 may be built.
Several other countries, including Great Britain (up to 10%) and the Netherlands and Norway are already involved in this project. Lockheed Martin and Boeing are competing for the design and building of the jet.
• SUSURLIK: THE SAGA CONTINUES – YET ANOTHER KEY FIGURE VICTIM OF AN ‘ACCIDENT’! Ibrahim Sahin, former Deputy Director of the Special Operations Bureau, and one of those charged in the Susurluk scandal which brought to light the links between the Mafia and the State, had a road accident on 29 March on the Gemlik highway. Driving the latest model of jeep, those close to him found it "disturbing" that the vehicles wheels, of double thickness, should suddenly burst, without any apparent reason, or that a servo-assisted steering system should suddenly swing it to the right. Ibrahim Sahin was taken to an Emergency Ward and is under intensive care. Many journalists, sent there, relate that all the leading figures involved in the Susurluk case have turned up at the hospital, with a horde of bodyguards but that journalists and even people visiting other patients are forbidden access.
• EXTENSION OF THE STATE OF EMERGENCY. On 28 March 2000, the Turkish Parliament decided to extend the State of Emergency in five Kurdish Provinces for a further four months. The Provinces concerned were Tunceli, Diyarbekir, Hakkari, Sirnak and Van. These five provinces were placed under the rule of the State of Emergency Governor’s office in Diyarbekir in 1987 – prior to that they had been under a State of Siege since 1979.
In November 1999, Parliament – acting as usual as a mere rubber stamp for the decisions of the National Security Council – lifted the State of Emergency in the Kurdish Province of Siirt.
• THE YEAR 2000 LODOVIC-TRARIEUX PRIZE AWARDED TO ESBER YAGMURDERELI. The jury of the "Prix International des droits de l’homme Ludovic-Trarieux" (The International Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights Prize) awarded the year 2000 Prize to the Turkish lawyer, writer and Human Rights activist Esber" who is serving a prison sentence for proposing a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem. The prize, which is worth FF 30,000, is awarded every two years jointly by the Bordeaux Bar’s Human Rights Institute and the European Lawyers’ Union to a lawyer, without any limitation of nationality or membership of the Bar, who has illustrated, by his life, his work or his sufferings, the Defence of Human Rights, the rights of the defence, the supremacy of the state of law, the struggle against racism and intolerance in all their forms. The first winner, in the summer of 1995, was Nelson Mandela.
Furthermore, Christian Charrière-Bournazel, Vice-President of CILDEKT, sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, asking him to work for the freeing of E. Yagmurdereli. While calling for the abrogation of the laws that allow the charging, trial and imprisonment of Human Rights defenders, Mr. Charrière-Bournazel added "I myself recall the time, in 1981, when I was present at the trial of members of your party; who were simply accused of having held opinions, and who were only called to account for their opinions at the extraordinary trial which I attended as a representative of the International Federation for Human Rights.