On 21 May, to celebrate the start of the third millennium, the Kurdish Institute organised a Kurdish musical festival at the famous Paris concert hall, the Zenith.
As a symbol of Kurdish unity, the festival called on all sections of the Kurdish diaspora to participate, without any exclusions. Side by side with singers already well known in France, such as Sivan Perwer and Temo, it brought together musicians famous in their countries of origin, like Ahmet Kaya, elected best musician of the year in 1999 in Turkey. Women performers were particularly well represented with the singers Bessê. Fatê, Leila Fariqi, Shahla and Xezal.
Singers from other cultures, like the Assyro-Chaldean Linda George, the Franco-Tunisian Amina, the Portuguese Bevinda, the Moroccan Azzedine Alaoui and the Kabyli Ferhat also wanted to show their sympathy for the Kurdish people by taking part in this festival, to which they gave an intercultural character
Kurdish aspirations to unity and freedom, after a century so laden with injustice and tragedy for their people, was the dominant theme of this Kurdish artistic event. Despite their divergences and conflicts, the principal Kurdish organisations insisted on showing their support for this festival of unity. The President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party, Massoud Barzani, sent a personal message of support and friendship. The Iranian KDP and the Iraqi PKK also sent messages signed by their European representatives. who were, respectively Khosrow Abdullahi and Murat Karayilan, while the Turkish Kurdistan Socialist Party send a solidarity message signed by its representative, Ziya Acar. The HADEP and the Peace and Freedom Party (DEP) also sent messages as well as many societies and organisations of the Kurdish diaspora.
Many public figures, including Laurent Fabius, Minister of the Economy and Finance, Jack Lang, Minister of Education, François Hollande. First Secretary of the French Socialist Party, Robert Hue, National Secretary of the French Communist Party also sent messages of support and sympathy.
In a brief speech, the President of the Kurdish Institute called on Kurdish organisations that talk about unity and democracy to show their tolerance of others and to build the necessary Kurdish unity through dialogue and persuasion. For her part, Mrs. Mitterrand also addressed the audience to say that the Kurds now had many friends across the world but that, to succeed they must overcome their quarrels and splits and become friends of one another. Otherwise nothing could be done for them. Success would only be possible at the cost of a firm and persevering commitment to the path of inter-Kurdish dialogue and cohesion she concluded amidst loud applause from the hall.
The festival, planned to last from 3 to 8 p.m. in fact went on till 11 p.m., with any thousands taking part, including many non-Kurds.
On the initiative of the Green Members of Parliament Noel Mamère and Marie-Hélène Aubert and with the help of the Fondation France-Libertés, a major symposium took place on 31 May, in the Victor Hugo Hall of the French National Assembly round the theme: "The Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria: realities and perspectives". A number of public figures took part in the symposium, which was started by Mme. Danielle Mitterrand, followed by Henri Emanuelli, President of the Finance Commission and former Speaker of the National Assembly. Several other French Members of Parliament, including Christian Martin, Bernard Cazeneuve, who had supported the project of a Kurdish Festival at Cherbourg, Jack Lang, Minister of National Education, Alima Boumedienne-Thiery, Member of the European Parliament and François Loncle, President of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the French Parliament, expressed their wish to see an equitable and just solution to the Kurdish question. Thus the M.P.s affirmed that a study group on the Kurdish question would be created in the near future in the National Assembly and that they would personally work in it.
Kurdish public figures, representing the different Kurdish political parties were also present at the symposium to evoke the situation in the different parts of Kurdistan: Mustapha Amin, Assistant General Secretary of the KDPI, Mesut Bestas, spokesman for HADEP. Kemal Burkay, President of the Kurdistan Socialist Party, Havin Guneser, spokesman of the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, Dr. Saadadin Malla, representative in Sweden of the Kurds of Syria, Barham Saleh, US representative of the PUK, as well as Dr. Röj Nouri Shaweiss, President of the Kurdish Parliament, Member of the Central Committee of the KDP and Ismet Cherif Vanly, President of the Kurdistan National Congress (CNK).
Officials of various NGOs also took part in the symposium: Dr. Kendal Nezan, President of the Paris Kurdish Institute, Antonello Attardo, representing the Minority Rights Group, Osman Baydemir, Vice-President of the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD) and Michele Fournier, Middle East officer of Amnesty International… Different themes were reviewed: "The Kurds in the light of existing Constitutions ", "Human Rights, freedom of expression, cultural and language rights ", "The issues at stake and the role of civil society in Kurdistan ", and "Perspectives and solutions: autonomy, federalism, independence ".
The holding of this symposium in the French National Assembly buildings, with the participation of M.P.s of the Left (socialists and Greens) and the Right (UDF), of one Minister in office (Jack Lang) constitutes a significant step towards France’s taking of account of the Kurdish question, and this only a few weeks before the French Presidency of the European Union, due to begin on 1st July. Thus this is the first time, since the Paris Kurdish Conference of October 1989, that all the Kurdish parties have met, in the same hall, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance.
Moreover, on 30 May, the German Green Party organised a symposium in the Bavarian Parliament building on the Kurdish question and Turkey’s entry into the European Union. In the absence of the Kurdish mayors, invited but forbidden by the Turkish authorities to leave the country, representatives of local NGOs (the Diyarbekir Bar Association, the Human Rights Association) came to testify as to the conditions for the Kurdish population since the PKK’s suspension of armed struggle. Other Kurdish (Kendal Nezan, Sertaç Bucak), Turkish (Çigden Akkaya) and German (Dr. Roland Bank, of the Max-Plank Institute) participants raised the effect of Turkey’s application for membership on the European Union, on the Kurds and on the Turks.
Bavaria is one of the most conservative Lander in Germany, in which the Greens in which the Greens intend, by this sort of symposium, to push public opinion forward on the Kurdish question.
Two films, shot in Iranian Kurdistan and showing the life of Kurds living on the Iranian-Iraqi borders, enjoyed a marked success at the 53rd Cannes film Festival, and won prizes.
Takhté Siyah (The Blackboard) by the young (20 year old) woman film director Samira Makhmalbaf was greeted as a real revelation by the critics and awarded the Jury’s Special Prize. The film tells the story of about a dozen primary school teachers without any pupils who, like educational peddlers go from village to village with their blackboards on their backs trying to exchange their knowledge against board and lodging. Two of them survive the ups and downs of the Iraqi-Iranian war raging in the Kurdistan mountains. One of them joins a band of Kurdish children smugglers and busies himself teaching them his lessons while they pursue their dangerous activities. Another meets a group of wandering old Iraqi Kurds, thrown onto the roads to exile by the war. the film follows this headlong flight, through short and violent events and, over and above the horrors of war, the pains of total exile and impossible love.
Interviewed by the Kurdish daily Ozgür Politika, the young director of this powerful and striking film stated, in particular, : "Kurdistan is not an exotic and foreign country for me. I have often come shooting with my father (the film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf) in the villages of Kurdistan. The facial expressions of the Kurdish children and the majestic stature of the Kurdistan mountains have greatly affected me. The mountains spoke to me. When I was a little girl, my father would talk to me about Kurdish history and the Kurdish way of life. And when I compared all this with what I’d seen, a very interesting film subject formed in my mind. (…) This film is the result. One could say that the scenario of Takhté Siyah was written after the shooting. The mountains are speaking, in this film, nature is speaking, The topography of Kurdistan explains everything. I think that, with the peasants in this film, we have communicated a serious message. But, like in a poem, it must be lived, the film must be seen. And, above all, I would like it to be seen by Kurds. (…) I consider myself part of the Kurdish people. I have tried, in this film, to let the mountains, the smiling faces of the Kurdish peasants, speak for themselves. I conceived this film as a poem".
The other cinematic event of the Festival was "Un temps pour l’ivresse des chevaux " (A time for the intoxication/exhilaration of horses) by the Kurdish film director Bahman Ghobadi, shown in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs (Directors’ fortnight). The film was shot in the same Kurdish region straddling the Iraqi-Iranian border and its director had one of the leading roles in the Blackboard: it also shows Kurdish children smugglers against a background of a terrifying, but virtually invisible, war. The whole film is hinges around a single urgent issue – the efforts of a young boy to save his brother suffering from dwarfism. Through the equestrian odessy of these children, the film shows and reflects on the tragic and precarious destiny of the Kurdish people, devastated by war, torn apart by artificial borders, reduced to destitution. The capacity for survival of these children smugglers, their extraordinary solidarity in trying to save the weakest amongst them, give the film a poignancy and power that won it, deservedly, the Golden Camera prize of the jury of the Quinzaine de réalisateurs.
Photographer and reporter with the Iranian Kurdistan television, Bahman Ghobadi, a graduate of the Teheran Cinema School, in an interview given to le Monde on 11 May, said he was "proud to have brought to Kurdistan in the last two years Abbas Kiarostami, who filmed there "The wind will carry us away" and the Makhmalbafs – both father and daughter.
From 9 to 26 May, major Kurdish cultural festival took place in the town of Cherbourg and the neighbouring townships of Octeville, Tourlaville and Flottemanville, on the initiative of the Association identités, with the backing of the Kurdish Institute and the Fondation France-Libertés.
In the course of this festival a series of exhibitions took place in various public and private places, including painting (Remzi Rasa, Namo, Himat M. Ali), photos (Sebastiao Salgado, Krista Boggs, Ch. Kutschera, A. Adlig Reza) sculpture (Temo) and handicrafts.
Well known Kurdish musicians – Sivan Perwer, Fatê, Dilshad, Cané, Issa, Rezan, Temo, Koma Zozan gave a series of concerts, offering the local public a broad sample of Kurdish music. The Cherbourg cinemas programmed showings of "A song for Beko ", "Dream Smugglers ", "Going towards the sun ", while two Kurdish stage plays were performed – Azady (Freedom) and Mem û Zin.
One of the highlights of the Festival was the official reception given at the Cherbourg Town Hall where the mayor of Cherbourg-Octeville, the local M.P. Bernard Cazeneuve, Mrs. Mitterrand, Kendal Nezan and Suayip Adlig, President of the Association Identités, spoke to stress the importance of this festival in promoting a better knowledge of the Kurds in France and close ties between the French and Kurdish peoples. Then the various public figures present went to inaugurate "The Kurdish Village" set up near the port to provide a background for some of the artistic events. Symbolically, it was the former Mayor of Diyarbekir, Mehdi Zana, in exile in Europe, who welcomed the French public figures to his "Kurdish Village".
In the course of the Festival, round tables, lectures and debates were organised at the Cherbourg IUT (equivalent to the UK "Polytechnics") on the state of the Kurds and their language. The 27th Linguistic Seminar of the Kurdish Institute also took place at Cherbourg which thus, for two weeks, became the Cultural Capital of the Kurds.
The Town Council even carried its courtesy so far as to decorate the whole town with Kurdish, French and European flags "so that the Kurds should feel really at home", which gave rise to a hostile demonstration by about twenty Turkish nationalists on 20 May. The local media devoted considerable space to this festival, supported by the local councils, the Regional Council, the Ministry of Culture, the European Parliament as well as a number of Cherbourg organisations, hotels, cafes and pubs.
After the unequivocal refusal of the Turkish Parliament to prolong Süleyman Demirel’s term in office, Ahmet Nejdet Sezer, President of the Turkish Constitutional Court was elected to the Presidency of the Turkish Republic on 5 May 2000. However, though official candidate of the tripartite coalition government, he only secured election at the third round, with 330 votes out of 550.
More than 200 Members of Parliament did not vote for Mr. Sezer. Some irritated by the fact that a public figure from outside parliament had been imposed on them, some, like certain islamists, refusing to elect the man who had presided the hearing of the Constitutional Court that had decreed the dissolution of the Prosperity Party (RP) and some dyed in the wool conservatives which had been unable to swallow his speech in favour of democratic reforms and cultural rights for the Kurds in his opening speech at a Constitutional Court celebration on 26 April 1999.
The presidential elections have seriously damaged the authority of the political leaders over their parties. The M.P.s showed marked recalcitrance to following the voting instructions of their leaders – and this despite open threats. A consequently a settling of accounts within the coalition parties can be expected.
Largely unknown to the public, Ahmet Nejdet Sezer, 10th President of the Turkish Republic, has aroused hopes of change both in Turkey and abroad. Forgetting that he had been appointed to the Constitutional Court by the former military regime and that, on the bench of that Court he had ratified a number of freedom-stifling measures ordered by the National Security Council (MGK) running from the banning of a dozen political parties (including Refah, HEP, DEP, etc.) and had lifted Parliamentary immunity from the Kurdish M.P.s of the Party for Democracy (DEP), public opinion, largely influenced by the official media’s panegyrics, believes in his recent stands in favour of a State of Laws and public freedom.
By raising the necessity for granting cultural rights to the Kurds, the new President has even won the sympathy of Kurdish organisations in Turkey and Iraq, which sent him messages of congratulations (see the Press Review further on).
Other observers remain cautious, recalling that the Turkish regime, over the last few decades has often known how to renew its window dressing without altering the basic structures of its powers or its nationalist ideology. The memory of Mrs. Tansu Çiller, "modern, secular, American educated " speaking of the "necessary democratisation of the country " and of the Basque model for settling the Kurdish question in Turkey is still alive. She, also, had aroused many hopes in Europe and the United States – and all the while, behind that attractive facade, the Turkish Army engaged in the destruction of thousands of villages and the deportation of millions of Kurdish civilians.
Judge Sezer, elected President at a time when Turkey has been admitted to the European Union’s waiting room, when speaking to Europeans holds a discourse in keeping with their wishes… However, the essentials of power still lie with the National Security Council, itself controlled by the Army High Command. The moment of truth will not be long in arriving.
The European Human Rights’ Court, appraised of the case of the imprisoned Kurdish Members of Parliament, has just appointed a reporter who, on the basis of the defence’s and Turkish Government’s memoranda, as well as the European Human Rights’ Commission’s conclusions, will prepare a draft verdict for the Court. The latter will give its ruling "in the autumn of the year 2000" at a still unspecified date.
The European Human Rights’ Court, which has frequently condemned States for their excessive slowness in administering justice, will thus have take over six years to rule on the case of the Kurdish M.P.s, incarcerated in Ankara since March 1994 and sentenced to 15 years jail for "crimes" of opinion.
After many ups and downs and confrontations, the second round of the Iranian General Elections finally took place on 5 may. The supporters of President Khatami carried 70% of the still available seats, thus completing their sweeping victory in the first round, which took place on 18 February last year.
In all, they now hold 200 of the 290 seats in the Iranian Majlis (Parliament). This success confirms and increases the Mohammed Khatamy’s Presidential Election victory in 1997. In the words of Mr. Reza Khatami, the President’s brother and leader of his supporters: "these results are the reply of the reform movement to the closing of newspapers and arrests and other illegal or pseudo-legal methods used by the conservative institutions in recent weeks to try to suppress these advances by the reformers. It is to be hoped that now each will accept the people’s vote so that the pure ideals of the islamic Revolution and the President’s programmes may take effect calmly, with due respect for the law ".
However, the conservatives, who continue to hold the essential levers of power, do not appear ready to accept the verdict of the ballot boxes. They are setting about limiting Parliament to the role of a mere consultative assembly by censoring any laws that run counter to their interests and by harassing the media and political figures close to President Khatami by means of "the Judicial Powers" that they control.
Before Parliament had even met, the Council for the Protection of the Constitution and the Assembly for Judging the Regime’s Interests, both controlled by the conservatives, had banned Parliament from any right to oversee or investigate 90% of the State organs which, according to them, were only answerable to the Guide (Ayatollah Khamenei) and the Judicial Powers. The trial of strength between the two camps looks like being a long drawn out, bumpy ride whose outcome is uncertain. The election, on 30 May, of hodjatoleslam Mehdi Karoubi, representing the Khomeini-ist old guard, is considered a temporary compromise between the two camps.
Even as the Turkish authorities unceasingly promise improvements in matters of Human Rights, Kurdish political and media circles continue to suffer Turkish political repression. Thus, Ahmet Turan Demir, President of the People’s Democratic Party (HADEP - pro-Kurdish) is sentenced to one year’s jail by the State Security Court for "separatist propaganda". Mr. Demir is the latest in a long list of Turkish political leaders sentenced by these Courts. After numerous condemnations, including that of its first President, Murat Bozlak, HADEP is now itself threatened with being banned by the Constitutional Court.
Furthermore, the HADEP mayors, elected during the last General Elections (Editor’s Note: HADEP won 35 municipalities) find they are increasingly subjected to arbitrary bans and prohibitions. The latest are Sahabettin Ozaslaner and Emrullah Cin, respectively mayors of Van and of Viransehir. Invited to take part in a meeting of the US Congress’s Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe SCEC, taking place in the United States on 6 June, the two mayors were forbidden to leave the country by the Prefect (Local Governor). In Mr. Cin’s case the authorities raised the question of the municipal debt and for Mr. Ozaslaner "the inappropriate nature of the journey ". "Are there any municipalities in Turkey that do not have debts? (…) I have only been mayor for the last 14 months, and we have already repaid 52% of our debt (…) Moreover, last month I visited Switzerland at the invitation of the Bern municipality, And our debt was even greater then…" stated Mr. Cin sceptically. In the same strain Mr. Ozaslaner added " From what we have learnt, the fact that the Kurdish question is one of the subjects that will be raised at the Congress meeting was somewhat displeasing … It is presupposed that we will tarnish Turkey’s image (…) " Yasemin Çongar, US Correspondent of the Turkish daily Milliyet queried these decisions in the 5 June issue: "The latest step showing the State’s ‘embarrassment’ over the 35 HADEP mayors, which party was only prevented from being represented in Parliament by the level of the national threshold, but which had won (…) up to 62% of the votes in Diyarbekir, the largest town in the region, in the April 2000 General Elections. Has this improved Turkey’s image? "
In fact, the Turkish authorities are trying to convince themselves and Western public opinion that "now that terrorism has been defeated, there is no longer any Kurdish problem in Turkey, and all those who claim otherwise are allies of the PKK". In this context, they cannot tolerate the idea that legally elected mayors be able to address Western public opinion, particularly American, so as "not to politicise the South-Eastern question ".
MAY DAY BANNED IN THE KURDISH PROVINCES. May Day celebrations took place under the strictest surveillance of the Turkish security forces – and were completely banned in the Kurdish provinces. In Istanbul, over 27,000 police were assembled, and about fifty arrests were made. Observers noted that, very often it was the fact of making a V (for Victory) sign that led to detention. According to the English language daily, Turkish Daily News of 2 May, there were more police than workers on the May Day march.
Other gatherings took place at Mersin, Adana, Trabzon, Gaziantep bringing together the main Trade union organisations. In Diyarbekir since the police even refused to allow the holding of a press conference, protests were heard.
May Day demonstrations have often been the scene of serious and violent disturbances in Turkey. In 1996, in Istanbul, three demonstrators were killed and dozens of police and demonstrators injured. In 1997, 37 demonstrators were killed in Taksim Square, in the very centre of Istanbul.
WORLD PRESS DAY: TURKEY PIN-POINTED. On the occasion of World Press Day, on 3 May, the organisation Reporters sans Frontières made public its report on violations of the rights of journalists throughout the world0. Turkey was, once again pin pointed for the number of violations of the freedom of expression and opinion.
According to the report, "one journalist was killed, four others tortured, 7 arrested, 87 held in detention and 26 others beaten up " in Turkey in the course of 1999. 80 journalists are said to be imprisoned, but the organisation remarks that as the reasons given for the arrests and sentences are confused it is hard to clearly attribute them to their journalistic work as such. Reporters sans Frontières also takes into account sanctions by RTUK (Editor’s Note: The Turkish audiovisual control body) namely 2, 378 days (a total of 6.5 years!) of interdictions to broadcast delivered to radio and TV networks. Yerel Radyo Fon, Ozgur Radyo, Mozaik Radyo, Radyo Safak and national networks like Kanal 6, ATV, Show TV were subjected to 365 days of interdiction. The organisation denounced the farcical pretense of a trial of the police officers implicated the murder of the journalist Metin Göktepe and points out that there has still been no verdict issued in the cases of Ugur Mumcu and Abdi Ipekçi and in cases covering the assassination of 20 journalists there has not even been any enquiry opened.
The organisation also welcomed the passing of law 4454 of 28 August 1999 enabling the proroguing of the trials and sentences of publications and publishers and, in this context, the release of six journalists, including Ismail Besikçi and Dogal Güzel. However, it stresses that this law obliges journalists to practice self-censorship since, in the event of another "offence" of the same kind in the course of the following three years the journalists would find their cases and brought back before the courts. Reporters sans Frontières draws attention to the seizure of the book by Nadire Mater "Mehmedin Kitabi " and calls on the authorities to abrogate law 3713 and Articles 7/2 and 8 of the Anti-Terrorist Act which are serious infringements of the freedom of the press.
On the other hand, Menaf Avci, publication coordinator of the paper Ozgur Bakis, stated that the 370 issues published had given rise to 124 legal proceedings, 131 banning orders, and 263 billion Turkish lire in fines. He also pointed out that on its 20th day of publication, the paper was banned throughout the State of Emergency region (OHAL) without any apparent reason. Weeklies like Azadîya Welat, banned in the OHAL region since October 1998, Pîne, a satirical weekly consisting mainly of cartoons and caricatures, banned from these regions a few days ago as well as the daily Evrensel, banned in the OHAL region for the last 485 days, all denounced the manifest violations of Press rights in Turkey, and in particular in the Kurdish regions.