Whereas, hitherto, theKurds have maintainedrelativerestraint over the agitationamongst SyrianArabs, demonstrations began atthe beginning of the month inthe Kurdish regions of theNorth. Radif Mustapha, presidentof the Kurdish Committeefor Human Rights stated to AFPon 1 April: “After Friday prayers,several hundreds of people marchedpeacefully in Qamishli andAmounda shouting “We don’t justwant our nationality but freedom aswell”, “God, Syria and Freedom”. At Hassake, between 150 and 200people demonstrated with the sameslogans before being dispersed bythe police. This is the first time sincethe protests that demonstrationshave taken place in this mainlyKurdish region”.
Te Syrian authorities hadseemed, however, wish to avoidthe Kurds from joining theprotest movements inDamascus, Deraa and Lattaqiya"The Newroz festival, on 21March, had taken place for thefirst time in years with out anypolice violence; the issue of theKurds stripped of their nationalityhad, once again been publiclyraised by President Bashar al-Assad, who had ordered the settingup of a “commission chargedwith settling the problem of the1962 census in Hassake province.This Commission must complete itswork before 15 April so thatPresident Assad can promulgate anadequate decree on this problem” according to the official Syriannews agency Sana.This start of agitation amongstthe Kurds has, no doubt, encouragedthe government to make some more concessions to the Kurds. On 6 April 48 detainees were released. These were mostly Kurds who had been arrested the year before in the course of the Newroz celebrations. Their release was announced in a communiqué draw up and signed by six Syrian Kurdish organisations Human Rights organisations:
“We have learnt of the decision of the Aleppo Military Investigating Judge to release 48 Syrians arrested during the clashes that took place during the Newroz celebrations on 21 March 2010. We welcome this decision. We ask the government to free all the political detainees and to stop the series of improper arrests that are a crime against personal freedom”. The Commission, created on 31 March and charged with studying the case of Stateless Kurds was due to report its conclusions before 15 April. However, the procedure was speeded up. On 5 April, President Bashar al-Assad saw representatives of Hassake, one of the regions most affected by the question of the Stateless Kurds. On 7 April, a decree granting Syrian citizenship to these inhabitants was promulgated as the Syrian official news agency Sana announced:
“President Assad has promulgated a decree granting Syrian Arab citizenship to some people registered as foreigners in Hassake province. The decree will come into force as soon as it is published in the Official Journal and the Minister of the Interior is charged with carrying out this measure in the spot”. At a time when there is agitation throughout the country, the Syrian Kurdish representatives do not, however, intend to lower their guard, even though they welcome this decision, coming, as it dos after half a century administrative and legal red tape for the Kurds in Eastern Syria:
“This is a positive measure”, declared the President of the Kurdish Human Rights Committee. “However, the Kurds will still continue to claim their civic, political, cultural and social rights. “It is a step n the right direction,
since it rectifies a half-century old injustice”, commented Fuad Alliko, member of the banned Kurdish Yekiti party that has been in the forefront of the Kurdish protest movement in the country and particularly for its public demonstrations in support of the “Stateless Kurds”. The Kurds’ other demands such as the question of education in Kurdish and general cultural rights have not been dropped, however. “We want Kurdish to be taught at school, as well as French and English, to be able to celebrate our festivals without being harassed by the security forces, to have our own cultural centres, to be able to make our history and to pass on our cultural heritage”. Finally Fuad Alliko wished for “the opening of a dialogue between the leaders of the Kurdish movement and those in power” and “the recognition of our particularity through some form of autonomy in regions with a Kurdish majority”. Nevertheless, this policy of “little gestures” from Damascus, coming as it does, so late in the day, has not been enough to dissuade the Kurds from demonstrating. On 8 April, nearly 3,000 people marched in several Kurdish towns, particularly at Amunde, Derik, Derbassiye, Qamishlo and Hassake, demanding the abolition of the State of Emergency and the release of other detainees. One quite notable fact was that some Arabs had joined the Kurds, especially the Assyrian Christians who, hither to have observed a neutral stand regarding the Alawi regime, fearing that a government with a Sunni majority might endanger their religious freedom. Though, unlike other Syrian towns, these demonstrations had not been repressed by force of arms, the Kurdish organisations denounced on 29 April, the raids carried out by the security forces on the homes of several Kurdish activists, especially at Amude. Moreover, in the evening of the same day, all telecommunications (landline and mobile) as well as Internet, were cut off, in Amude, Qamishlo and Derbassiyya. The roads round them were also cut by the security forces. Many activists, mostly young ones, have thus been arrested by surprise and secretly. Indeed, their families and friends have indicated that they had been receiving threats for several days previously if they did not stop their activities. Thus, in Qamishlo, about a dozen people have been arrested, including Imam Abdul Samad Omar, who encouraged and supported the protests during Friday sermons and whose sermons served to rally many of the demonstrators. Another religious dignitary, Sheikh Abdul Qadi Khaznawi, a member of an influential Sufi family, one of whose members had been mysteriously assassinated in 2005 for his stand in support of the Kurds, was also arrested. The Yekiti Party has also reported many arrests amongst its members. Some groups of young Kurds have called for sit-ins in front of police stations until their compatriots have been released.
On 18 April, the High Electoral Council (YSK) declared seven parliamentary candidates supported by the pro- Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) were ineligible to stand for the Turkish General Election. The High Council justified its ban by arguing that “lack of official documents required for taking part in elections” and the fact that several candidates had been condemned for “terrorist activates or links with the PKK”. Among the seven politicians excluded were two sitting members of parliament and Leyla Zana, elected in 1991 who defied the ban on speaking Kurdish by expressing herself in that language while taking her oath in Parliament — resulting inhere spending ten years in prison, from 1994 to 2994. Selahattin Demitas, co-president of the BDP party immediately attacked this ban saying “ This is a serious blow to our already weak democracy. The eviction of Kurdish representatives could lead to a boycott of the elections”. However Selahattin Demirtas added that “all options have been considered, increasing withdrawing all the candidates put forward by our organisation, including those standing as independents”. One unusual fact — this decision of the High Court was condemned by all the Turkish political parties because of the reactions it would have in the Kurdish population, which could lead to a bloody election campaign. Even Mehmet Ali Sahn, Speaker of the National Assembly and member of the ruling AKP party, criticised it saying, “This decision weakens Parliament’s mission”. The decision of the election officials immediately provoked violent clashes in Turkish Kurdistan, where about 400 demonstrators threw stones at the riot police that retaliated with tear gas, water cannons and truncheons. On 20 April the police are said to have fired real bullets, killing one person at Bismil, a suburb of Diyarbekir, and at least two others wounded. A similar demonstration took place at Van, resulting in several injured and a sit-in was organised in Istanbul, in Taksim Square. About 3,000 people took place in this. They were immediately surrounded by several hundred riot police. There were clashes when the crowd marched towards the tents set up by the BDP in the neighbouring quarter of Aksaray. Some groups of young people also attacked underground stations, schools and a post office with stones and Molotov cocktails (according to AFP). The youth groups also targeted buses, cars, fire brigade vehicles and some journalists. The security forces reacted by using tear gas grenades. On 21 April, the funeral took place of the demonstrator who had been killed, Ibrahim Oruç, 21 years of age. Closely watched by riot police units, the procession of demonstrators followed the coffin from the Diyarbekir hospital to Bismil while some young people wearing masks called for revenge and others shouted slogans in support of the PKK rebels. According to AFP, that secured a copy of the autopsy report, the young man had been killed by a bullet that entered him through the Left arm and emerged from his chest, without the origin of the shot being indicated. However, a witness of the clash declared to the same press agency that the police had opened fire on the demonstrators, at first with plastic bullets then with real ones. In all, 160 people were arrested in Diyarbekir and 70 Molotov cocktails and 50 home made bombs were seized according to the government press agency Anatolia. In Istanbul, two home made bombs exploded prematurely in front of the ruling AKP party offices on the 21st, but without causing any casualties. To calm the situation, President Abdullah Gul then called on the High Council to go back on its decision by only mentioning the question of the necessary official documents without raising the question of “links with a terrorist organisation”. “It appears that some of the documents (of the rejected candidates) were incomplete. As they have now been completed there should not be any problems”. Finally the High Council reversed its decision, explaining, in a brief communiqué that “fresh legal documents had been presented during the period of appeal”. Forgetting, in their turn, the question of political links with the PKK, the Turkish magistrates reintegrated the 7 candidates after over 8 hours of discussion. Soon after this announcement, some smaller and peaceful rallies took place in Diyarbekir to celebrate this “victory of the Kurdish streets”. In Istanbul, some BDP sympathisers or members tried, on 22 April, to block the traffic on two bridges crossing the Bosporus, but were dispersed by the police. Unlike President Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan only commented on the “vandalism” at work in the Kurdish provinces and accused the BDP of initiating the demonstrations and the throwing of Molotov cocktails by young Kurds.
A conference organised by the Paris Kurdish Institute took place at the French National Assembly on 16 April. The subject was education in the Kurdish language in those States in which live after the division of their land by the Lausanne treaty, as pointed out in the symposium’s presentation.
“The right of education in the Kurdish language has become the political and cultural demand of the whole of the Kurdish political movements and civil society organisations in Turkey. This right is also demanded by some 12 million Kurds in Iran and 2 million in
Syria. In Iraq, the Constitution recognises Kurdish as an official language on the same footing as Arabic. In the Federated Region of Kurdistan, all the primary and secondary schools teach in the Kurdish language while, in the Universities, some subjects are taught in Kurdish while others (the scientific ones) in English. The linguistic minorities in Kurdistan (Turkomen, Assyro-Chaldeans) have schools that teach in their language.
In Turkey, where, according to estimates by the European Commission, some 15 to 18 million Kurds live, the linguistic question has become a major subject of public debate. In a country that publicly claims its ambition of becoming “a model democracy”, and where the “fortunate Turks” have 150 universities in their own language, their “Kurdish brothers” do not have a single state school or university in their own language. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the course of a visit to Germany, publicly described the assimilationist policy there as a “crime against humanity” but does not say a word about the assimilationist policy systematically practiced against the Kurds by the Turkish Republic since 1920. He demands that Turkish immigrants to Germany learn the Turkish language and culture before learning that of their host country— but does not recognise the same elementary right to his own Kurdish citizens, who live on the land of their ancestors.
This double standards policy is now being discussed not only in Turkey but also in Europe where the German press recently called on Mr. Erdogan to show some consistency by granting the Kurds the same rights as he in demanding for Turkish immigrants in Germany.
In the public debate that is at its height during this pre-election period in Turkey, the Turkish nationalists stay put on the Kemalist dogma of a unitary, homogenous State with only a single language, Turkish, and a single culture. The Kurds demand, for their language and its survival, an equal legal status with Turkish in all fields, including teaching and
public administration — at least in those provinces where the majority of the population is Kurdish. In between there are also liberals and Moslem intellectuals who propose the free use of Kurdish in private and that it be taught as an optional subject in school. Where as most Kurds consider that their only chance of saving their very ancient language, already subjected to decades of erosion and official stifling, and of transmitting it to future generations is through a public education system in Kurdish, many Turks state that this would eventually lead to the partition of the country.
The symposium has as its objective, to bring multifaceted light to this debate, which is of such importance for Turco-Kurdish relations and for democracy in Turkey and in the Near East”.
Along side experts who cited the experiences in multilingualism in Europe (Spain, Scandinavia and Switzerland) and Asia (India) as well as South Africa and Canada and its impact on the stability of these countries, some Turkish and Kurdish public figures of Turkey’s political and cultural life were invited to contribute their opinions and proposals to this debate. Representatives of the European Commission, of the Council of Europe and UNESCO were also invited to this symposium because of the status of Turkey in Europe and also because the issue of threatened languages and cultures is now of universal concern. However, only the Council of Europe was willing to be represented. The first Round Table, presided by Joyce Blau, was devoted to the experience of multilingualism in several cultural areas. It included Ida Bizri, lecturer and responsible for teaching Singhalese at INALCO (Paris); André Poupart,
A Emeritus Professor of Law (Quebec); Xavier Vila I Moreno, Director of the University Centre of Sociology and Communication at Barcelona University (Catalonia); and Reso Zilan, linguist and Professor of Kurdish in Sweden. Xavier Vila i Moreno reported on the polyglot experience of the Catalan region. Fida Bizri, a specialist in Sri Lankan Sinhalese and comparative Indian linguistics described the linguistic situation in India and the various policies set up in India today. André Poupart, outlined the situation of French in Quebec and the linguistic history of French in North Eastern America. He particularly stated that “in many respects, the
Quebecois and the Kurds are brothers without being aware of it”. Reso Zilan described the situation of Kurdish education in Scandinavian counties and especially Sweden, where many Kurds have found asylum, placing the question in the wider context of Sweden’s linguistic policy, where a law allows national minorities to receive education in their mother tongue (Finish, Same, Roma, Yiddish and Efdelian). In addition, there are measures allowing the languages of immigrants to be taught to children of foreign origin — including Kurdish. The Second Round Table covered
“The protection of minority languages in international law”. Presided by Marc Semo (Libération) it brought together Salih Akin, Lecturer at Rouen University, Baskan Oran, political analyst and Professor of International Relations at Sehir University, Istanbul. Professor Baskin summarised the history and the legal and political situation of the Kurdish language in Turkey, while Salih commented on the situation of Kurdish with respect to the European Charter for Minority Languages. The last Round Table, Presided by Kendal Nezan, President of the Kurdish Institute, covered the subject of “Education in Kurdish Problems and Perspectives. It brought together Khaman Z. Asaad, Paris representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Yavuz Onen, Honorary President of Ankara’s Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (THIV), Umit Tektas, Vice-President of the Rights and Freedom Party (HAQPAR), Leyla Zana, former Member of Parliament and winner of the European Union’s 1995 Sakharov. Kendal Nezan began by recalling that a language needed to be taught to avoid it being treated as a form of folklore and then “eroded to death”. He drew a parallel with the history of the Aramaic language in the Middle East.
“Education in the Kurdish language has existed since the 10th and 11th Centuries, in the Madrassas of Kurdistan and has always existed”.
It has produced some outstanding minds, such as Ibn Khallikan, Ibn Al-Athir, Ibn Azrak el-Farqi. The last named wrote the history of the Kurdish Marwanide princes; the first general history of the Ottoman Empire was written by an erudite Kurd, Idris Bitlisis etc. This education system, (banned in 1924) lasted until very recently, which Kurdish and Arabic were first taught before introducing Persian. Today, the banning of the Kurdish language has spread fromTurkey to Syria and Iran. Leyla Zana expressed her conviction that the knowledge of ones language and self-knowledge were indissoluble. The former Member of Parliament tackled the question of the dispersion of the Kurdish language into several dialects and the future of the Kurdish language as a function of the changes taking place in Kurdish society. Formally it had been a “closed” society, in which its members were cut off from the outside world — which, at present is opening to the whole world via new technologies such as Internet and satellite television. Khaman Z. Asaad, Paris representative of Iraqi Kurdistan, threw a light on the situation of the Kurdish language in Kurdistan, a situation that has evolved in parallel with the history of the Kurdish question in Iraq, from the Ottoman Empire to our times. Education in the Kurdish language has always been a demand of the Kurdish liberation movement. Khaman Z. Saad then detailed the present situation of the Kurdish language and the very encouraging support given to minority languages like Turcoman and Syriac, which is a model in Iraq and in the Middle East as a whole.
The director of archaeological excavations of the province of Duhok, Hassan Ahmed, has reported the discovery and excavation of over a hundred prehistoric objects dating from about 200,000 (Middle Palaeolithic) to about 1,000 years B.C. Hassan Ahmed pointed out that this spectacular discovery was the outcome of research on sites carried out over several years in Duhok province. Amongst the most spectacular artefacts are tools for grinding grain and for drilling that go back to the Neolithic (-10,000) a statue in baked earth about 2,200 years old and, especially, 43 lamps, probably used for religious ceremonies. The older tools, dating back to the Middle Palaeolithic (- 200,000 years) were probably used for cutting up animals. These objects, whose dating cover a wide range, were all found in the West of Duhok province and it s probable that not all the sites have been found yet. The most recent finds, which are from the antique period rather than prehistory, go back to the 3rd millennium (about 2000 B.C.
— the period of the “archaic dynasties) to cover about 300 years. This group includes a statue, 8 coins, 34 lamps, pestles and fragments of columns. Another significant group goes back to about 1000 B.C. (the Medio- Assyrian period — the Aramean invasion) includes pestles, and fragments of pottery. The statuettes, carved out of local limestone were locally made, not imported. The director of excavations pointed out that excavations are continuing. The 3 sites being studies going back to the Higher Palaeolithic at the earliest (-70,000 ears). There have been over 700 sites discovered in the region. The region of Iraqi Kurdistan, together with the major sites of Shanidar and Jarmo, were the cradle of a substantial human occupation, firstly by Neanderthals and later by modern homo sapiens. The Higher Palaeolithic was outstanding and the Neolithic village of Jarmo was long considered the most ancient Neolithic settlement known (-5000 years) until supplanted by that of Çattal Hüyük in Anatolia (-6000 years).
Film director Umur Hozatli has just released a film dealing with the murky and bloody history of the JTEM, that special and secret section of the security forces, used as commandoes in the “dirty war” in Turkish Kurdistan. While the Turkish State has always denied the existence of this organisation, Umur Hozatli describes his film, called Azadiya Wenda (Lost Freedom) as “an appeal for facing up”. This is the first film devoted to this black page of history that remains completely unknown by many Turkish citizens. Talking about the reasons that pushed him into making this film, Umur Hozatli recalls that the Kurds had launched an armed struggle, after a long period of subjection and imprisonment. Since then, the Kurdish people has been living periods marked by an enormous tragedy. To ignore this tragedy would ne an enormous error. “I do not want to be one of those who have shut their eyes to this question”. Umur Hozatli’s film has already been screened at several Film Festivals. Its release was limited to two cinema theatres in Istanbul. It has also been screened cinemas in Turkish Kurdistan, Diyarbekir and Batmen. This discreet release can be explained by the burning subject that it tackles such as the extra-judicial executions, the disappearances, and the impunity of the murderers. In an interview with the Internet News channel, Bianet, Umur Hozatli reports his difficulties he had for two years to finance the shooting, which, in the end, he was only able to do by financing it himself. The film begins in Istanbul, in the 1990s, with the kidnapping of a young man, Deniz Sahin, by armed plainclothes men, who later turn out to be members of JTEM, secretly operating within the Gendarmerie. Deniz is taken to an interrogation centre where he is accused of belonging to a “terrorist organisation”. The existence of JTEM has been discussed since 1994, hen the Journalist Ayse Önal succeeded succeeded in establishing the facts by learning them from the very mouths of its founder, Veli KüÇük. After writing her article on the subject, she sent it to the magazine Ates, for which she worked along with nineteen other journalists. Despite persistent denials by the Turkish authorities, it is almost certain that JTEM was used in the struggle against the PKK, sometimes by infiltration, sometimes by spreading terror in Turkish Kurdistan. The organisation is also suspected of initiating bomb attacks and murders attributed to the guerrillas, like the bomb attack at Semdinli in 2005 to try and legitimise the Turkish Army presence and incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan. Abdulkadir Aygem, former member of the PKK, “turned round” by JTEM, who then fled to Sweden, indicated, in a later confession, that about 600 to 700 Kurds were assassinated by JTEM during the 90s. JTEM is, of course, linked to the Ergenekon organisation. Tuncay Gürney, former member of Ergenekon, who also fled, but to Canada this time, has also spoken about the mass graves in which the bodies of several hundreds of Kurds, partially decomposed by acid, were hidden near Silopi, on the Turkish-Iraqi borders, or in pits between Sirnak and Cizre. Umur Hozatl? was born in 1969 in the town or Dersim, He began his career as a journalist in 1992, working for the pro-Kurdish papers Ozgur, Gündem, Özgür Ülke, Yeni Politika, Demokrasi, Özgür Bak?? and Yeni Gündem, as journalist, editor and editorial writer