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Middle East Jasmine Dispatch

Monica and Jasmine Detained by "Police" - Just a Typical Day for Turkish Human Rights Workers
March 15, 2000

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Turkey should be advancing not settling for discriminatory policies, and oppressive practices. The portrait of Leyla Zena, a Kurdish member of parliament - and now a political prisoner, is a sad reminder that there is still a ways to go.
Out of nowhere, three men in plain clothes pulled up in a car alongside us. They jumped out and flashed what looked like police badges. We were being detained -- but why?

Monica and I were in a section of Ankara (Turkey's capital city) called Balgat for a morning meeting and interview with Ahmed Turan Demri, President of HADEP-the People's Democracy Party. Our meeting, which was a great success, had just concluded, and we had an hour to kill before lunch. We decided to scout the town for treats: Turkish delights and fresh figs stuffed with walnuts have become personal favorites! They were the topic of conversation as we crossed the street -- until three men were suddenly blocking our way.

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The theme of human rights spans borders and races -- the Odyssey has linked with HADEP to further that cause through education
I was immediately suspicious that these men were imposters and not real police. The frightening thing was that I'd just read an article about robbers posing as cops the night before. The two scenarios discussed in the article were still fresh in my mind, and this seemed all too familiar. The men were in a regular car-not a police car-and the "officer" who volunteered his identification flashed his badge so quickly that it seemed like he had something to hide. These are things you only read about, I thought in disbelief. I couldn't believe my eyes. What would we do?

The "officers" demanded our passports or some other form of identification. We had our passports and could have handed them over, but as we exchanged glances Monica's eyes told me she was leery. Mine must have displayed a similar message because we both began to explain how we'd left our passports at the hotel. Monica offered her state-issued ID card instead, and I looked on as the men copied down her address, birth date and every other bit of information on the card.

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The HADEP offices are under around the clock surveillance. The police saw us enter the building and tried to intimidate us so as to prevent HADEP from securing international support of any kind.
Then they turned to me. I dreaded the thought of them robbing us after they finished with the "formalities" of the stop, so I asked if they would come back with us to the HADEP office, where we could find someone to translate and explain to us what was going on. They said no. Then I asked what would happen if I didn't give them my ID.They said they would take us into the station. With no other choice, I gave them my ID. They copied it down, jumped in the car and sped off just as fast as they had appeared. Flustered, upset and confused, Monica and I walked back to the office for our lunch appointment.

Monica and I joined the group with a sigh of relief, thankful for Kurdish hospitality and the lunch invitation we had received. We immediately explained what had happened to Hanan, one of the women working on the Party's Women's Commission. I don't know if I was expecting a shocked reaction or condolence, but we got neither. "All in a day's work" was the look on her face, as she smiled nonchalantly. "They were trying to threaten you, for us to know they are watching," she said.

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A traditional Kurdish lunch with HADEP leaders and Swedish allies who are implementing strategic plans for change. "Cliche speeches are nice," said Orjan Svedberg, "we want to see that the work is done."
After all that HADEP has endured, I can understand how tame our little encounter must have seemed. Over 100 of the organization's members have been murdered. Even today, many of its members work in fear of disappearing or being killed. Our experience with the police pales in comparison - but it was enough to bring the struggle to a new light for me. Monica and I are random visitors at HADEP. If they're keeping tabs on us, I can only imagine what they do to HADEP leaders. From talking to President Turan, I would never have presumed their situation to be so intense. His message conveyed one of hope and of growth.

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Despite the potential danger faced with affiliation to the Party, HADEP leaders and volunteers stand strong, willing to "struggle for peace," at all costs.
This is a pivotal time for Turkey. Its leaders recognize the struggle now underway as Turkey makes moves to become a democracy. Turkey is a constitutional republic with a multi-party parliament, called the Turkish Grand National Assembly, which elects Turkey's president. But in order to gain entry to the European Union (EU), Turkey must make certain changes in its parliamentary structure, political accountability and in how it treats its minorities, especially the Kurds.

Think back to the era when the United States was being shaped. Think back to the struggles they faced. Fahri and other volunteers explained how similar their struggle is to the plight of Blacks in America when the United States was being formed. Institutionalized racism and discrimination are what they're fighting against. Equal rights and fair treatment are what they demand.

Can you imagine being alive to witness the birth of a nation? Well, we're here, and it's happening now. Our grandparents witnessed Turkish independence in 1923, when the country was born by throwing off the yoke of the Ottoman Empire. Now, 77 years later, we follow as Turkey continues to grow and take its place as a rising nation. Communities around the world are watching as Turkey takes steps toward reaching its goals.

At the forefront of the Turkish political agenda is the Kurdish conflict. Since the formation of the Republic under Ataturk, Turkey has held on tightly to its ethnic nationalism - at the cost of excluding non-Turkish peoples. This was thought at the time to be a necessary strategy: the country was a fledgling and very vulnerable.

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Is it ever alright
for a country to violate or limit
the rights of some of its citizens?

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and see what others wrote!

Today, pro-democracy and pro-human rights leaders such as HADEP President Turan argue that none of those concerns remain relevant in today's Republic, and that Turkey should be advancing, rather than settling for discriminatory policies and oppressive practices. HADEP is wrongly labeled a "Kurdish party" because of the strong stance it has taken on the Kurdish people's struggle. Mr. Turan explained that HADEP is working toward securing equality for all the peoples of Turkey. He is hopeful that Turkey will join the democratic world despite the great losses faced by his party. "The people of the Middle Eastern region have been suffering since ancient times," he said. "Stability is the key." He explained that unless things change now, Turkey will pass these age-old struggles on to the next generation.


leery - wary or suspicious
institutionalized - as part of public policy
yoke - a symbol of subjection or slavery
fledgling - something without experience, like a young bird

President Turan encourages youth to be "sensible and willing to struggle for peace." Education must be "anti-racist-pushing toward the equality of all people, impressing the need for human rights around the world," and not for a select few. In order to see the struggle for peace through to the demise of discriminatory policies against Kurds and other oppressed minorities in Turkey, young people need only be courageous enough to follow the example before them. HADEP and its leaders demonstrate an undying dedication to the party's mission, but also to the global principle of human rights, no matter race, creed or color. This is a lesson every nation faces. Turkey has the opportunity to make a statement to the world by mending its ways. As President Turan said, "That is what the whole of the civilized and free world expects from Turkey today."


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Brian - If These Walls Could Speak
Kavitha - Different Places, Same Problems
Abeja - Deal of the Centuries: Abeja Sells You a Hole in the Ground
Team - Speak Your Mindů..The Kurdish Conflict
Team - Amnesty International fights for Human Rights in the United States

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