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Middle East Monica Dispatch

The PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, and the "Kurdish Problem" in Turkey: Breaking Violence Apart, Replacing it with Love
March 18, 2000

Great to see you. Why don't you step on in and make yourself comfortable? I'm here in the sauna room at the Hotel Keravansaray, in Diyarbakir. I know it's a little steamy and I can't really see you. But it's a welcome change from the windchilled air and the light snow falling outside, isn't it? I'm relaxing here for a day after some hard travel throughout the whole southeastern region of Turkey. Come on in. Close the door behind you so the steam doesn't get out!

Click image for larger view
Ever hear of Diyarbakir? Leyla Zana comes from here. She was elected to Parliament before she was put into prison for being outspoken about Kurdish rights. The reason for her arrest and imprisonment was because of the highly political "Kurdish Problem" here in Turkey. Kurds, a separate people who live here in the southeast and in Syria, Iran and Iraq, are considered a "problem" by the Turkish government, which tries to deny their political, cultural and linguistic rights. Can you think of a similar situation in your own country, where individuals from a minority population are punished and ignored?

Now, the problem here is definitely much more complicated. For instance, you've probably heard of the PKK and... What? You want me to put more water on the hot stones? Okay, okay, here's the water -ssssssssssssss- and there's the steam. Comfortable? I know it's a break from your busy day, so sit back and enjoy yourself... Where was I? Right, the PKK. That's an acronym for the Marxist Leninist Kurdistan Workers Party. Their original goal was to form "Kurdistan" (land of the Kurds) as a separate state for Kurds in southeastern Turkey. Some call them terrorists because they have been known to commit violent acts, like blowing up a department store in Istanbul last year which killed 13 people. A friend of mine in Ankara says that some Turks mix up "PKK, Kurdish, and terrorist" and think they all mean the same thing. They're not. Last February, the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan (pronounced O-chalan) was arrested. He was sentenced to death on charges of treason last November, and now waits for justice alone in a cell on Imrali Island. From jail he called for the PKK to ,stop using violent methods in the armed struggle, and is now asking for help to work for Kurdish rights "within the framework of peace and democratization." This might just work: there are 37 elected Kurdish mayors, and they may lead their constituents in nonviolent alternatives. For more information on the political process, read Jasmine's article about visiting HADEP, a party working for true democracy.

Ever since Ocalan asked for this, the number of violent attacks has gone down. The move towards peace takes baby steps. I would like to think it's all about peace and love, baby. In fact, lean in so I can share a little secret with you...personally, I'm IN love with somebody. It's finally happened for me too! But I can't tell you his name. (It's hidden somewhere in this dispatch, though.) Personally, I think we all just need to love each other. But I guess it's not as easy as all that. The PKK isn't the only group involved with the struggle. The Turkish government has also been involved in the violence, using helicopters and guns to suppress the Kurdish people. Most of the 37,000 lives lost during this fifteen-year conflict have been Kurdish. More than 3,000 Kurdish villages have been burned, and the number of evacuated villagers is approximately 560,000. To feel what it's like to be uprooted from your house, just ask Manar, who is in a similar situation in Palestine.

"State of emergency" is the condition that's been in effect here and in four other provinces for the last fifteen years. While it's calm and peaceful here inside the sauna, outside it's still uneasy. For instance, on the buses, Abeja and I had our passports checked four times in one day by soldiers monitoring people's movement. A "state of emergency" declaration means the regional governor can restrict the press, remove persons "deemed detrimental to public order" and order villagers to evacuate their homes. We feel okay about reporting to you and aren't afraid of being evacuated, but for locals it's still difficult. A red-and-green striped flag flies in the street outside the market (if you add yellow, you get the Kurdish colors), but just last week, three HADEP mayors--including Mr. Feridun Celik, the mayor here--were arrested for "separatism." They were later released, but there was no real reason for their detention, except to threaten them.


linguistic - related to languages
acronym - a word formed by combining initial letters or parts of a series of wordsconstituent
constituent - a resident of a district or member of a group represented by an elected official.
suppress - to put an end to forcibly; subdue
detrimental - causing damage or harm
separatism - a belief in, movement for, or state of separation

I play a part in this too, because I'm an American and my country gives military aid to the Turkish army. United States companies sell Blackhawk helicopters (from Sikorsky Corporation in Connecticut) and rocket-equipped Cobras (from Bell Textron in Fort Worth) to the Turkish government. We also give Turkey our third-largest military aid package, after Israel and Egypt. So we're supporting this whole situation! And you Europeans in the sauna with us, be advised: the European Union is considering Turkey for EU admission, but only if Turkey will stop abusing human rights and FIND A SOLUTION to Kurdish needs and rights.

"Violence is not a solution. Violence will neither transform Kurds into Turks nor enable Kurds to attain their rights."
—Declaration of Writers, Nobel Laureates, and Artists, October, 1999 demanding a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish Question

Links to Companies Involved

So what can be done? US Assistant Secretary of State Harold Hangju Koh says that the Kurds seek only to speak their own language and live within their own culture, and he calls on Turkish Prime Minister Ecevit and President Demirel "to continue with fundamental approaches to the problem that are based on reconciliation with the Kurds." Reconciliation means understanding the issue, realizing the wrong in it, and then working towards a solution. As youth, you can 1) learn more about the issue using the link list below and 2) write the companies involved and your representative to Congress to tell them what you think about using a method besides violence to end conflict.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Monica - Leyla Zana's Case: Seeking Justice in an Unjust Situation
Abeja - Is This What They Mean by "the Rock of Ages"?
Abeja - What's for dinner?
Kavitha - Rags & Riches
Team - A Time to Acknowledge, A Time to Forgive
Team - Amnesty International fights for Human Rights in the United States

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