October, 1999

Editor’s note: The following declaration was signed by a number of prominent international writers and artists, including a number of nobel laureates, all of whom demand a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish Question. The letter will be distributed to heads of state at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) summit in Istanbul, Turkey this November.


The 20th century, one of the bloodiest centuries in human history, is about to end. In these last days one question haunts people: will the 21st century be as bloody as the previous one?

Our response is a categorical “no!” The new century and the peoples of the new century have the obligation to reject every imaginable discrimination, to show respect to anyone and everyone and to fight for freedom.

We, writers and artists whose signatures appear below, wish to see Turkey as an exemplary country in matters of human rights and democracy in the new century. Turkey, which we see as an integral part of the civilized world, is capable of taking important steps in pursuit of these issues.

It is common knowledge that in the fields of human rights and democracy, Turkey has serious problems. Even Turkish government officials admit to this fact. The most important of these problems is the Kurdish question. Because of her failure to solve this problem adequately, Turkey can neither take the desired steps in matters of human rights nor achieve full democracy. We believe that Turkey has the power to solve the Kurdish problem in a civilized manner. None of the concerns of 1923, felt by the young Turkish Republic, which rose over the remains of the Ottoman Empire, are valid today. Today, the Kurds, numbering approximately 15 million in Turkey only, are essential citizens of Turkey. The Kurds only demand to preserve their language and cultural identity and to live within the unity of the Turkish Republic as free citizens; to read and write and be educated in Kurdish; to live, work and serve while preserving their distinct identity and culture.

It is well known that since 1923, Kurdish has been outlawed as a language for education, teaching and communication; that the Kurds have been consistently suppressed; that because of matters of language and identity countless individuals have been arrested and punished; that thousands, tens of thousands of towns, villages, hamlets, mountains, and valleys and hills have had their names changed to render them as Turkish; that since 1923 there have been serious political efforts in pursuit of Turkism; that, on occasions, Kurds were called “Mountain Turks”; and that the Constitution and other codes of law have supported these policies. It is also known that none of these measures have been very effective, that Kurds did not become Turks, that the Kurdish problem has not been resolved. The blood- soaked and prohibitively costly events of the last 15 years corroborate these facts: Violence is not a solution. Violence will neither transform Kurds into Turks nor enable Kurds to attain their rights.

Now, in a democratic step that will be an example to the whole world and the new century, Turkey must solve the Kurdish problem and embrace her Kurdish citizens in their own right. We believe that such a democratic and civilized step forward will immensely strengthen Turkey economically, socially, and culturally. Kurdish is oneof the richest languages of the Mesopotamian civilization. It has a rich classic literature as well as a varied musical tradition and a blooming modern literature. The very ancient history and cultural heritage of the Kurds belong to us all.

Instead of being denied or belittled, these riches must be included as a dynamic part of Turkey’s wealth. Kurds, who, throughout history, have constituted a third of the mosaic of peoples of Anatolia, must no longer face discrimination; they must be given back their human rights and dignity so that Kurdish can, once again, become a language of education and learning. The need for Kurdish radio and television must be recognized. The rights of Kurdish language, culture and identity must be given constitutional guarantees. All legal measures against Kurdish language, culture, music and identity must be expunged. That is what the whole of the civilized and free world expects from Turkey today.

Starting from the President, Prime Minister, the parliament and the government, we appeal to all those in authority; please save Turkey from its shame. While you tend to the wounds of the earthquake which has saddened all of us, please tend also to the social wounds that have been bleeding for over 70 years. Make Turkey, in the 21st century, a civilized and democratic country, a country that respects human rights and cultural identity.

Yasar Kemal,  Ahmet Altan,  Zulfu Livaneli, Orhan Pamuk, Mehmed Uzun

Adonis, Bibi Anderson, Homero Aridjis, Margaret Atwood, Maurice Bejart, Ingmar Bergman, John Berger, Suzanne Brogger, Adriaan van Dis, Mahmud Doulatabadi, Margaret Drabble, Kerstin Ekman, Richard Falk, Moris Farhi, Lady Antonia Fraser, Costa Gavras, Nadine Gordimer, Juan Goytisolo, Gunter Grass, Sir David Hare, Ronald Harwood, Michael Higgins, Erland Josephson, Yoram Kanluk, Jaan Kaplinski, Nikos Kasdaglis, Gyorgy Konrad, Jack Lang, Alberto Manguel, Adam Michnik, Arthur Miller, Kai Nieminen, Elisabeth Nordgren, William Nygaard, Monika van Paemel, Harold Pinter, Herbert Pundik, Claude Regy, Klaus Rifbjerg, Bernice Rubens, Arne Ruth, Johannes Salminen, Antonis Samarakis, Jose Saramago, Kirsti Simonsuuri, Thorvald Steen, Oliver Stone, Sigmund Stromme, Birgitta Trotzig, Liv Ullmann, Andre Velter, Gunter Wallraf, Elie Wiesel, Per Wastberg, Georg Henrik von Wright

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