Wednesday, July 2, 1997
Ann Bozell: In Washington, an effort is underway to secure the release of
Leyla Zana. She is the first Kurdish woman ever elected to the Turkish
Parliament, and is currently serving a 15 year sentence for treason. A group
called the American Kurdish Information Network is working with some
members of Congress to collect signatures on a letter to President Clinton,
urging him to press for Leyla Zana’s release. Noah Weiss is a spokesman for
the Kurdish group. He says Mrs. Zana is a political prisoner.
Noah Weiss: One of the main charges against her was her testimony before
the U.S. Congress, in which she testified regarding human rights violations
in Turkey. She was an elected member of Parliament. She received 84 % of
the vote in 1991 and, as a member of Parliament, she spoke out for Kurdish
rights. Her speeches were considered acts of treason. They were considered in
violation of the unity of the state, and the Anti-Terror Law in Turkey.
Bozell: And now, she is serving a fifteen year sentence on those charges of
treason. Why is there a move in the United States to try to request her
Weiss: Well, Turkey is a very valuable ally. We give more military aid to
Turkey than any other country in the world excluding Israel and Egypt. The
United States should be concerned as to who these arms are going to. We
need to make sure that if we are going to be giving arms to Turkey, it is a
stable, democratic government.
Bozell: Now, I understand there are several members of Congress who are
leading an effort to try to get Leyla Zana released. Who’s involved with that
Weiss: Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse of Oregon, Congressman John
Edward Porter of Illinois, Congressman Esteban Torres of California, and
Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia. They were the four who initiated the
letter in the House [of Representatives].
Bozell: And what exactly does this letter say?
Weiss: It’s asking members to sign a letter to President Clinton urging him to
raise Leyla Zana’s case at the highest level with the Turkish authorities and
request her “immediate and unconditional release” from prison in Turkey.
Bozell: And how many members of Congress have signed on to this [letter]
in addition to the four who initiated the effort?
Weiss: So far, there have been 52 other members who have signed on, for a
total of 56.
Bozell: And when do you expect the letter to go to President Clinton?
Weiss: I believe in three to four weeks. We hope to get more members of
Congress on board before we send the letter to the President.
Bozell: Now, is it the members of Congress who are initiating this [effort] or
is it your organization who is pushing this?
Weiss: It is a joint effort. Congresswoman Furse has expressed concern on
the House floor several times before regarding Leyla Zana. Congressman
Porter has expressed concern regarding Turkey’s oppression of its Kurdish
minority. Our organization has worked with them to try and bring to light
some of these violations.
Bozell: Noah Weiss is a spokesman for the American Kurdish Information
Network, which is based in Washington, DC.