Tuesday, October 22, 1996
Today, October 23, 1996, the Turkish State Security Court will open
its trial in Ankara of 41 members of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People’s
Democracy Party, HADEP. Nuh Mete Yuksel, the prosecutor for the Turkish
government, wants to see the top officials of this party, including its
president, Murat Bozlak, behind bars for as many as 22 years.
Unless a miracle happens, the accused will witness the curtailment of
their civil liberties for years to come. They will join the ranks of thousands of
others in Turkey who have been forced into prisons because they desire to
make the country they love a better place for all.
The trial is unprecedented in the history of the Turkish republic. It
owes its origins to an incident that took place on June 23, 1996, the
convention day for the HADEP followers. Some 30,000 people, mostly Kurds,
had gathered in Ankara to elect new officers and a president.
According to various accounts, a masked youth lowered the Turkish
flag that was hung on the wall of the hall. Turkish reporters videotaped the
incident and played the scene for days to come. Turhan Dayan, the Education
Minister denounced the act and decreed the last week of June 1996, as “Flag
Week.” Homes, businesses and government offices were ordered to fly flags.
On the convention floor itself, the act was denounced as well. The
fallen flag was raised and hung on the podium facing the crowd. This gesture
unfortunately was not noted in the Turkish press. The business of the day,
the election of the various party members was completed. Murat Bozlak, the
former president of HADEP was elected to the top job unopposed. As the
convention delegates were getting ready to leave, the Turkish police closed
the exits and arrested 70 individuals, the highest ranking party officials,
including the president elect.
To those not familiar with Turkish politics, the response of the
authorities may seem unduly harsh. It is not something that one would
expect to see in a country that claims to be a democracy, flaunts its
membership in NATO as an invaluable asset, and insists that it be accepted
into the European Union because as Turkey’s foreign Minister Tansu Ciller
put it recently at a Washington National Press Club briefing, Turkey’s
institutions of civil society are more robust than the newly liberated countries
in Eastern Europe.
And yet the flag incident is a page out of pre Ceausescu Romania. A
political party that advocates a peaceful solution to the Kurdish-Turkish
conflict is silenced on the flimsiest of charges, forcing millions of its members
to lose faith in the efficacy of the democratic change. Wronging so blatantly a
party with millions of followers bodes ill for the growth of pluralism in the
multi ethnic Turkey.
HADEP is the third Kurdish political party in Turkey to be pushed into
the abyss. On June 7, 1990, the Kurds formed the People’s Labor Party, HEP, to
voice their political aspirations through elected office. After a tumultuous
start, with 18 members elected to serve in the Turkish parliament, the party
was forced to shut down its doors on July 14, 1993.
A successor Kurdish party, the Democracy Party, DEP was formed. That
too was targeted by the authorities. Mehmet Sincar, an elected member of
DEP was murdered on September 4, 1994. Four of his friends, Leyla Zana,
Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak were tried in State Security court
each receiving sentences of fifteen years in jail. Six others, anticipating arrests
and lengthy prison terms, fled the country and sought refuge in Europe as
political refugees. The remaining deputies simply resigned or changed parties
lest they too be an address to a merciless bullet. RIP sign went up for the
second Kurdish party on June 16, 1994.
Anticipating the pending closure of their party, the Kurds had formed a
new party, HADEP, on May 11, 1994. When Murat Bozlak addressed the
HADEP convention for the second time as a free man, he spoke of the
murder of 105 Kurdish and Turkish party members by shadowy groups since
June 7, 1990. These Kurds and Turks believed in the democratic process but
were silenced by the guns of assassins. The day after his arrest, three of the
returning HADEP delegates were also murdered just outside of Kayseri on
their way home to the troubled southeast.
Violence begets more violence. Kurds who make up 25 to 30 % of the
country’s population, are becoming impatient with the abuse of their duly
elected representatives. Some have retreated into cynicism. Others are
supporting the armed struggle, the Kurdish rebels, the PKK.
The claim that the institutions of civil society are robust in Turkey
proper may be true but in Turkish Kurdistan they are definitely not working.
Amnesty International recently undertook a worldwide campaign to
highlight the abuses that are taking place in the country. Pierre Sane,
Secretary General of AI startled his Turkish hosts on October 1, 1996, in
Istanbul, Turkey when he asked, “Why doesn’t the Turkish Government take
steps to protect its citizens from its security forces? The international
intergovernmental organizations also have a responsibility here: the Council
of Europe, the Organizations for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE)
and the United Nations (UN) know what Amnesty International knows
about torture, killing[s] and disappearance[s] – why do they choose not to act?”
The name of the United States government should have been on the
list as well. Washington is the principal supplier of arms to Ankara. And yet,
at the State Department the word is: “Business As Usual.”