Saturday, October 19, 1996
The Turkish newspaper headlines read, “twelve,” a reference to the
number of inmates who were dying due to hunger strikes over prison
conditions in the days leading to the agreement of July 28, 1996. The night
before, on July 27, 1996, the Turkish Justice Minister Sevket Kazan would
agree to end the impasse between his government and the prisoners by giving
in to their demands.
The papers also noted the guarded jubilation of the Kurdish and
Turkish crowds who had gathered at the gates of Turkish prisons across the
country. Dampening their enthusiasm for the good news was the statement
by the Justice Minister himself: “This night [July 27, 1996] this thing had to
finish and everyone should be happy.” He was making a reference to the
birth of prophet Muhammad in Mecca some 1400 hundreds years ago. The
pious Turkish Muslim Minister wanted to do good.
For the relatives of the twelve inmates who became a pile of bones and
dry-skin the birth of prophet Muhammad was 6 days too late. A Reuters wire
report had noted the death of the first Turkish inmate as early as July 21, 1996.
It took eleven more deaths and the lapse of countless agonizing hours for
Minister Kazan and his government to come up with an historically
“meaningful” date for an end to the most serious hunger strike in the history
of the Turkish republic.
This was a heavy blow to the image that Turkey wishes to convey to
the world outside of its borders. Claims that, “Few countries are changing
faster or more positively than Turkey,” a phrase from a paid Turkish
advertisement in the Washington Post, are sounding hallow with news of
untimely and horrible deaths of Kurdish and Turkish political prisoners.
New evidence of atrocities is surfacing with an alarming rate.
When the crisis was over, people across the country were grateful
especially to the prominent writer, Yasar Kemal, the popular musician, Zulfu
Livaneli, and a member of the Turkish parliament, Mukadder Basegmez, for
bridging the gap between the inmates and the Minister representing the
government. They had worked tirelessly to stop the pain and the sufferings
of the inmates and their families. Even before they could rest on their
laurels, they were asked to tackle the larger Turkish crisis, the Kurdish
question, for an equally auspicious ending.
Recent developments in the Kurdish region of Turkey put the
prospects of a peaceful resolution of the conflict beyond the realm of
possibility. When many in Turkey thought the crisis of the prisoners were
over, the news about the raid in the notorious Diyarbakir prison hit the
papers with the death of ten additional Kurdish inmates, apparently killed, by
the members of the Turkish security forces on September 25, 1996. Many
others, badly beaten, were taken to the hospital listed in critical condition.
Death is becoming a way of life in Turkey. The Turkish Human Rights
Foundation notes that 17.4 people die of political violence on a daily basis.
On October 1, 1996, as the Amnesty International launched its worldwide
campaign to highlight the human rights abuses in Turkey, the wire reports
noted another story, again from Diyarbakir, this time about the death of four
school teachers at Hantepe, a Kurdish village, in the heart of the troubled
The ever obedient Turkish press quoted Necati Bilican, the super
Governor of the Kurdish emergency region, by saying that these teachers were
killed by the Kurdish rebels. The foreign journalists, mostly discouraged and
sometimes outright barred from the region, reiterated the same line by
accusing the members of the ARGK, the People’s Liberation Army of
Kurdistan fighters of the atrocious deed.
On the same day, the BBC Radio had the commander of Turkish
Kurdish forces Cemil Bayik on the air to comment on the nature of the
Turkish accusations that his forces had committed the killings. Mr. Bayik
categorically denied the charges. He accused the Turkish government of
complicity in the murders. He stated that the government forces had
committed this dirty deed to coincide with the Amnesty campaign to portray
itself as a victim in the Kurdish-Turkish conflict. He ended his statement:
“We are a signatory to the Geneva Conventions; our forces are under strict
orders not to kill civilians.”
Millions of Kurds who tune to the BBC Radio for their world news,
heard their side of the story. The Turkish radio, television and the print
media for days played the government line accused the rebels of the atrocious
misdeed for their listeners. Lost in these barrages of accusations are the daily
concerns of average Kurds and average Turks who pay a price sometimes
with their lives to be citizens of a country ruled by individuals who refuse to
hear the voices of reason.
Writers, such as Yasar Kemal, who have gone on record for calling this
war an organized crime, who are adored both by the Turks and the Kurds and
who represent the conscience of the country need to be heard in this Kurdish-
In the meantime, is anyone aware of an important day in the life of
prophet Muhammad or any other sage for an auspicious beginning in
Turkey’s most serious crisis, the Kurdish question, since its inception?