A New Publication by Blue Crane Books
February 2, 2002
Watertown, Massachusetts – Blue Crane Books has announced the publication of “Prison No. 5: Eleven Years in the Turkish Jail” by Mehdi Zana, a Kurdish leader and the former mayor of Diyarbakir, principal Kurdish town in Turkey. Part of Blue Crane Books Human Rights and Democracy Series, this book is the author’s account of the dreadful terror and brutality of prison life in Turkey, with a preface by the renown Holocaust scholar, Elie Wiesel, and an extensive postscript by the director of Institute Kurde de Paris, Kendal Nezan.
An independent candidate, Mehdi Zana was elected by popular vote as the first Kurdish mayor of a major city during the 1977 elections in Turkey. Surprised by the election results, the Turkish government resolved to thwart this experiment, which it judged as dangerous by its popularity. But it was not until the coup of 1980 that the opportunity presented itself.
“On September 12, 1980, under the pretext of restoring law and order,” writes Mehdi Zana, “the army provoked another coup with its customary brutality. Parliament was dissolved, and the political parties, associations, and unions were banned…The army and police started arresting, according to a system of concentric circles, members of Parliament, ministers, heads of political parties, unions, municipal governments, academics, legal or illegal militant organizations, and journalists – in brief, all elements that seemed undesirable and harmful to the ideal Kemalist Republic.” On September 24, twelve days after the coup, Mehdi Zana was arrested and jailed.
“Overwhelming on a political scale and humanly intolerable, this desperate and appalling testimony of the Kurdish leader Mehdi Zana is especially so when it discusses the recent history of the 1970s and the 1980s,” writes Elie Wiesel in his preface. “Solitary confinement, guards’ insults, the obligation to salute the captain’s dog, the beatings, the sleep deprivation, the falaka, the fainting, the trampling, the electrodes attached to genitals, German shepherds trained to bite the private parts of naked prisoners. How does one understand? How can we explain the institutionalization of these brutalities, this humiliation, this dehumanization?”
A prominent figure in the Kurdish community, Mehdi Zana has always pursued a conciliatory approach to the resolution of the Kurdish question. In a statement to the European Parliament in 1992 he said, “Like all the Kurds sentenced for the ‘crime of separatism’ I have been stripped of my political rights for life ..I should, perhaps, make it clear that while I continue to campaign peacefully for the recognition of the rights of the 15 million Kurds living in Turkey, I am not part of any party or movement.”
Professor Vahakn N. Dadrian, the leading expert on the subject of the Armenian Genocide and the author of “German Responsibility In The Armenian Genocide” writes about Prison No. 5: “In this graphic account of barbarism, one is struck by the persistence and survival of a culture of torture. In the very inferno of the lethal elements of that culture, the intellectuals, teachers, clergymen, political and other leaders of the Armenian community in Ottoman Turkey were mercilessly done to death by the perpetrators of the World War I Armenian Genocide…In this gripping details of Kurdish resistance against these unabating cruelties of the State Security functionaries and prison guards, one cannot help but discern another macabre similarity. Like many Armenians in World War I, a number of incarcerated Kurds are described as victims of unspeakable torture methods as a result of which the subjects are seen resorting to grisly acts of self-immolation – out of despair, but also heroic defiance. This book is another link in the chain of countless links documenting the historically unchanging lesson that the impunity accruing to the past authors of a crime of mass murder is that crime’s own reward. At the same time, the book is an implicit but abiding indictment of the civilized world predictably allowing such impunity over a long period of time.”
In an extensive postscript, Kendal Nezan provides historical perspective and political analysis. He concludes with the following:
“Bogged down in a bloody war in Kurdistan that it is financing, at least in part, by drug trafficking, Turkey is going through the greatest economic, social, and political crisis in its history. Its political system has broken down; its political caste, lacking in breadth of vision, is disunited and in disarray. Repeating its warnings about the Islamists, the army is again proclaiming itself the guardian of the Republic and ultimate master of all power. The army bans any initiative, any ideas about a settlement of the Kurdish problem. The Turkish regime is locking itself into a purely military approach.
“Yet the generals know that there is no military solution to the Kurdish question…Population growth, geography, and history all argue in favor of the search for a political solution that would allow Kurds and Turks to live together within a democracy that would respect the rights and identity of each people…
“With the war raging in Kurdistan, Turkey has been driven into the most serious economic, social, and moral crisis of its history. The Turkish regime has entered a new era of ideological glaciation, confronting its 15 million Kurdish citizens with a terrible choice: forced assimilation, that is, renouncing their identity; revolt; prison; or exile. Once again the official voices have been asserting that there is no Kurdish problem in Turkey but rather one of terrorism, fomented abroad. Parliamentary representative Coskun Kirca, a self-proclaimed interpreter of this new atmosphere, declared in plain language, on March 3, 1994, at a House hearing, to applause from his peers: ‘The Kurds only have a single right in this country: that of being quiet.’…The Kurdish land has lived forty-eight of its last seventy-one years under special regimes, states of siege, and martial law – a sort of no-law zone left to the goodwill of the Turkish generals.
“All this is happening in a state that is a member of NATO and the Council of Europe, a close ally of the United States, associated with the European Union, a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and to the Charter of Paris, which is supposed to guarantee freedom of opinion and of association, as well as the right of minorities to preserve their identity. That state tortures its Kurdish population with the financial, political, and military aid of Western democracies, indifferent to public opinion. Mehdi Zana’s book is an outcry – his own outcry and that of his tortured people. Will it break the wall of silence surrounding the Kurdish tragedy in Turkey and shake our consciousness on the abominable practices of our ‘Turkish friends and allies’?”
After serving eleven years in the notorious military prison in Diyarbakir, Mehdi Zana was released in 1991 following a conditional amnesty, only to be sentenced again in 1994 to four more years and in 1997 to ten more months of imprisonment for his testimony to the European Parliament Human Rights Sub-Committee and for publishing a poetry book, respectively. Mehdi Zana’s wife, Leyla Zana – a Noble Peace Prize candidate and winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom – is one of the six Kurdish deputies in Turkey who were charged with “separatism”, stripped of their parliamentary immunity, and arrested in March 1994. She is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence in Ankara Prison.
Prison No. 5 may be purchased at local bookstores or ordered directly from the publisher:
Blue Crane Books
P.O. Box 291
Cambridge, MA 02238
Tel: (617) 926-8989
Fax: (617) 926-0982