November 9, 1999

The Honorable William J. Clinton
The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

In the history of nations, there sometimes comes a rare opportunity to choose peace rather than war, democracy rather than oppression. That time is at hand for Turkey and the 20 million Kurds within its borders.

When you address Turkey’s Grand National Assembly in Ankara on November 15, I ask that you fulfill our national duty to join with a courageous group of Kurdish and Turkish leaders moving to end a civil war of 15 years and to herald a dawn of peace with human rights for their country.

After 15 years of war, the armed resistance forces of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) not only unilaterally ended their military struggle on September 1, 1999, but also took an even bolder initiative for peace one month later.

Choosing the road of nonviolence, two Kurdish Peace Delegations of PKK leaders made Freedom Rides to Turkey, following the example of our Freedom Riders almost four decades ago and voluntarily placed themselves in the hands of authorities known for use of torture and assassination.

Other Kurdish leaders, who have throughout this tragic conflict adhered to the high ideal of nonviolence, continue to pay freedom’s price. Leyla Zana, elected in 1991 to represent her Kurdish constituency in the same Parliament you are about to address, has spent the last five years in Ankara Closed Prison along with her Parliamentary colleagues Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak, and Orhan Dogan.

Why is such a woman in prison? Her “terrorist crimes” included taking her oath of office not only in Turkish but in her own Kurdish — classified and banned as a “foreign” language — declaring that she did this “for the brotherhood of the Turkish and Kurdish peoples.” As a guest of the United States Congress, she likewise expressed the yearning of her people for peace and basic cultural rights.

A courageous Turkish official has recently stepped forward to advance the cause of democracy. Presiding Judge Sami Selcuk of the Turkish Court of Appeals declared on September 6, that the Constitution of 1982, imposed by the military after the brutal coup of September 12, 1980, has “almost zero legitimacy.”

This is the constitution whose attempt to erase the Kurdish language and indeed the very name of Kurdistan, whose 40 million people constitute the largest Nation without a state, triggered the Kurdish-Turkish civil war of 1984 — an uprising growing out of 60 years of Turkish “ethnic cleansing” against the Kurds.

Such state-sponsored terrorism in the name of “democracy” is not new, and you have recently pledged to the world that our country must and will demand better from our allies. As you said this March on a visit to support peace and democracy in Guatemala:

“It is important that I state clearly that support for military forces or intelligence units which engaged in violent and widespread repression Ö was wrong…. And the United States must not repeat that mistake.”

Since the Turkish coup of 1980, human rights organizations have reported a reality of mass murder, torture, repression of the press, and denial of the most basic cultural and linguistic rights of the Kurdish people within Turkish borders. Over 37,000 people have died in the “dirty war,” the great majority of which were Kurds, while over 3400 Kurdish villages have been destroyed and between 3 and 4 million people made homeless.

Following the resolve and spirit of your words in Guatemala, it is high time to change policy towards Turkey as well. We must demand freedom for Leyla Zana and her colleagues; the opening of peace negotiations for an end to the Kurdish-Turkish conflict; and commutation of the death sentence against Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the PKK, who despite his past embroilment in the violence of civil war is now urging his followers to be Freedom Riders.

Let us be a true friend to Turkey and to its courageous Kurdish and Turkish leaders by putting the full weight of our influence and moral authority in favor of peace over terror. Let us help Leyla Zana and her sisters and brothers, Kurdish and Turkish alike, build a sound and stable edifice of democracy in the new millennium, firmly grounded on the foundation of human rights for all.


Bob Filner

Member of Congress