Book launch for International Colony Kurdistan by Ismail Besikci

March 12, 2004

Dear Friends, although I could not join you today, I wanted to be sure my thoughts were shared with you. I am a friend, and a supporter of your struggle for political rights and the freedom of the Kurdish people.

You have gathered here today to recognize the work of a man who embodies your struggle. Mr. Ismail Besikci, like so many before him, was jailed and tortured simply because he chose to voice his concern about the Kurdish situation in Turkey and around the world. I have always said that the Kurdish people must be respected. The world must listen to your collective will and you should enjoy the same right of choosing your representatives as other people in many parts of the world. Until these, and many other basic freedoms are granted, all individuals of good conscience must push for reform.

It is imperative that the global community maintain pressure on the government of Turkey to implement permanent reform. Just as importantly, we must look upon those countries with the most influence over Turkey, foremost among them the United States, and urge them to exercise that influence in a positive way. Turkey is, after all, a military ally of the U.S., and a member of NATO. As such, the U.S has provided Turkey with billions of dollars in military and economic assistance. Turkey also aspires to participate in other major Western organizations and institutions, such as the European Union. If Turkey wants the benefits of inclusion in Western institutions that are founded on the defense of democracy and human rights, it must live up to the agreements it has signed.

Nearly half of the worldwide Kurdish community lives within the borders of the Republic of Turkey, where their treatment is an absolute affront to the basic fundamentals of human rights. While twenty-five percent of the population of Turkey is Kurdish, the Kurds are subjected to a policy of forced assimilation, which is essentially written into the Turkish constitution.

According to a January 2004 report by Human Rights Watch, Turkey has until the end of 2004 to meet the European Union’s expectations on human rights. Yet the state security court in Ankara still refuses to release four Kurdish members of Parliament who are serving their tenth year in prison for non-violent political activities. Amnesty International has released similar reports, citing instances of parents being forced to change the Kurdish names of their children, teachers being arrested because Kurdish books were found in their homes and bus drivers being imprisoned for 45 months for playing Kurdish music.

The government of Turkey does not accept the validity of the Kurdish struggle. The State Department asserts that, “Kurds who publicly assert their Kurdish identity or publicly espouse using Kurdish in the public domain risked public censure, harassment, or prosecution.” The Turkish government has jailed leaders, such as Abdullah Ocalan, Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan, Selim Sadak. What they fail to realize, is that the desire for freedom and liberty cannot be imprisoned behind bars.

I am inspired by your perseverance and support you as you move your cause forward. Please be assured that I will encourage my colleagues to do the same, and to raise awareness about this vital issue.