The Kurds, a group of approximately 18 million people, are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East. Occupying a region of 500,000 square miles in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the USSR, the Kurds are one of the most persecuted minorities of our time. Nowhere is their future more threatened than in Turkey where Kurds are one quarter of the population. Since World War I, Kurds in Turkey have been the victims of persistent assaults on their ethnic, cultural, religious identity and economic and political status by successive Turkish governments.
With the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the allies created the modern Middle-East. And while the Treaty of Sevres provided for an independent Kurdistan, it was never ratified. In 1923 the treaty of Lausanne created the modern states of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, but Kurdistan was ignored. During Turkey's war for independence, Turkish leaders, promised Kurds a Turkish-Kurdish federated state in return for their assistance in the war. After independence was achieved, however, they ignored the bargain they had made.
Months after the declaration of a Turkish republic, Ankara, under the pretext of creating an "indivisible nation," adopted an ideology aimed at eliminating, both physically and culturally, non-Turkish elements within the Republic. These "elements" were primarily Kurdish and Armenian.
A 1924 mandate forbade Kurdish schools, organizations and publications. Even the words "Kurd" and "Kurdistan" were outlawed, making any written or spoken acknowledgement of their existence illegal.
According to Association France-Kurdistan, between 1925 and 1939, 1.5 million Kurds, a third of the population, were deported and massacred.
In 1930 the Turkish Minister of Justice declared, I won't hide my feelings. The Turk is the only lord, the only master of this country. Those who are not of pure Turkish origin will have only one right in Turkey: the right to be servants and slaves.
While Kurdish persecution became more selective during World War II, largely restricted to Kurdish intellectuals, the overall policy in Turkey has remained consistent. This stranglehold is reflected in Kurdish literature. In this century only about a dozen works have been produced in Kurdish. The authors have usually received prison sentences.
Evidence indicates that Kurdish provinces in Turkey are deliberately and consistently underdeveloped. From 1968 to 1975, 10.7 billion lira were invested in East Anatolia and the Southeast, areas densely populated by Kurds. This represents 2.4 percent of national investment compared to 31.1 percent in Marmara, 20.8 percent in the Agean region and 16.4 percent in the Mediterranean area. National per capita investment was 266 lira in 1970, but only 148 provinces.
Under Turkey's present military regime, Kurds are hard hit by the policies of a junta fearful of political opposition. Since 1980 the Eastern and Southeastern provinces have reportedly been subjected to at least five military maneuvers aimed at terrorizing Kurds. The New York Times has reported that in the nine months that followed the military takeover 122,609 people were allegedly taken into custody. Of 40,386 formally charged, the death penalty was sought for 900. Of 70,000 current political detainees, more than 20,000 are reportedly Kurdish, and 90 percent of these are reputed to have been peaceful protestors for Kurdish cultural rights. To date, arrests in Kurdish provinces have totalled 81,634. Of these, 378 have allegedly been tortured to death, and 374 have been killed in night-time attacks.
The most frequent legal justification for these arrests are Articles 141 and 142 of the Turkish penal code that "protect the economic institutions and social foundations of the nation" and prescribe 5-15 years imprisonment for those "seeking to destroy the political and legal order of the state."
Among the non-Kurds arrested is Ismail Beshikchi, an author and sociologist who has been repeatedly imprisoned for his criticism of official policy. Previously arrested for refuting the official claim that Turks had spawned all the world's great civilizations, Beshikchi is currently in jail for attacking Turkish "Kemalism," an ideology he described as racist and colonialist, one intended to subsume autonomous institutions - the media, syndicates, universities and schools - under its rubric.
Kurdish insignia are outlawed. In Diyarbakir 12 persons were arrested for selling Kurdish music cassettes. The owners of shops with Kurdish names - HEVAL (comrade) or WELAT (homeland) - were threatened and ordered to change the signs within the hour. One tailor who refused to comply was thrown into prison for two days and his sign was altered.
It is illegal for parents to give children Kurdish names; they must select Turkish names or face punishment.
In a raid on the village of Doganbey, the gendarmerie, whose garrison commander was quoted as saying, "We shall exterminate all Kurds," tortured the imam (holy man) of the village for several hours. The inhabitants were then forced to speak Turkish. The women, who did not speak Turkish, however, could not understand the commands. When the village guard translated them into Kurdish he was beaten. When he tried to explain that he had to translate because the women spoke no Turkish, the commander ordered the villagers tortured because they did not speak Turkish.
Such tactics have not been restricted to interaction between Kurds and Turks. Two members of a French, human rights organization (Medecins Sans Frontiéres), Luc Devineau and Marie-Annick Lanternier, were travelling through Turkey to Iran when they were arrested for possessing a cassette of Kurdish music. They were also carrying a brochure in French about Kurds. They were sentenced by military tribunal to 51/2 months in prison. German tourists have also been arrested for "making Kurdish propaganda." One tourist was recently tortured and expelled after being held for 10 days without being able to contact his embassy.
Turkey is not content to persecute Kurds within its borders. In 1980 the Turkish Embassy in Denmark ordered the Union of Workers from Turkey to discontinue a Kurdish language course organized by the Copenhagen Evening School. The course was aimed at incorporating Kurdish in the home language teaching program in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and West-German schools. The Embassy Councillor asked, "Are you not Turkish citizens? You must not teach Kurdish to Kurdish children."
Turkey is in clear violation of the UN declaration of human rights and the European convention of Human rights. As both a member of the UN and the Council of Europe, Turkey is supposed to respect the fundamental human rights of its minorities.
The Council of Europe has condemned Turkey for its "suppression of political parties and organizations, imprisonment and torture of political dissidents" and its judiciary processes that "guarantee no protection for the accused." The Council has demanded that Turkey reinstate democratic institutions, including the right to free speech and safeguards for religious minorities and that it release political prisoners and permit a Red Cross examination of prison conditions.
Turkey's junta justifies its policies as being essential for the restoration of democracy. The International Commission of Jurists responds, "It is difficult to understand why in a country where terrorists have always been a minority compared with the great mass of population...all public freedoms should have been restricted...the fact that this action has been taken by an authority that wishes to save democracy constitutes a contradiction in the official attitude."
Moreover, the constitutional and statutory provisions reportedly being considered by the national security council do not leave much hope for the eventuality of a restored democracy. Revisions now being proposed would increase Executive power in the government, and diminish the independence of the judiciary. A new "State Security Court," answerable only to the Executive, would have virtually unchecked power over political cases, would ban political activities of labor unions and professional associations and eliminate all political organizations except the two major centrist parties.
Given present attitudes towards political opposition within Turkey, international opinion may be the only effective lever against the incorporation of such measures in the new constitution - measures that not only annihilate opposition but also render the ethnocide of Kurds in Turkey ever more efficient.
The persecution of Kurds is without contemporary equivalent in Europe, yet is condoned by the silence of Western powers who continue to furnish Turkey with military and economic aid. The West may well fulfill the role hypothetically cast for it by Turan Gunes, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, at a recent session of the Council of Europe, as he responded to the issue of Kurdish independence:
Let me tell you, with the tolerance of just a few countries like West Germany, France and England, we will have no problem liquidating millions of Kurds.
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.