Kurdistan: an oppressed nation


Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 102 - August/September 1991

Republished as Chapter 3.2 in The New Warlords: from the Gulf War to the recolonisation of the Middle East, ed. Eddie Abrahams, Larkin Publications, 1994.

'We were witnesses that the Turkish state has officially declared war. Without any reason they keep shooting innocent people. Many people are dead or injured.' This was the message from Diyarbakir in North West Kurdistan (Turkey) from Popular Labour Party (HEP) MP Mahmut Alinak after the funeral of his comrade Vedat Aydin on 10 July. Vedat Aydin was chair of the Diyarbakir branch of HEP. He had been abducted by a unit of the Turkish state's Special Forces, tortured, his body riddled with bullets and dumped. The Kurdish people's response to this activity was massive and determined: 100,000 turned the burial into a proclamation that the Kurdish national liberation struggle will not be terrorised into submission.

The Turkish army responded with further terror. Commandos and tanks ringed Diyarbakir. Helicopters bombed coaches carrying mourners to the funeral. Counter-insurgency teams opened fire on the crowds who refused to disperse, chanted the illegal slogans of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and fought back with sticks and stones.

By 13 July reports indicated some 40 people killed, 208 injured and 1,000 missing. The Special Forces have been seen burying corpses at night. Hundreds of people have been arrested, including Turkish and foreign journalists.

As news of the massacre reached Europe, Kurdish people protested in Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Britain. In London on 12 July 50 Kurds occupied the Turkish Embassy. An Embassy official reportedly pulled a gun and fired two shots. When the demonstrators withdrew they were charged with criminal damage. The Turkish Embassy claims that £100,000 worth of damage was done: this would have required pulling half the building down. The Turkish government will try to gain the support of British courts to impose severe sentences on the Kurds for having drawn the world's attention to the Diyarbakir massacre.

During the second week of July the US and British forces stationed in South East Kurdistan (northern Iraq) withdrew to form a permanent Rapid Reaction Force in southern Turkey - North West Kurdistan. Operation Poised Hammer includes a company of British marines. Ostensibly intended to warn Saddam Hussein off from an attack on the Kurds in Iraq, it has a function in reinforcing the positions of the bourgeois and feudal Kurdish leadership of Talabani and Barzani. Its prime purpose now will be as a forward base in support of the Turkish state against the Kurdish national liberation struggle led by the PKK and National Liberation Front of Kurdistan (ERNK). Already its helicopters monitor PKK guerilla movements and British troops have intervened to retrieve Turkish soldiers wounded in attacks from the PKK.

Here we publish extracts from a speech made by HATIP DICLE, Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee in Diyarbakir to a large audience of mainly Kurdish and Turkish people in London on 29 June. It is a powerful indictment of the brutal racist Turkish regime which has confirmed its fascist character with the Diyarbakir massacre.

The British and US governments have been consistent backers of the Turkish state: supplying it, defending it, attempting to win for it international acceptance, just as they do for apartheid South Africa. Turkey must be isolated, boycotted and reduced to the status of international pariah for its racist op-pression of the Kurds. Just as activists have sought to do with South Africa, so they must do with Turkey. Victory to Kurdistan! Trevor Rayne

Before I explain the human rights violations that are occurring in Kurdistan I would like to pay my respects to the Kurdish people who have fallen in the struggle against tyranny and persecution and a struggle to de-fend their dignity and national rights. Those people were martyred in the national liberation struggle but they contributed to the fight for humanity against the dehumanising campaigns being waged against our people. Their struggle is recognised in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights where it is written that in order to defend your national rights, your basic human rights, all legitimate paths are valid.

The question of Kurdistan is one of the most pressing issues in the world today. All defenders of human rights and defenders of peace should realise that as long as the people are denied their independence and freedom there will be no lasting peace in the Middle East. Britain has the greatest responsibility for the division of my country; we do not blame the British people for this but we do expect international solidarity from democratic organisations and people in Britain.


In nearly seventy years under the Turkish Republic the people of Northern Kurdistan have been under martial law and states of emergency for fifty-eight of those seventy years. Today in Turkey the existence of Kurdish people as a national entity is still not recognised. We have no rights for education in our mother tongue. Our children are not allowed to learn their mother tongue and have to learn a foreign language. Our people are face to face with an unprecedented assimilation campaign. We are not allowed to publish books in our own language. We have no right to produce any written works in our own language. Kurdish people are prevented from hearing their own tongue spoken on the radio or television. The penalty for speaking Kurdish at a political meeting or any kind of meeting in a public place according to the new Anti-Terror law starts at 15 years.'

The Turkish government's campaign over the last three months saying it has lifted the ban on Kurdish, that it is bringing in democracy is all deception. Only fifteen days ago in Diyarbakir all the Kurdish cassettes that were on sale in the shops were confiscated in an operation. I have not heard of anything like this any-where else in the world: Kurdish parents are not allowed to give their children the names they would wish to give, they cannot give Kurdish names. If they try to register their child at the local administrative office they are taken to court and prosecuted!

Our folk music is taken by Turkey, translated into Turkish and presented to the world as Turkish culture. They even win awards at international events.

This plunder is not only of our culture but also of our political rights. We are not allowed to establish a party with our own names 'Kurd' and 'Kurdistan'. This has been taken away from us. Our economic wealth has also been plundered. In Northern Kurdistan all our economic wealth is being plundered. Ninety five per cent of the oil that comes within the borders of Turkey is in the Kurdistan area. All the phosphate, chrome and copper resources in Turkey are situated in Kurdistan. Eighty five per cent of the electricity in Turkey is generated from the hydroelectric plants on the dams of the rivers in Kurdistan.

Despite all this wealth that exists our people live in dire poverty. The average per capita income in Turkey is $1,500, but according to our research the average per capita income in Northern Kurdistan is $350. In Izmit, an industrial city in the west of Turkey, the average per capita income is $3,500 but in Hakkari in the south eastern corner of Turkey, in Kurdistan, the average income is $150 a year. In the west of Turkey the standard of living is similar to that of some European countries while the standard of living in Kurdistan is similar to that of Bangladesh. This indicates the level of plunder that has gone on over the last seventy years.

Every delegation that visits Diyarbakir asks the same question, 'What do the Kurds want?'. We say that we want the rights enshrined in the international treaties signed by all the countries of the world at the UN. Firstly, we want our national identity to be recognised. We want the bans and persecutions of our language and culture to be lifted. We want to be able to exercise our political rights, to act with our own name, in other words we want democracy in order to have the freedom to organise politically. We want the freedom to decide how our natural wealth is disposed of. We want to determine our own destiny. (Applause)


To begin my description of the human rights situation in Northern Kurdistan I will go back to the 1980 military coup. Then the whole of Northern Kurdistan was turned into a torture chamber and the whole country was trampled under military boots. All our intellectuals were thrown into prison. There was an horrendous level of torture in the prisons: some people set fire to themselves to de-fend their human dignity. The period of detention at that time was ninety days and in this period people were subjected to torture. Many people were forced to flee the country and become political refugees in Europe. I am not exaggerating when I say that there is not one house in Kurdistan that did not have a relative or someone they knew who was tortured, shot, killed or thrown into prison. Villagers were forced to gather in village squares and then tortured. Their houses were raided on the pre-text of looking for weapons. Men were stripped-off in front of their wives and string was attached to their sexual organs and then they were led around the village squares. Relatives of political activists were arrested and tortured just for being relatives. The torture at that time was so intense as to be beyond comparison with anywhere else. But the repression and the torture could not break the spirit of resistance and in 1984 on 15 August in reply to the repression the guerilla struggle began. (Applause)

At the beginning of the guerilla struggle led by the PKK all the people became a target for the Turkish authorities. The state introduced a Village Guard or Village Protector state militia system wherein villagers were sometimes forced by economic hardship to fight for the government against the guerillas. Sometimes whole tribes were forced into these militias.

When the Turkish authorities realised that they would be unable to prevent the rise of the revolutionary movement they then brought out, in April 1990, decrees with the force of law which provided powers even Hitler and Mussolini did not have. Today, the state of affairs is such that whatever the Regional Governor says is law. He has the authority to close down newspapers and the printing shop if any newspaper were to tell the truth about what is happening in Kurdistan. He has the power to exile people from Kurdistan, anyone he considers undesirable. There is absolutely no independence of the judiciary. All authority is in the hands of this one man, the Regional Governor. All the repressive measures have been rendered unworkable by the guerilla struggle and the support they receive from the people. (Applause)

In August 1990 the Turkish government officially announced to the Council of Europe that it was suspending human rights in Kurdistan. At the time the attentions of the whole world were on Kuwait which had been occupied by Iraq. Between August and November 1990 up to 300 villages were forcibly vacated in the Botan area. This is an area where the guerilla struggle is at its most intense. According to our research these 300 villages were forcibly vacated be-cause the villagers had refused to become Village Guards and their houses and orchards were burnt to prevent them returning. These people were made refugees in their own country. When we visited the Sirnak area we saw the people living in tents on the edge of the town. All the woods on the Herkol, Cudi and Gab-bar mountains were burnt. Villagers said that as well as their orchards their bee-hives had been burnt. Some people who had refused to leave their homes had their belongings burned inside their houses. Our research shows some 50,000 people affected by these measures. The aim of this policy is to depopulate Botan. Of these 50,000 those that were better-off moved to Turkish cities to the west. The poorer villagers were forced to live in shanty towns on the out-skirts of Kurdish towns. Some lived in barns.

An interesting development took place with the people sheltering near Sirnak. They managed to get some money together, bought mules and went to open-cast mines abandoned by the state and scraped a living selling coal dust. However, the state did not tolerate their presence around Sirnak and the Turkish army took its machine guns and killed 300 mules. These mules were all the people had. Three thousand villagers marched into Sirnak in protest at the barbarous act. The state replied with its troops and special forces who fired on the people killing five and leaving seven more with bullet wounds. These people who had seen their villages burned around their ears, driven from their homes and then had their only means of livelihood destroyed were fired at.

On 19 November in Europe there was a conference on the world reduction on arms. At Turkey's request thirty four countries agreed to exclude Turkey from new arms reduction proposals. We condemn those European countries that were signatories to an agreement that is turning Kurdistan into a veritable arsenal. Since 19 November the weapons no longer required in Europe are being transported to Kurdistan. Between Sirnak and Uludere near the Iraqi border there is a military post every two or three miles.

The burning of villages is not the only method used to depopulate Kurdistan. There is a ban on Kurdish nomads taking their flocks of sheep to high pastures in the summer. This affects about one million people. The Turkish authorities' aim is to force the nomads to sell the sheep cheaply and leave the area. Another method is used: many Village Guards want to give up their weapons and when they present themselves to the authorities to resign they are told to load their belongings on a tractor and to leave Kurdistan and their homes. That is the only way their weapons will be accepted back.


As you can read in Amnesty International reports and in the European Parliament there is an intensive campaign of torture in Kurdistan today. The period of detention upon arrest is now thirty days. During the first two weeks many people suffer severe torture and in the second two weeks their bruising and marks are given time to heal so as not to be visible. Such is the intensity of the campaign of detentions that whereas once we were able to keep track of the number of people being detained now it is impossible. If there is a guerilla attack near a village then all the villagers, men, women and children are detained and tortured. We can no longer keep track of all the incidents. The people do not need to be taken away to a military or police headquarters to be interrogated; local schools can be turned into torture chambers. People are given systematic torture: they are given electric shocks, hung up by their arms, made to walk on broken glass, hosed down with pressurised water, all kinds of torture are used.


Here are some recent examples of violations of human rights. I have a list covering the last year. If I detailed them all I would be here talking for another three hours so I will tell you just about some of the most striking examples. This list covers only about ten per cent of all the violations that occurred over the past year.

On 10 June near Sirnak in the village called Gere, or its new Turkish name Gevrimli, 27 women and children were massacred. There was a big campaign on Turkish television stating that the women and children had been massacred by the PKK; this was the state propaganda. We organised a delegation of lawyers and journalists to visit the village and talk to the people, but we were prevented from making the visit for 11 days. When we finally got into the village we discovered the following: the villagers who were killed were from families who had refused to become Village Guards. The villagers said that those who had committed the massacre wore T-shirts and flak-jackets. There is a military base just fifteen minutes walk from the village. We are absolutely certain that those responsible for the massacre were the Turkish security forces - the Special Forces counter-insurgency teams. This massacre was timed to coincide with a European Security Conference held in Copenhagen. At the time Turkey was being pressurised by human rights organisations, so the Turkish authorities create this scenario - 'Look what the PKK has done. This is why we must have these new laws'.

The same thing happened in a village near Hakkari called Sete. Again nearly 30 people were killed and again the victims were from families that had refused to join the state militias. On 30 June 1990, in the Mardin province, a driver who refused to take troops to a military operation was taken to a military post and shot in the head. You may wonder what happened to the officer that committed this murder; he is still free despite the efforts of the family of the murdered man to have him brought to trial. He was not brought to justice, no enquiry took place into the murder. The officer said that the murdered man was a friend of his and that he was inspecting the officer's revolver when it went off and the man accidentally shot himself. With this explanation the authorities took the matter no further.

On 6 August 1990 in Hakkari Province it was reported on the news that seven PKK 'terrorists' , as they call them, had been killed in a clash. We investigated this incident and discovered the seven were poor villagers who made a living by taking things from Turkey to Iraq to sell and then bringing things back. They carried their wares on their backs; it was very simple smuggling but they were taken to a military headquarters and shot out-of-hand. The bodies of these people were not returned to their families for burial. Instead, a ditch was dug and they were tipped in on top of each other, unwashed, in the clothes they had been wearing. Such is the condition of the Turkish state that they no longer respect even the dead.

Until three months ago the bodies of dead guerillas were not returned to their families. Before 1986 the bodies of guerillas in the Siirt area were tied to backs of vehicles, dragged around the streets and then thrown on the municipal dump. In 1988 there was a campaign to have the dump called the Butcher's River dug up, it is estimated there are a hundred bodies there, but the campaign was unsuccessful. The dump remains uninvestigated.

Turkey does not conform to the Geneva Convention: it uses napalm and gas and captured guerillas are thrown from helicopters. A taxi driver disappeared on 11 June 1990. He had previously been arrested for having a Kurdish cassette in his car. Then he disappeared and his car with him. We know about people who disappear in Central America, but per-haps this is the first time someone has vanished together with their vehicle. On 5 September 1990 a mental patient who had been released in Elazig only the day before was shot only 200 yards from his house and the security forces announced on the evening news that he was a 'terrorist'.

In recent times resistance to repression has grown among the religious priests. In September last year one was taken to a local military post and a different form of torture was used on him: as a strict Moslem he was forced to drink raki, an aniseed alcoholic drink. It was forced down his throat. This Imam had advised the people not to join the state militias.

In November 1990 another villager was arrested and detained for a week. After a week his body was returned to his family with a doctor's note saying that he had died of a heart-attack. The priest who washed his body said the back of his head had been caved in and that blood was still seeping from it. He had been killed under torture in Mardin.

I have a long list of shepherds who have been shot while tending their flocks, of villagers shot and then the authorities claimed it to be an accident, or that they were terrorists.

In March this year before Newroz (the Kurdish New Year) there were incidents in Sirnak where people were killed by the security forces.

Also the refugees who fled from Saddam told us that dozens had been killed at the border by the Turkish army in April.

Some of you may have seen the Panorama programme shown two weeks ago where there was a story about three girls who were out on the hills looking for an edible thistle called Kenger. They got lost and the local Village Guard informed the authorities that the girls had gone in-to the hills to join the guerillas. Following this they were taken to a village military post, tortured, kept in cells and shown photographs of three people who it was claimed had encouraged the girls to join the guerillas. The girls had no know-ledge of this but they were forced to put their thumb-prints on a confession which incriminated these three people, two of whom had been imprisoned before as PKK suspects. One was a local official of the Popular Labour Party whom the state wanted to incriminate. He was arrested and is still in detention.


This April the Turkish government brought out the new Anti-Terror Law. It comes in the context of a mass mobilisation of the people in Kurdistan. There is now mass opposition to the Turkish government: the people close their shops for days, they go on hunger strike protests and thous-ands of people go to the funerals when guerillas are killed. People are going to democratic associations and joining in the activities there. The main aim of the Anti-Terror Law is to suppress this democratic mass movement. The Turkish government announces to the world that it has lifted the ban on Kurdish, that it has removed the notorious articles 141, 142, and 163 - those laws that prevented freedom of thought and speech. They say they have separated such acts from terror offences, but in fact the same offences exist in the new Anti-Terror Laws. Indeed, under this new legislation for saying what I have said today I could be charged with a terror offence, I could be defined as a 'terrorist'.

No newspaper can print the truth of what is happening in Kurdistan for if they did they would be fined 500 million Lira (£70,000). Newspapers cannot print the names of the torturers; there are heavy fines for that. The Turkish state is so hypocritical: it was the first state to sign the Anti-Torture Convention, but with the new Anti-Terror Law it is protecting torturers; they will not be charged for their torture. Those people who kill our people in the villages even if they are charged their defence costs and solicitors will be paid for by the state.

The torturers must have been encouraged by this new law for only a month after it came into effect three brothers in Norsin a town near Bitlis were forced to eat dog excrement by the military. Despite all the efforts of the solicitor working for the three brothers he was unable to get an enquiry into the officer responsible. In fact, a major who had forced villagers to eat human excrement in Yesiyurt near Cizre in 1988 was not punished, on the contrary he was promoted.

When I got on the plane to come here I opened a newspaper and read that on 25 June our Human Rights Association building in Diyarbakir had been bombed. The Turkish government hopes to frighten us into ending our services to the national liberation struggle but they will be mistaken. We will continue to expose their violations of human rights and send our reports to the world. (Applause)


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