E-mailed Interview with Mr. Surreya Erstoy, Fulbright
Coordinator in Turkey
do you think would be the best future course for the Kurds in Turkey,
or the Kurds in general, to pursue?
I think the
Kurds of Turkey should stick to being citizens of this country
and work through the democratic process. The fact is that
the Kurds are not concentrated in one particular area but are
spread all over Turkey. Kurds and Turks have lived under
the same political entitiy for the last 1000 years. There
has been a lot of intermarriage and assimilation. Many Kurds
consider themselves as Turks. This is not surprising:
Citizenship in Turkey is very much like being a citizen of the
United States; once you are a citizen, there is no discrimination
and whatever your ethnic background you have the same rights and
obligations or problems. So, even if your grandparents
were of Italian/Dutch/German/Irish/Greek etc. origin, you are
an American. So it is in Turkey. Being a Turkish
citizen is inclusive and not exclusive. Accordingly, Turkish
citizens of Kurdish background have the same rights and obligations
as the rest of the country. However, some Turkish citizens
of Kurdish background felt that the Turkish government in the
past did not give them opportunities to learn and teach their
own language(s) and culture and express themselves. They
felt oppressed. This has changed in the last decade.
There is nothing stopping the publication of Kurdish newspapers,
journals, books. CD's in Kurdish are sold openly, concerts
and movies of Kurdish artists are very popular. The teaching
of Kurdish is now permitted. Regulations are being changed
so that there will soon be radio and tv broadcasts in Kurdish.
However, it might be impossible to satisfy separatists with such
rights. It would seem that they will settle for nothing
less than an independent state of their own and are ready to commit
any atrocity to achieve this end.
I cannot speak
for the Kurds living in Irak, Iran or Syria, as I do not
have enough knowledge on them. However, the way things are
going in Irak, it seems as if the Kurds there are set
for an independent state. They might actually achieve
this with US assistance.
||What are your
opinions on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan? (We heard
Prime Minister Erdogan speak at Harvard during his visit to the
||Erdogan is a
smart and charismatic politician. He obviously has strong
||Some claim that
he does not have the power to release Zana. Is this true?
The judiciary in Turkey, just like the United States, is
independent of the government. The prime minister cannot
tell or order a judge what to do. The only things Erdogan
can legally do are either try to change the laws which caused
Zana to be jailed or try to pass a general amnesty from which
Zana can also benefit. In either case he has to convince
the parliament which is elected by the people in free elections
every five years to agree to this.
Turkey is being denied admission to the European Union largely
on account of democratic requirements that have not yet been met.
Turkey is not being denied admission to the European Union on
account of democratic or human rights requirements that have not
been met. That is just cited as an excuse. The real
reason for the denial is because Turkey is culturally and socially
so different than the rest of Europe. The Europeans do not
want such "alien" people amongst them. The fact
that millions of Turks might migrate to Europe and settle there
scares them out of their minds. The second reason is because
Turkey is so far behind economically than the European Union members.
Having big economic problems of their own, the Europeans do not
want to deal with the immense problems this would create.
The third reason is that Turkey is simply too large a country
both in area and population to digest easily in the European Union.
||Do you feel that
Turkey is fully democratic, and should be allowed admission immediately,
or that ground still needs to be covered?
||All the nations
and countries on this planet including Turkey need to cover more
ground in being more democratic and more aware of human rights.
Turkey does need to cover more than some others. This is a
continuing struggle. One must never be complacent and one
must never drop the ball.
||What are your
opinions on Leyla Zana? If you view her as a separatist or
terrorist, please explain why. If you do not view her as such, please
give us some insight as to why others might feel this way.
was convicted not because of her beliefs or free speech issues
but because of giving aid to a terrorist organization, the PKK.
30,000 people in Turkey, most of them innocent bystanders, and
many of them Kurdish villlagers, lost their lives during the terrorist
insurrection of the PKK. The PKK murdered in cold blood
and as a matter of policy hundreds of teachers, nurses, engineers,
postmen etc. and children. They burned and destroyed schools,
hospitals, bridges and other public and private property and livestock.
The same way the United States is punishing those who helped Osama
Ben Laden plan the attack on the twin towers, It was just that
anyone who had ties with such an organization should be
different perspectives and agendas. For instance, to this
day, in the Moslem world there seem to be millions of
fanatics who think that Osama Ben Laden is a hero and that
the attack on the twin towers which killed thousands of innocent
people was a wonderful thing. The same with those people
that think that a terrorist such as Abdullah Ocalan and his henchmen
such as Leyla Zana are freedom fighters.
||Do you feel that
Zana's trials were conducted justly?
||Thank you again.
Good luck on your project and congratulations. Any other questions,
feel free to write me.
E-mailed Interview with Kevin Semanick, Coordinator
of Amnesty International Northeast Region
you feel that the situation for the Kurds in Turkey has improved
as a result of Turkey's efforts to gain admission to the European
Union, or do you feel that only on-paper reforms occurred?
of Turkey’s attempt to gain admission into the European
Union have yielded mixed benefits. Certainly any reforms are a
step in the right direction. For example they have lifted certain
restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language in certain public
The biggest problem with these reforms is that they are only a
baby step, which though necessary is slow-moving. The Kurdish
people still don’t enjoy the full freedoms of culture and
language that all world citizens should receive. When the government
unrestricted Kurdish language on television it was only for a
limited amount of time each week.
trial is a crucial example of this baby step towards respecting
human rights. She was arrested for her peaceful statement in the
Kurdish language that “the Kurdish and Turkish people live
peacefully together in a democratic framework.” An unconditional
release would display a true respect for human rights. Instead
Turkey has taken a baby step, albeit an important one. It has
granted a retrial of the Leyla Zana case that was first fraught
with many problems. However despite the retrial, there are again
many problems with it, including the many discontinuities spanning
a full year and the fact that she has not been released while
||Do you feel that
peaceful coexistence between the Kurds and Turks in Turkey is possible,
or do you support the creation of a separate Kurdistan?
||As a member of
Amnesty International, I take no position on the creation of a separate
state for the Kurdish people. But I truly do feel it is possible
for the Turks and Kurds to live peacefully together. As I previously
quoted Leyla Zana’s acceptance speech prior to her arrest,
“I shall struggle so that the Kurdish and Turkish people may
live peacefully together in a democratic framework.”
It is people like Leyla Zana that truly believe the two groups can
live together peacefully in Turkey. For such peace to exist, it
is important that both sides respect the others human rights. Turkey’s
potential to join the European Union would also have an immense
effect of cleaning up the human rights’ abuses and slowly
begin to forge a better relationship between the Kurdish and Turkish
||What do you think
of Prime Minister Erdogan? Some say that he doesn't have the power
to release Zana. Do you believe that this is true
can be a confusing web. In the last four years, there have been
three Prime Ministers in Turkey. The world has repeatedly appealed
to these men to free Leyla Zana on the basis of respecting human
rights. Some results have been achieved, including a medically-based
release offer and the retrial that begun last year. The Prime Minister
certainly does hold the power to unconditionally release Leyla Zana,
in my opinion. However, the issue has grown to epic proportions
and it seems to have become a political issue, rather than one of
respecting human rights. Again I am hoping that the European Union
will greatly influence even broader reform for the people of Turkey.
||What do you think
will be the solution to this conflict? What steps need to be taken?
Leyla Zana marked the 10th year of her arrest. She has forced
the issue of the Kurdish people in Turkey to be a world issue.
She may finish out the rest of her sentence (five more years)
without a fair retrial and without a conditional release. Fortunately,
her imprisonment will important in the process of displaying human
rights abuses in Turkey.
One necessary step to help Leyla Zana and ending human rights
abuses in Turkey is to continue peacefully informing the Turkish
government that it is not acceptable. The persistent letter-writing
and demonstrating on behalf of Leyla Zana must continue to show
the Turkish leaders that this is an issue that can not be evaded,
and more importantly an issue the world takes seriously.
||Have you ever
met Mrs. Leyla Zana, or her husband, Mehdi Zana? If you have, what
do you think of them; what is remarkable about them?
wrote a letter to those working on her behalf. It was a beautiful
letter, full of great imagery that thanked us for our support,
as well as explaining her situation. She has also published a
book, Writings from Prison, which has helped many to gain insight.
I am also aware that the Amnesty International campaigns on her
behalf are being forwarded to her from her friends and family.
Though I never met Leyla, I did have the pleasure of spending
several days with her husband, Mehdi Zana. In November of 2003,
Mehdi completed a tour of the Northeastern American states, starting
in Rhode Island and finishing in Washington D.C. While in the
metro New York Area, I was able to attend two of his talks. Like
Leyla, he was imprisoned for too many years because of his freedom
of speech. He explained gruesome stories of torture and other
human rights abuses. Though sad, it was moving and inspirational.
It helps people remember the reasons for stopping human rights’
Along his speaking tour, I was privileged to escort him to several
different places, including an evening out at a restaurant. Two
things struck me as remarkable as I ate with him. First, among
the Kurdish community he is magnetic. Everyone is drawn to this
man because of his firm desire to have the Kurdish people respected
His amiable, affable nature struck me as most remarkable. Despite
his circumstances of torture and pain, with his wife in jail,
the man always keeps smiling. Even though his life is filled with
constant struggles and discrimination, the man attempts to live
a happy life.
||What have you
done in your efforts to free Leyla Zana?
I have done
every peaceful measure to help free Leyla Zana, which is emblematic
of the Kurdish problem in Turkey. Every time I do something on
behalf of Leyla Zana, I am confident that I am also addressing
the human rights’ problems for all Kurdish people in Turkey.
I have helped stage two consulate demonstrations on behalf of
Leyla Zana. They were real interesting because through the windows
it was observable that those in the consulate were aware of our
determination. While at the demonstrations we also attempted to
deliver cards and over 10,000 signatures unsuccessfully. One attempt
led to witnessing our card being thrown in the trash.
Our biggest action for Leyla Zana had to be hosting the tour of
Mehdi Zana. A local Amnesty International group in Rhode Island
was instrumental in planning the entire tour and hosting him in
the New England Area. I helped with the New York/New Jersey leg
of the tour, and I said it was a beneficial experience for me,
as well as in our attempt to help free Leyla Zana.
Our other actions on her behalf have been much smaller, such as
forms of letter-writing. We’ve done everything from email
blitzes to fax blitzes to holiday card writing. Our actions have
also included traditional postal mail and the collection of over
10,000 signatures on behalf of Leyla Zana. There is even a web
petition that collected some 300 signatures.
I also helped staged a coffeehouse for Leyla Zana that offered
information about her case, as well as a chance to ask for her
immediate release. I know that many other groups have done coffeehouses
as well. Another popular event for many adult groups is an annual
concert to raise awareness for Leyla Zana.
We hope to possibly tie all of these events together in the form
of a scrapbook. We’ve collected many pictures over the last
few years. It would be a nice way to inspire people, while still
displaying our support for Leyla Zana.
||While we understand
that you firmly support Leyla Zana and her colleagues, do you think
that the Turkish government should be rightly afraid of the problems
Leyla Zana might cause in terms of the separation of the Turkish
||As a member of
Amnesty International, I do firmly support Leyla Zana and her right
to freedom of expression. No one should be subject to imprisonment
because of their peaceful statements about living together democratically.
The Turkish country should embrace both Turkish and Kurdish people
and respect everyone’s human rights. It is their best chance
to live in a peaceful society.