The “Other” Side:
A Sampling of Current Opinions about Leyla Zana drawn from a talk by
the Prime Minister of Turkey
No matter how impartial reporters may try to be, their work is tempered
by the circumstances of the time as well as their personal reasons for
writing about a specific topic; therefore, it seemed important to hear
and try to understand some of the other current opinions on Zana in
order to more accurately portray her.
On Friday, January 30th, 2004, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, came to Boston as part of an effort to repair US-Turkey relations
damaged by the politics surrounding the US-led war on Iraq; his talk
on democracy in the Middle East at the Harvard’s Kennedy School
of Government drew crowds of Turkish-American immigrants, scholars and
businessmen, the curious, and a small but vocal group of protesters.
When interviewed, those present expressed a broad spectrum of opinions
on Leyla Zana and her actions.
“She is a terrorist,” immediately replied Huyla, a Turkish
attendee, upon being asked if she had heard of Zana. She then went on
to passionately explain, with her male escort translating, that she
knew for a fact that Leyla Zana is a supporter of the PKK; Zana’s
[former] political party, the Social Democratic Populist Party, she
claimed, is the part of the PKK under a different name. It was clear
that Huyla had been strongly affected by the PKK’s terrorist activities;
“any beautiful place, they destroy it,” she said, referring
to the destruction of so many parks, hospitals, schools, and other public
buildings by the PKK; she blamed the PKK for the Armenian genocide,
and said that they didn’t even spare their own people from their
terrorism, massacring thousands of Kurdish villagers who refused to
join the PKK and attempting to frame the Turkish military for the atrocities.
Terrorists like Leyla Zana, who [supposedly] urges separatism for the
Kurds because of politics, deserve to be in jail, Huyla said; when asked
about the controversial law [recently repealed] banning the speaking
of Kurdish in public places and other such oppressive laws, she said
that they were necessary to keep Turkey whole. The Kurdish people are
Turkish people, after all, and while they don’t have their own
country, they are now getting recognition and equal human rights.
In his speech, the eloquent Prime Minister Erdogan certainly seemed
to agree with that last statement, and spoke of moving on from past
mistakes and building a glorious future for a progressive Turkey, a
theme that clearly resonated deeply with the majority of the audience.
“I have to underline one thing,” he said; “You cannot
serve humanity by itching these wounds and by trying to create animosity
among people. In a world that we expect peace to be globalized, these
are explosives that threaten peace.” He emphasized the unity of
Turkey as necessary for a better future. Into such an atmosphere of
unity for the good of all came Leyla Zana, with her tactics of civil
disobedience to draw attention to and improve the human rights of Kurds.
Another Turkish attendee, who did not wish to give his name, completely
disagreed with such actions of civil disobedience; he wasn’t interested
in political disputes, he claimed, but if Leyla Zana wanted to change
the law, she should do it legally by being elected and getting the constitution
changed. 30% of the Turkish people's representatives are Kurdish; their
voices are certainly being heard. Peace can only be gained if people
obey all the written laws; otherwise there is only chaos. “She
broke the law, and [therefore] was sued by the government and sent to
jail.” According to him, it doesn’t matter whether or not
the laws were just in such a case; “she took this as a violation
of human rights,” and an insult, but wearing the headband was
still against the law, as was speaking in Kurdish at the inauguration.
He offered several analogies to the United States to better illustrate
his point; for example, US senators would not suddenly start speaking
in Spanish when taking their oaths at their inaugurations, because it
is understood that it is neither the time nor the place for that, and
people would not be able to understand what was being said if it wasn’t
in English. There are always two sides of the story, he said, and one
must wonder why people discriminate and make Leyla Zana out to be so
special, when other Turks have been sued under the same grounds. Out
of respect, Turks aren’t allowed to wear the Turkish flag on t-shirts
or headbands, so why should Kurdish people be any different? And as
for the idea of separatism, well, would Americans allow New Hampshire
to suddenly secede from the US? What about the American Civil War? “It
is the same in Turkey.”
The man also shared his opinion that the Kurdish people were partially
responsible for the ‘so-called’ Armenian* genocide in 1914,
since the Kurds, the Armenians, and the Turks killed and were killed
alike by the thousands. Since then, he continued, the international
community has been pulled into the issue, but they are often misinformed.
He offered as an example those outside the building, protesting [in
the bitter January cold] as he spoke, saying that most of them were
probably about fifteen years old, and therefore talking about events
that happened thirty-eight years before they were born. He questioned
how well they did their research before jumping into complicated issues
headfirst. When asked if there might be some sort of resolution to the
so-called ‘Kurdish problem,’ he replied that Prime Minister
Erdogan would be able to change things for the better.
Sima Baran, a Harvard undergraduate of Turkish dissent, said she understood
the Turkish government’s position, and that the solution for the
Kurds would lie in economic development. According to her, many Turkish-Americans
do feel that the Kurds should be allowed more freedom; she then went
on to talk about the significant role of religion and the effect of
Iraq on the way the Turkish people treated their Kurdish neighbors.
She did not have any opinion on Zana.
Two other people interviewed, Kate and her friend Eddie Manning, had
never even heard of Zana before being asked, much like the rest of their
fellow Americans; Eddie commented that the Kurds were in a “tough
situation,” though both were unsure if the Kurds ought to have
their own separate country; they were, however, adamant that the Kurds
deserved to have equal rights, such as the right to legally speak their
own language, and the right to retain their general culture and customs.
Outside the crowded building, multiple chants by about forty protesters,
led by one Sardar Jajar, could be heard for several blocks:
“Free Leyla Zana!”
“Erdogan is another Saddam!”
“Hands off Kurdistan!”
“Stop bombing Kurdish villages!”
“Genocide of 1915, recognition
will be seen!” and so forth.
Their signs were covered with similar slogans, on a variety of topics.
While the protesters were happy to give out pro-Kurds, anti-Erdogan
flyers and have people take pictures, the police acting as security
for the event politely requested that the protesters not be interviewed
because it blocked up the sidewalks. It is obvious from their chants
and pro-Zana signs that the protesters are among those who think that
Leyla Zana is a hero, and a victim of the 'unjust' Turkish courts.