Prime Minister of Turkey
Born on 24 May 1946 in Istanbul. She was educated in the US and Turkey and lectured at the University of Connecticut before becoming Professor of Economics at Bosphorus University. A member of the Dogru Yol Partisi (the True Path Party), she was appointed Minister of State for Economics in 1991 and became Prime Minister two years later when Suleyman Demirel vacated the post to become President. Power plays in the ruling coalition have recently put her position under threat.
Prosecutor’s notes to the team:
Okay, so the shenanigans in the various Turkish ruling parties may mean Çiller is out of power by the time we bring this case. Don’t worry about that – it’s always been easier to indict a former leader than one still in office, for obvious reasons.
As I write she’s hanging on by her fingernails but I’d bet on her staying power – she’s tough. She’s a fan of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and enjoys being referred to as the Iron Lady. But the way she deals with Kurdish people in her country makes Thatcher look like Little Bo Peep.
The first thing you have to understand about Çiller is why she is there. Turkey is desperate to join the European Union – gaining official membership of the rich world. Çiller is Western-educated and dresses in a chic and highly expensive style – she is reputed to spend $400 a month on pantyhose/tights alone. Putting a Westernized woman at the head of an Islamic country reassures the Europeans and the Americans. And her background in free-market economics shifts the focus away from Turkey’s appalling human-rights record.
Genocide – ‘ethnic cleansing’ and systematic attacks on Kurds who form a majority in Turkey’s six south-eastern provinces. More than 1,000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed.
Çiller says these people are simply ‘mountain Kurds’ and that international law protecting minorities does not apply to them. Hitler might have said the same about ‘ghetto Jews’.
Denial of ethnic identity and religious freedom – Kurdish children are not allowed to be educated in their own language. Greek and Armenian schools and churches have been closed.
Until 1992 it was illegal to speak Kurdish even in private – can you believe that? It is still illegal to use it in official communications or to express Kurdish identity in any way.
Land seizure – On 19 February 1995 Tansu Çiller introduced Law 4070, which allows the Treasury to seize and sell the land of anyone who does not have a title issued since the last military coup – which applies to 90 per cent of the country. In practice this has allowed vast areas of land to be legally seized – ordinary Turkish people are being dispossessed and often physically harmed as well. Politicians and gangsters are the main beneficiaries.
Needless to say, Çiller has herself been a beneficiary of Law 4070. She has taken over land on the Aegean coast, at Kilyos on the Black Sea and at Kurtkoy near the site of a proposed new airport. Much of the land seized by politicians is sold on to Western companies such as Ford, Bayer, Fiat, Mazda and Trafalgar House. Some of the land is even used as security for World Bank loans – in 1994 $750 million were advanced in this way.
Torture of prisoners – Amnesty International documents many cases of torture, the most common form of which is to suspend prisoners in the air by their arms for long periods.
Much of the torture still takes place in the notorious Bayramoglu prison featured in the movie Midnight Express.
Collusion with the Mafia – The Mafia operates openly in Turkey – it is well known that towns such as Gebze, Pendik and Kartal are under Mafia control. The heads of Mafia families depend on political connections. Turkey has become a Mafia safe haven since there is no extradition and Turkish judges have been intimidated by the murder of those few who resisted.
It’ll be hard to tie Çiller to this directly so I suggest we drop this one from the charge sheet. The evidence against her on this count is circumstantial. The newspaper Aydinlik published a list of Çiller’s landholdings. Its offices were attacked and one of its journalists disappeared. Coincidental, of course. Çiller’s True Path party has been accused of using organized crime to raise funds and deal with opponents.
The needs of national security – The importance of protecting Turkish citizens from terrorism. Patriotism – ’the indivisible unity of the State’.
These are defences calculated to appeal to almost any leader. But her desperation to join the rich-world club is still her Achilles’ Heel: it’s surprising she’s endangered her cherished free-market project for such an indefensible folly as the war on the Kurds.
Life imprisonment in the Bayramoglu Prison.
A more creative sentence might confine her to a special unit in which she was only allowed to communicate in Kurdish. She would be denied pantyhose in case she hanged herself with it.
Leyla Zana, a Kurdish member of the Turkish Parliament,
smuggled this article out of prison into the hands of the world’s
press on the eve of her trial for treason in December 1994.
This Thursday, seven other Kurdish members of Turkey’s Parliament and I risk the death penalty when the State Security Court returns its verdict in our case. What crimes have we committed to warrant such punishment from a court established by the military dictatorship in 1980? Just one: bearing witness to the Kurdish people’s immense tragedy in Turkey.
For 70 years the Kurds’ very existence has been denied and their language, identity and culture banned. This has involved rural depopulation and destruction of Kurdish villages, forests and traditional society.
Turkey’s human-rights minister acknowledged that in the past two years the Army has evacuated and destroyed at least 1,390 Kurdish villages. Some two million Kurds have been displaced, a dozen towns depopulated and five to six million Kurds forced into western Turkey by state terror and economic collapse because of a war now in its eleventh year.
Elected in 1991 by Kurds to represent and defend their interests and aspirations, we obviously could not remain silent. Our duty as legislators was to speak out, explore all paths to end this frightful war, which has torn our country asunder, and seek a peaceful settlement for Turkey’s 15 million Kurds in a framework of democracy and existing frontiers.
To speak freely in a country ruled by an anti-democratic constitution and laws imposed by military dictatorship is risky, even for legislators. Death squads have killed more than 2,000 political and human-rights activists uninvolved in the fighting.
Among them were 82 activists of our Kurdish Democratic Party and 34 journalists and newspaper distributors. Such is the price for challenging the official, military version of events. For similar reasons 106 journalists, academics and writers are imprisoned. My husband, Mehdi Zana, a former mayor of the main Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, spent 15 years in prison for speaking out; now he is back serving a four-year jail term for testifying before the European Parliament.
I myself barely escaped two attempts on my life. I have been jailed since 5 March, charged with such ‘crimes’ as testifying before the US Congress’s Helsinki Commission and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaking on European television and uttering a phrase in Kurdish in Turkey’s Parliament celebrating Kurdish-Turkish friendship. My colleagues are on trial on similar charges.
Our Kafkaesque trial has provided an exemplary insight into Turkish political and legal absurdities. The prosecution ordered us to be held in preventive detention. Five months later, Ankara’s State Security Court in five sessions refused our requests to confront prosecution witnesses and call defence witnesses and experts.
Observer missions from international nongovernmental organizations, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe concluded that we were on trial solely for expressing our views. That is unacceptable in a democratic state of law. They recommended that we be freed and given back our parliamentary seats.
Prime Minister Tansu Çiller has said the Kurds have brainwashed Western governments. Officials suspect that these nongovernmental organizations are crypto-terrorist, and have banned even Amnesty International.
The authorities are prisoners of out-of-date nationalism and are paranoid about ‘Kurdish separatism’. Kurdish legislators make perfect scapegoats for modern Turkey’s most serious economic, political, social and moral crisis. This absurd war has cost more than 15,000 lives and devours almost half the budget. That is why the military leaders want to calm public opinion with a few token Kurdish victims.
I am 33. For 14 years I have lived with persecution and seen friends tortured or killed for wanting to live in peace and democracy with Turks on the sole condition that they respect Kurds’ identity and culture. I have two children, a husband and many dear friends. I love life. But my passion for justice for my people, who are suffering for dignity and freedom, is greater. What value is a life of slavery, humiliation and contempt for what you hold dearest – your identity? I will not knuckle under to Turkey’s inquisition.
Beyond my fate, I am concerned about the Kurdish and Turkish peoples. Turkey will not settle the problem of its 15 million Kurds by sending eight legislators to the gallows. Turkish extremism risks provoking a general catastrophe for both peoples and for the West, which counts on Turkey as a forward base in a strategically important region.
The West should realize that Turkey is not just a locale for military bases and electronic eavesdropping. It is a country of passions and conflicts which can, as in the Shah’s Iran, spill over into the irrational. If Turkey’s warlords assassinate hopes for the peaceful solution that we legislators represent, the road is open for Kurds to switch massively to the camp of violence and Islamic fundamentalism. And if the Kurds, next door to Iran’s Islamic revolutionaries, switch, then all Turkey will follow suit. And woe to us all.
(Leyla Zana was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment and is still in jail.)
Mehmet Gürkan, head of the Kurdish village
of Akçayurt in south-eastern Turkey
‘I supported the Government. But they came to my village and burned it down. They took me to the gendarmerie station and tortured me. My ribs were broken. They collected the people outside the village and gave them nothing for four days. They also burned all of our crops. I came to Ankara to ask help from the Government.’
This is what Mehmet Gürkan told the Turkish Daily News on 3 August 1994. On 18 August he ‘disappeared’. He had returned to his village to collect a few belongings and was seen being detained by security forces before being taken away in a helicopter. When his wife made inquiries the authorities denied holding him.
The conflict in south-east Turkey between government forces and guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) has claimed more than 16,000 lives since it began in August 1984. Police operations against suspected PKK supporters and other Kurdish activists are being carried out all over Turkey. A state of emergency remains in force in 10 provinces in the east and south-east including Diyarbakir.
Any person suspected of supporting the PKK is at serious risk of torture, ‘disappearance’ or extrajudicial execution.
Meral Daanis Bestas, lawyer
and human-rights campaigner
A lawyer and secretary of the Diyarbakir branch of the Turkish Human Rights Association, she says she was assaulted and tortured while being held incommunicado for four weeks at the local Gendarmerie HQ in November 1993. She was soaked for an hour naked in freezing cold water. She was also blindfolded, slapped, kicked and subjected to crude sexual insults. ‘They brought me a statement and asked me to sign while I was blindfold. I said "I am a lawyer. I am not going to sign anything that I have not read.”’
Amnesty International be-lieves the real reason for her prosecution is her work for clients who have made official complaints against the Turkish security forces for torture and other human-rights violations.
(Amnesty International Focus)
Ismet Imset, columnist for
Istanbul’s Ozgur Ulke newspaper
A serial bomb attack was carried out on three offices of a Turkish newspaper early last Saturday morning (3 December 1994). The Ozgur Ulke, a pro-Kurdish newspaper, has suffered dearly owing to this attack, which left behind one dead and 23 wounded. This attack came only four days after Turkey’s military-dominated National Security Council held a meeting in which a decision was taken to silence Kurdish aspirations and demands. Both the Turkish Chief of General Staff and the Interior Minister are on record saying ‘Ozgur Ulke should be stopped’. The day of the attack the leader of the ultra-right-wing Nationalist Action Party, Alpaslan Turkes, issued a statement in which he said ‘We will not refrain from shedding blood’ in preventing Kurds from having their social and cultural rights.
Ozgur Ulke is a continuation of Ozgur Gundem, a newspaper which was closed down last April following systematic attacks. Fifteen of its journalists were killed in that period while 330 separate court cases were launched. Its previous owner faces jail terms of up to 1,250 years for the commentaries and articles published in the paper. Journalists writing for Ozgur Ulke, including myself, are constantly threatened with death. Many of its employees have been detained and tortured by Turkish police in the past months and at least two of the detained are still registered among Turkey’s 230 ‘missing’ cases in 1994. The body of one missing reporter was recently found – after being tortured and mutilated. Pressure on the newspaper is so great that although it has legal status in Turkey, kiosks selling it are routinely bombed and even children, 10- to 15-year-old street sellers, are killed.
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996
This article is from
the January 1996 issue
of New Internationalist.
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