Kurds: A People Held Captive in Their Own Homeland


Hanım Onur, the former deputy mayor of Cizre, Şırnak province in the Kurdish region in Turkey, was arrested on the 16th of September 2011 during the KCK operations where Turkish authorities targeted the Kurdish civilian opposition. She spent 18 months in prison with no valid evidence against her.

Hanım Onur is not only the former deputy mayor of Cizre but also a political activist who dedicates most of her time to the empowerment of women’s rights. She is also a mother whose children have been fighting against terminal diseases. The 5 year-old Solin has leukemia and her 7 year-old brother Mirhat suffers from epilepsy.

Solin was diagnosed with leukemia after she stayed with her mother in prison for a week. Being taken care of by her grandmother, Solin received treatment at different hospitals but was not able to respond to medication sufficiently due to the trauma she experienced as she was deprived of her parents’ love and affection for a long time.

Solin and Mirhat have spent almost two years of their lives in hospitals, courts and prisons away from their parents. Before her mother was released, Solin was singing this song in Kurdish on a TV channel:

The spring is gone
My eyes are longing for you
My wishes don’t come true
Let this longing be over
It is so painful

For several months, Hanım Onur applied to the authorities to set her free so that she could take care of her children but her application was denied by the Turkish authorities.

Campaigns were started on social media where people asked the Turkish authorities to release Onur and an online petition demanding her freedom reached more than 50,000 signatures in a few days.

At last, Hanım Onur was released from pre-trial detention on the 11th of February 2013 after the application of her lawyers stating the health conditions of her children. On the same day of her release, police raided her apartment to search for weapons but found nothing.

The story of Hanım Onur and her family is a clear picture of what it means to be a Kurd in Turkey.

Being the largest ethnic community in the world who has been denied their national freedom, Kurds have experienced many abuses of international law including genocide, crimes against humanity, torture, prohibitions on culture and language, “disappearances”, extrajudicial executions, and mass displacement for decades.

Today, the Kurdish genocide has entered a new phase in Turkey, which is the political genocide that has been going on since the KCK investigation was launched in April 2009. Nearly 8,000 people have been detained on charges of membership of an illegal organization with no convincing evidence.  The defendants include serving and former mayors, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, trade unionists, students and members of the legal Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

How did “KCK operations” get started?

Being the continuation of the Democratic Society Party which was banned in December 2009, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) won a further 45 municipalities amounting to 98 municipalities in total in the March 2009 local elections. Many of those municipalities were administered by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials prior to the elections.

Two weeks after the local elections which the BDP won convincingly, mass arrests of Kurds referred to as “the ‘KCK operations” in the media began on 14 April 2009.

Thousands of people have been charged for alleged links to the KCK (Union of Kurdistan Communities), a body connected with the leadership of the armed PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) pursuant to those operations. If convicted, the defendants face jail sentences of between 15-years and life in prison.

The unlawful practices have also deprived 6 MPs of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) of their democratic right to be engaged in politics: Even though they won their parliamentary seats in June 2012 elections, Ibrahim Ayhan, Gulser Yildirim, Kemal Aktas, Selma Irmak, Faysal Sariyildiz and Hatip Dicle are still in prison instead of the parliament where they were entitled to enter through “democratic” elections.

Many human rights organizations raised concerns concerning the unlawful mass arrests.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the KCK operations as “the Turkish police casting the net ever wider in the crackdown on legal pro-Kurdish politics.”

HRW highlighted the invalidity of the means of collecting evidence for the KCK operation and Turkey’s vague definition of terrorism which is not line with international law:

The evidence against the defendants is largely based on wiretaps, surveillance of an office some of the accused frequented, intercepted email correspondence, and testimony from secret witnesses. However, there is scant evidence to suggest the defendants engaged in any acts that could be defined as terrorism as it is understood in international law. Turkey’s Anti-Terrorism Law contains a vague and overbroad definition of terrorism. Furthermore, court interpretations of the law make its misuse more likely.

The Human Rights Joint Platform in Turkey formed by the Human Rights Association, the Association of Helsinki Citizens and the Turkish section of Amnesty International stated that:

Consideration that working in legal organizations – i.e. municipalities, trade unions, associations and political parties – constitutes an “offence”, and designating legal and peaceful press conferences, workshops and demonstrations as offences committed upon the instructions of illegal organizations, runs counter to the principle of the rule of law.

Amnesty International also announced its concerns regarding Turkey’s anti-terrorism legislation and its application:

The definition of terrorism in this law is overly broad, vague and lacks the level of legal certainty required by international human rights law. Prosecutions brought under anti-terrorism legislation have frequently been based on secret witness testimony that cannot be examined by defense lawyers.

The arrests openly violate the principles of international human rights law including the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. However, this situation comes as no surprise if we consider the fact that the treatment of Kurds in Turkey has been an absolute affront to the basic universal human rights for decades.

The Turkish state suppressed the Kurdish identity since the establishment of the Turkish Republic.  Today, as a result of the struggle that Kurds have continued for long years, the state cannot deny the fact that Kurds exist but it still insists on not recognizing their right to live freely. The political “status” that Kurds have in Turkey today is to become political prisoners in their indigenous regions.

Having been subjected to the worst disasters of mankind including ethnic cleansing, mass graves, chemical attacks and bombings, Kurds are now faced with mass arrests and are still falling victim to various discriminatory policies of oppression at the hands of the Turkish government.