Layla Zana (Kurdish: Leyla Zana) was born in 1961 in the small village of Bache in Northern Kurdistan (Northern Kurdistan (Eastern Turkey)), Leyla married the Kurdish activist, Mehdi Zana, who in 1977 was elected Mayor of Diyarbakir-a major city in Northern Kurdistan (Eastern Turkey). The 1980 military coup in Turkey brought about a new wave of oppression against the Kurds, and Mehdi Zana was among thousands of activists who were arrested and imprisoned in the name of national security and democracy.
Following her husband from prison to prison across Turkey and as the number of political prisoners grew in Turkey, Leyla became more involved in the plight of women whose husbands were abducted and imprisoned by the military regime. Eventually, she assumed an unsolicited leadership role. Her personal development was virtually synonymous with the development of the Kurdish liberation struggle, and this culminated in her candidacy for Parliament in the 1991 elections in Turkey. An extremely popular candidate, Leyla received 84 percent of the votes in her district of Diyarbakir. She was the first Kurdish woman to be elected to the Turkish Parliament.
Leyla Zana, Hürriyet, Sep. 9, 1994
In March 1994 Leyla Zana and her colleagues Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan, Selim Sadak (in July), all Kurdish members of the Parliament, were stripped of their Parliamentary immunity and arrested. Charges of separatism and illegal activities were brought against the four for publicly advocating peaceful coexistence between the Turkish and Kurdish peoples. Expression of Kurdish identity in Parliament and even the color of their clothes were used as evidence against them. “That the defendant Leyla Zana on 18 October 1991 did wear clothes and accessories in yellow, green, red [colors associated with Kurdish flag] while addressing the people of Cizre on 18 October 1991,” reads the prosecutor’s statement of grounds cited for convicting Leyla Zana. In December 1994, Leyla was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
In 1995, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the first time and was a finalist. She was nominated again in 1998 by, among others, U.S. Representative John Porter, Democrat of Illinois, who in his letter to the Nomination Committee wrote: “Many brave Kurdish souls have made the ultimate sacrifice to leap into the realm called peace for the benefit of themselves and their loved ones. Leyla Zana is one such individual. She has become a symbol of the yearning of the Kurds for a state of peaceful coexistence with their neighbors.”
As the prison conditions have gradually worsened for the Kurdish M.P.’s, it has become almost impossible for Leyla Zana to correspond with the outside world. Her last article on Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, resulted in additional two years imprisonment sentence by Ankara State Security Court in September 1998.
Leyla Zana, who suffers from a liver condition and advanced osteoporosis, remains in prison despite of all international protest, while her husband, son, and daughter are in exile in Europe.
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