A new release by blue crane books
Watertown, Massachusetts – Writings from Prison by Leyla Zana, the first Kurdish woman elected to the Turkish Parliament is a recent release by Blue Crane Books. Part of publisher’s Human Rights and Democracy Series, this book is a collection of Ms. Zana’s letters and articles written from Ankara prison since her arrest in 1994.
An activist in the struggle for the recognition of Kurdish identity and an advocate of women’s emancipation and democratization of Turkey, Leyla Zana was elected to the Parliament in Turkey of post-military dictatorship in 1991. Tolerance was short lived however, and in 1994 Leyla Zana was among the Kurdish parliamentarians who were stripped of their parliamentary immunity and arrested for statements made in support of a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey.
“Today, it is possible to find a political solution to the Kurdish problem within the framework of democracy and within the context of existing borders,” writes Zana in her letter of acceptance of the 1995 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. “Beyond borders and divisions imposed by language, religion and culture, we share certain universal values of freedom and human rights. . . . It is in the name of these values that I ask for your help to put an end to the tragedy of my people, and to build a democratic, pluralistic, and European Turkey.”
Through writings, such as “Speak out,” “Let us defend diversity,” “Facing the Death Penalty in Ankara for My Beliefs,” Ms. Zana talks about her beliefs, her life and plight that symbolizes the fate of her people and of women in her country. Her letters to family and friends are passionate and strong. “Her words are her own prison sentence,” says S. H. Ghazarian, editor Southern California based AIM magazine. “Aware of the strength of words, she continues to use them-with her children, whose birthdays she misses, with her known and unknown supporters, whose help she needs to internationalize the cause of her people. The sincerity and conviction in those words affect the reader deeply.”
Born in 1961 in the small village of Bache in Eastern Turkey, Leyla married the Kurdish activist, Mehdi Zana, who in 1977 was elected Mayor of Diyarbakir-a major city in 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.
In her foreword to the book, human rights activist André Sakharov’s widow Elena Bonner, writes: “A book about a remarkable woman by the name of Leyla Zana needs no introduction. The life reflected on these pages speaks volumes . . . Indeed, Leyla Zana can truly be called a daughter of the Kurdish people, to whose rights she has devoted her life.” A second foreword is written by the Northern Ireland peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Betty Williams.
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.
Since her arrest, a tremendous effort has been launched on her behalf by human rights organizations and the diplomatic community worldwide, including members of the US Congress.
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.
Writings from Prison is available in paperback and may be purchased from your local bookstore or ordered directly from the publisher: Blue Crane Books, P. O. Box 0291, Cambridge, MA 02238, Tel: (617) 926-8989, Fax: (617) 926-0982, Email: [email protected].
Writings from Prison
By Leyla Zana