Cristina Artoni - 20/05/2009
“You won't have to show your passport to come into our house. It will be a place open to everyone”. Layla Zana speaks as though she could see the Academy of Peace right in front of her, and she talks about this project starting from its very foundations: leaving outside the atmosphere of repression against her people that one can sense all over. Leyla, a former member of Parliament, insists on speaking Kurdish, notwithstanding the fact of having paid for this with as many as 10 years in prison.
Back in the Nineties Leyla Zana, despite her parliamentary immunity, was sentenced to imprisonment for having uttered some phrases in Kurdish language during the inaugural ceremony of the Turkish National Assembly. In 1995 she was awarded the Sacharov prize, and in 2001 the European Court for Human Rights condemned Turkey, which induced the Turkish government to eventually set her free in June 2004. After her release from prison, the former member of Parliament founded a new party: the DTP.
“Turkey is a member state of Nato, of Imf, and also of the UN, but has been using its financial resources in the wrong way – she keeps stressing out -. Were these resources invested in order to promote culture, to educate to peace, things would go differently. That's why I decided to create the Academy of Peace here in Dyarbakyr”.
It is from the main town of the country's South-Eastern region, from the Turkish Kurdistan, that Leyla Zana wants to start over again to lay the foundations for a different kind of future: “We all know – she maintains – that a pacified Turkey would be the best security guarantee for the whole of Europe, for the Middle-East and for the world at large. I find that it is a reason for great embarrassment for Ankara – she goes on saying – that hundreds of people are still being brought to trial only because they want to speak their mother tongue”. In the Kurdish areas the campaign for the right to speak Kurdish is always in the foreground: protests and initiatives in schools are constantly taking place, and the Kurdish mayors (as well as the student and the entire population) confront the authorities on a daily basis.
Leyla Zana has not been granting an interview for a long time now; she prefers to speak out in public so as to avoid her words being manipulated. “I spend a lot of my time having to defend myself in Courts of Justice around this country. In the past I spent a lot of time in prison, and now the Turkish government is trying to condemn me to as many as 45 years imprisonment for terroristic propaganda.” With a bitter smile in her eyes for the joke she is about to make, she goes on saying: “The only up-side about all this is that, if I serve so many years prison sentence, that means I'm going to live a long time still!” She does not want to go into the consequences, also physical ones, that her imprisonment years have left on her. Leyla Zana, a woman of 50 now, has no need to emphasize her story in order to get on with her life. The hard facts of a conflict in which 40000 people died and thousands became refugees speak for themselves. The Ankara government has been trying to make its policy seem less harsh in the eyes of its European partners by adjusting a few things here and there. “The Turkish government has been modifying some of its laws, as if it wanted to put a patch on the situation. And so, for instance, it gave permission for a Kurdish newspaper to be published, but then this newspaper is constantly being sued because of its contents, and it has to spend a lot of money to defend itself. Surviving gets difficult under such circumstances.” In the past few months the Turkish government gave permission for a TV channel in Kurdish language to be set up. “In fact – as the Kurdish artist Ozan Yusuf declared – on Trt6 you can't say what you really think”. During his participation in a TV program he was even explicitly asked not to use words like for instance “Amed” (Kurdish for Diyarbakyr), and “Berfin” (Kurdisch for flower), because they were being used by political organizations. “Trt6 is using us – he maintained – in order to keep up the assimilation politics that has always been carried out in this country”.
Leyla Zana gives in a few words the core meaning of a battle that involves thousands of people: “The heart of the matter is that the Kurdish people are not recognized and accepted. According to the Turks, there are simply no Kurds. In our Peace Academy we will try and bring down such barriers” - says Leyla Zana in the end, her eyes gazing in the distance.
Traduzione dall'italiano Antonella Santini