The trial of 151 leading Kurdish politicians and activists that began in October 2010 resumed on 13th January 2011 in a special court in Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey.

The trial was described as “clearly a political one”, by London lawyer Omer Moore, a member of the four-strong UK delegation.

The delegation of trial observers from the UK organised by Peace in Kurdistan observed the first few days of the reopened trial. They have now returned and released their initial impressions of what they witnessed.

The delegation, consisting of Fr. Joe Ryan, Chair of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Diocese of Westminster, Liberal Democrat politician and human rights activist Nasser Butt, human rights lawyer Sanya Karakaş and solicitor Omer Moore, Trott & Gentry Solicitors, were in the region from 13 until 19 January.

The mass trial, during which the accused were refused to speak in their mother tongue of Kurdish, was described by one of the delegation as an example of how the identity of the Kurdish people has been denied by Turkish authorities.

“The fact that 151 Kurdish people are on trial and not allowed to speak their own mother tongue is a denial of human rights,” said Fr Joe Ryan.

“The trial has now turned the tables – it is the Turkish nation which is on trial for denying the Kurdish prisoners the right to speak in their own mother tongue,” he declared.

Omer Moore took up the same theme: “The defendants made an ideological decision to speak in Kurdish. The response to it was the switching off of the defendants microphones. The mayor of Diyarbakir, Mr Osman Baydemir, used his five seconds of grace before the microphone was turned off to squeeze in one sentence, choosing Arabic words used both in Kurdish and Turkish so that both the judges and the audience would understand him. He said – “Merhamet, zulum, adalet”, meaning “we don’t want your mercy or oppression, we just want justice,” she observed.

“It was an honour to be invited as an observer to the trial. Our presence was very much appreciated. This was obvious from the relatives of the prisoners whom we met. While waiting in a large corridor before entering the courtroom, there was a chance to meet the families and friends of prisoners,” commented Fr Ryan.

Nasser Butt outlined the wider implications of the trial: “There may have been change in governments in Turkey over the last 80 years but each regime has been trying to wipe out any reference to past cultures of all its minority communities. Hence minorities such as the Armenians, Syrian Christians, The Alvei Muslims have had to survive quietly behind closed doors. The biggest challenge for Turks has come from its biggest minority, the Kurds. There has been an onslaught on Kurds to lose their language, culture and identity as Kurds and instead to adopt all things Turk whatever that means…

“The current round of court trials of nearly 2000 Kurds around the country is just another battleground, a new legal means to put the Kurd community under pressure and on trial in eyes of the Country. But given the abuse of the whole legal and political framework to achieve these trials, Turkey has been itself put on trial in the eyes of the international community,” Mr Butt concluded.

Since 14 April 2009, some 1,500 Kurdish politicians and activists have been arrested in the country, the vast majority members of pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), its youth and women’s branches.  Among those arrested are several elected mayors and former mayors, elected members of regional assemblies, journalists, and human rights activists.

Those on trial include several elected mayors, former parliamentarian and Democratic Society Congress co-chairman Hatip Dicle, Diyarbakır mayor Osman Baydemir, and Muharrem Erbey, the vice chairperson of the Human Rights Association of Turkey.

While the trial continues delegations from the UK will continue to observe the proceedings and report back at various stages. The trial is expected to last some months and its outcome will have profound implications for the rights of the Kurdish people, the future of Turkey and its relations with the outside world.

A Parliamentary meeting will be held on 16 February hosted by Lord Rea when the findings of the delegates will be discussed; their written report will be published in the beginning of February. More details on the public meeting will be announced soon.


For information contact

Peace in Kurdistan Campaign:
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish question

Estella Schmid – Tel: 020 7586 5892 – mobile 07846666804
Melanie Sirinathsingh- Tel: 020 7272 4131

Patrons: Lord Avebury, Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Alyn Smith MEP, Hywel Williams MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, John Austin, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen, Mark Thomas, Bairbre de Brún MEP