20 July 2017 – Two years since the breakdown of a fragile peace process between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state forces, the impact of the Turkish authorities’ sustained onslaught on Kurdish language and culture is becoming ever more blatant and harrowing, PEN International said today.
The Turkish authorities have repeatedly cracked down on Kurdish literary and cultural symbols, language and media outlets. At least 87 municipalities in the southeast region have been taken over by the government and their democratically elected mayors and officials removed or jailed. Up to half a million people have been displaced since July 2015, with extended round-the-clock curfews affecting hundreds of thousands of people. An estimated 1,200 local residents and 800 members of the security forces have been killed during brutal clashes, which saw a further 2,040 civilians wounded.
Erasure of Kurdish language and cultural heritage
Since July 2015, scores of historical sites and buildings in the southeast have been destroyed. The Sur district in the city of Diyarbakir, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015, has been the site of some of the fiercest fighting, with entire neighbourhoods demolished. Government-appointed provincial authorities have also taken down several local cultural monuments throughout the region, including the statues of prominent classic Kurdish writer Ehmedê Xanî in the city of Bazid and of Kurdish politician Orhan Doğan in the city of Cizîre. The Tahir Elçi park in Van’s Çatak province, named after the Kurdish human rights lawyer killed in November 2015, was also renamed in honour of a fallen soldier.
‘Our region is blessed with diversity that should be celebrated as elements of richness, strength and uniqueness in order to encourage and promote peace, togetherness and a sense of belonging. Instead, the Turkish authorities are targeting these very values, leaving us to face the devastation of our land, culture and people’ said Berivan Dosky, President of Kurdish PEN. ‘Our literary, social and cultural symbols convey our dreams of equality and freedom. By destroying them, the authorities are attempting to uproot us and eradicate any references to our identity.’
The crackdown on Kurdish language intensified following the coup attempt on 15 July 2016, resulting in the closure of most pro-Kurdish and Kurdish language media outlets, including 16 TV stations, 10 radio stations and three news agencies. On 1 January 2017, the Turkish Press and Advertisement Council declared that ‘all font and text except advertisements on any print press has to be in Turkish’, leaving the Kurdish language press in shambles.
‘During the peace process the Turkish authorities started taking steps to acknowledge Kurdish culture and cultural rights but we are now witnessing an appalling rollback’ said Simona Škrabec, Chair of PEN’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee. ‘Kurdish people have the right to use their own language and to receive information in their mother-tongue. Their linguistic riches should be celebrated, not destroyed’.
Journalists caught in clampdown
At least 36 journalists from pro-Kurdish outlets have been arrested since July 2016, joining another 21 already detained. Among the detained is news editor and reporter Nedim Türfent, who has been held in solitary confinement for more than a year, conditions that amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Prior to his arrest, Türfent was covering clashes between the Turkish army and the PKK. He was charged with ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ and ‘making terrorist propaganda’ on account of his social media posts and news reporting. When he appeared in court on 14 June 2017, a dozen witnesses claimed to have been tortured into signing incriminatory statements against him. His next hearing is due to take place on 9 August 2017. PEN International calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
Ever-shrinking space for free expression
Thousands of teachers and academics have been dismissed by emergency decree as part of a nation-wide purge. Among them are those who signed a January 2016 peace petition calling for an end to army abuses in the southeast. On 11 November 2016, the activities of some 370 NGOs were arbitrarily suspended, over half of them Kurdish organisations.
Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, the leaders of the parliamentary opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and other MPs from the party, have been in jail since November 2016. The forced replacement of elected local officials in the southeast has deprived millions of voters of their elected representatives in parliament and local government.
PEN International continues to call for a peaceful solution to the conflict and urges the international community to take all possible measures, including through international and regional institutions, to solve such dire situation and to provide humanitarian assistance to civilians affected by the conflict, notably through artistic and cultural programmes.
‘The scale of the crackdown is acute; it defies logic, rationality, and violates all norms and standards. Our thoughts are with Nedim Türfent and all the journalists and writers detained in the Kurdish region and throughout Turkey who have been jailed simply for doing their job’ said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee. ‘They must be released at once’.
PEN International further calls on the Turkish authorities to release all those held in prison for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to lift the state of emergency. The organisation urges the authorities to protect and promote Kurdish linguistic rights by notably withdrawing their reservation to Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on minority rights and ratifying the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
 Members of the PKK, an armed group active in Turkey, are calling for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey. The PKK launched an armed struggle against the Turkish authorities in 1984, leading to decades of conflict. A ceasefire and political process initiated in 2013 broke down after two years. Since then, human rights groups have documented sustained human rights violations in the Kurdish region. For more information please see PEN International, Resolution on the conflict in Turkey, October 2016: www.pen-international.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/RESOLUTION-ON-THE-CONFLICT-IN-TURKEY-ENG.pdf and PEN International, Turkey: End crackdown in the Kurdish regions and seek a peaceful solution, 2 November 2016, available at: www.pen-international.org/newsitems/turkey-end-crackdown-in-the-kurdish-regions-and-seek-a-peaceful-solution/
For further details contact Laurens Hueting at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org