Posted by: hevallo | May 19, 2008

A Photo with Leyla Zana? No Thanks, but I’ll have some of her Fire!

By Hevallo.

I’d been getting more excited as the hour neared. Going to a meeting in parliament to hear and see, Leyla Zana! As I sat on the underground rattling along the lines with all the tourists buzzing around me I was asking myself the same question in my mind. Why? Why was I getting so excited? I mean I’ve been around the Kurdish issue for long enough now, to know that the people who have brought the Kurdish struggle to the stage that it is at now, are the people who have fought and died. Sacrificed their lives for the Kurdish cause.

‘Martyrs’, so many! So many young bright lives! Students, doctors, graduates, journalists, villagers and teachers. From every corner of the world, people, who decided to join the Kurdish Freedom Movement and fight for justice for the Kurds. Kurdish people who realised that the road for the Kurds in the democratic way was blocked, closed, stifled. When the Kurdish struggle took to the mountains it was because there was no other way. 80 years of denial policies from the Turkish Government have built a permanent motorway up to the mountains.

It is these people and the people who have survived and continue to fight in the mountains, as we sleep tonight, who we are to thank for stopping a policy of assimilation of the Kurdish people into Turkish society.

Halting a policy that banned Kurdish names. Turning around a policy of naming Kurdish people, ‘Mountain Turks’. A racist policy whereby Kurdish people themselves would deny their own identity. Putting into the dustbin of history a policy whereby Kurdish colours were banned and a language criminalised.

The Kurdish Guerilla did this. From the people, fighting for the people. We will never forget this.

So why was I getting so excited at the prospect of seeing Leyla Zana?

Well, she was the first, maybe since poor old Hasan Hayri to stand up in the Turkish parliament, proud of her Kurdish identity and culture and declare to the world that there are Kurds in Turkey and expose the brutality and racism of the Kemalist Fascist state.

She stood on the podium in the Turkish parliament wearing her Kurdish colours (as you see in the above video of her speech it was the Kurdish colours of her headband that incensed the Turkish Nationalist MP’s more than anything) and began to speak in Turkish and then Kurdish. There was mayhem. Even though she had simply saluted the brother and sisterhood of the Turkish and Kurdish people, she and her parliamentary colleagues had their immunity from prosecution lifted and were sentenced to over 14 years. They were incarcerated for over 10 years for the heinous crime of saying, ‘There are Kurds in Turkey!’.

She was the focus of numerous campaigns for her release. She became the acceptable face of the Kurdish Freedom Struggle and won many prestigious awards. Even though she represents the Kurdish People’s Struggle she was often seen as an individual, brave and eloquent, fighting a lone battle, as a women against the Turkish authorities.

The European Parliament supported her and awarded her a prize.

So I suppose this was why I was so excited.

Leyla has, highlighted and legitimised the Kurdish struggle for political rights in a way that few others have been able to do.

As she entered the Grand Committee Room in the British parliament the atmosphere in the room was electric. There was a spontaneous applause and all eyes were on Leyla.

The shame of the meeting was that there were so few MPs and VIP’s. Can you believe me when I report to you that UK Labour MP’s were banned from meeting with her? The ones that did and came to the meeting came against the party whip and discipline of the Labour Government.

This is disgusting, dishonourable and shameful.

But the room was filled with Kurds and non Kurdish friends. (and the two bleech blond haired women from the Turkish embassy).

Leyla took her seat and was enthusiastically welcomed by the guest speakers on the table. Everyone loves Leyla.

When it was her turn to speak, Leyla began to speak in Kurdish, much to the annoyance of the ladies from the Turkish Embassy and Turkish press! She said, as she was in the centre of UK democracy, she would put it to the meeting what language she should speak, Kurdish or Turkish. A sea of hands settled it and she gave her speech in her mother tongue.

Obviously, Leyla, as with all Kurdish speakers when they travel outside of Turkey, still have to be careful in terms of the Turkish laws what she says. But if you understand that, she still made a very good speech.

She firstly asked the Kurds in the diaspora what they were doing and how important it is for Kurds who have left the homeland to be involved and support the Kurdish struggle from where ever they are. She eluded to the changes in technology and communications and how these opened up possibilities for activity. She spoke of the need for a new constitution. “I believe it is the Constitution that was drafted by generals which lies at the heart of all the oppression,”

She emphasised the fact that the Kurds are not terrorists and it is not in the character of the Kurdish people to engage in ‘terrorism’. She said that the Kurdish struggle needs to be understood in terms of 80 years of denial of the Kurdish identity and how Kurdish people have had to struggle for their very existence.

How as humans if we are treated in that way, that anyone will resist, anyone, she said would react in the same way. If boxed in and trapped in a corner anyone would fight for their survival, she said. She was clearly speaking about the PKK and the armed struggle. Its simple to understand she emphasised, its just about human dignity and self survival. Just ask the people what they want, she said, its called democracy, its not unusual or strange. All humans would have these same feelings if treated in the same way as the Kurds have been treated.

She told the meeting that if Abdullah Ocalan’s proposals for political solutions through dialogue had been taken up the situation would be different. She said the Kurdish people just want an honourable peace.

She joked about how she was in a Turkish court, just the other day, being charged with this and that, she said, she told the meeting how she challenged the judge and said, “I’m not even mentioned in your constitution so how can I break your laws?”

After she had spoken, the audience rose to their feet and applauded. Then she was deluged with most of the audience wanting a photo taken with ‘Leyla Zana’. She patiently, obliged.

I watched her and people’s reaction to her and thought how different it is to other Kurdish speakers who have come and gone over the years. She has something that people warm too, both Kurd and non Kurd.

Leyla had said, recently, in a speech in Diyarbakir that “Kurds are fire, if approached correctly they get warm but if approached wrongly they burn.”

I did not get my ‘photo with Leyla’, but I did hope that her presence and affect that she had on all of those attending the meeting would last and that she had passed on a little bit of the flame she carries inside her. And that those affected, would carry that flame and intensify their own personal commitment to work in solidarity with the Kurdish Freedom Movement. Kurd and non Kurd alike.

I left the meeting and jumped on the train singing the Kurdish song, “Leyla, Leyla, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Heeeeeyy!”

The Guardian published an article about Leyla’s visit and meeting in parliament here.



  1. Hi mate,I followed these comments with interest. How long is Leyla Zana in the UK for, and where else is she appearing?If I wanted to contact her people, who would I try? I met her husband Mehdi once, in Sweden, for a story.cheers,Nick

  2. Thanks for that great post, Hevallo. Would you mind uploading your article to KurdishAspect so more Kurdish readers won’t miss it?

  3. no north tour or speech? please let me know if you can!

  4. Hiwa, sorry, not as far as I know.Her next appearance is at SOAS, School of Oriental and African Studies at 6pm on Friday. Don’t miss this opportunity to see and hear her. I can tell you she is in top form!

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