[Congressional Record (Bound Edition), Volume 146 (2000), Part 4]
[Pages 4816-4818]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]


  The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Thune). Under the Speaker's announced 
policy of January 6, 1999, the gentleman from California (Mr. Filner) 
is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the minority leader.
  Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, yesterday I introduced a resolution, House 
Resolution 461, to ask for the freedom of Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, 
Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak as well as the lifting of the ban on the 
Kurdish language and culture in Turkey. Now, these names may be 
unfamiliar to some, but the names I just read are those of Kurdish 
parliamentarians, Kurdish Congress members who have been in prison, 
yes, Mr. Speaker, in prison as Congresspeople for the last 6 years. The 
language and culture that they represent are the Kurds, an indigenous 
people of the Middle East who live in an ancient land called Kurdistan. 
These representatives are in prison solely because they are Kurds, and 
the Kurds are not free because their land is ruled by Turkey, Syria, 
Iran, and Iraq.
  Now, this body has previously heard of the name Leyla Zana who, 
according to The New York Times, is the most famous Kurdish dissident 
in the world. This country has heard of the Kurds because Saddam 
Hussein gassed them with his chemical and biological weapons in 1988 
and threatened to do so again in 1991. But neither this country nor 
this body has really paid any attention to the plight of the Kurds 
living as they still do on their ancient lands and still persecuted now 
even as I speak by the governments in Ankara, Damascus, Tehran, and 
  Mr. Speaker, I am going to restrict my commentary today to Turkey, 
because it is a country we honor as an ally, we support as a friend and 
we favor as a partner. Turkey boasts of having a sophisticated U.S. 
arsenal in its inventory: M-16 machine guns, M-60 battle tanks, Cobra 
attack helicopters, and F-16 fighter planes. American Special Forces in 
fact train Turkish commandoes in Turkey. Turkish leaders are fond of 
referring to their people as an ``army nation'' and talks are now under 
way to supply Turkey with an additional 145 attack helicopters worth $4 
  Now, is Turkey really worthy of these investments? Have our fighter 
planes, our attack helicopters, our battle tanks, and our machine guns 
protected the liberty of its citizens? Why are we training Turkish 
commandoes who are known to behead their victims and haul their dead 
bodies behind armored vehicles? In Turkey today, Mr. Speaker, I note 
with trepidation that liberty is under assault. Cultural genocide is 
the law of the land. A way of life known as Kurdish is disappearing at 
an alarming rate.
  Mr. Speaker, we are not always as a country indifferent to the plight 
of the Kurds. Our 28th President, Woodrow Wilson, supported the right 
of subject peoples to self-determination. In an address to the Senate 
on January 22, 1917 he said:

       No nation should seek to extend its policy over any other 
     nation or people but that every people should be left free to 
     determine its own polity, its own way of development, 
     unhindered, unthreatened, unafraid, the little along with the 
     great and powerful.

  Three months after this statement, the United States entered the war 
on the side of the Allies. The war cry ``making the world safe for 
democracy'' resonated with subject peoples all over the world and 
families from North Africa to Central Europe and people who named their 
sons after our President. But the prophetic words of President

[[Page 4817]]

Wilson were disregarded, especially in the Ottoman provinces. The 
Armenians were massacred and the Kurds were subdued after the emergence 
of the Turkish republic. What followed has been chronicled as nothing 
other than a slow-motion genocide.
  In Turkey, a people known to historians as the Kurds and a land known 
to geographers as Kurdistan simply disappeared from the official 
discourse overnight just 1 year after the inception of the young 
Turkish republic. The Kurds, said the Turkish officials, were not 
really Kurds but mountain Turks and their land was not really Kurdistan 
but eastern Turkey. This act of social engineering and historical 
revisionism has been propagated as the law of the land ever since. 
Thousands of Kurds have died in rebellion after rebellion. Millions 
have been uprooted. Some wish to raise a Rest in Peace sign over the 
entire Kurdish nation.
  Perhaps of all the stories that have come out of the Kurdish land 
administered by the Turks, that of Layla Zana captures the essence of 
what it means to be a Kurd in Turkey. She was born in 1961 in a small 
Kurdish village near Farqin. Her earliest recollections of the Turks 
were either as tax collectors or as soldiers. In elementary school the 
lone Turkish teacher that she had told her she should learn Turkish 
because it was the language of the civilization. She was able to go to 
school for only 3 years. Then she worked on a farm, helped out in the 
house and occasionally heard of the name Mehdi Zana, who was her future 
husband, as the rising star of Kurdish politics.
  In fact in 1976, she married Mehdi Zana and moved to the largest 
Kurdish city in the world known as Amed, or Diyarbakir, in northern 
Kurdistan. In 1977, Mehdi Zana was elected to the post of mayor of the 
city. Turkish officials were appalled. Here was an ardent Turkish 
nationalist who managed to earn the trust of his fellow Kurds. The city 
Amed was put under siege. Its funds were frozen. Mayor Zana appealed to 
his European colleagues for help. French mayors responded by giving 30 
buses and trucks filled with office supplies and for a short while the 
bus fares in the city were simply abolished. Leyla Zana's education in 
politics began in those tumultuous years.
  On September 12, 1980, a general in the Turkish army named Kenan 
Evren declared himself the supreme leader of the country. He deposed 
the elected government and dissolved the parliament. His soldiers then 
began arresting dissidents, especially the Kurds. The rising star of 
Kurdish politics, Mehdi Zana, was high on their list. Twelve days 
later, he was arrested without any charges being posted. And for the 
next 8 years, he would be tortured in the infamous Diyarbakir military 
prison. He would witness the death of 57 of his friends. But through it 
all he did not break, he endured as did his wife and small children.
  Mehdi Zana was kept in prison for 3 additional years in various 
Turkish prisons in Turkey proper. He has chronicled his ordeals in a 
book entitled Prison No. 5, now available in bookstores in this country 
as well as on amazon.com. I had the fortune of meeting this nonviolent 
champion of Kurdish rights a couple of years ago and was humbled by the 
generosity of his feelings toward his tormentors. Like President Nelson 
Mandela in South Africa, Mehdi Zana does not seek revenge. He wants 
peace for himself and his family and his people.

                              {time}  1745

  In words that still haunt me, he urged me to speak out against the 
slow motion genocide against the Kurds. ``The Armenians,'' he noted, 
``were massacred. The Kurds are being put to permanent sleep.''
  Mr. Speaker, Leyla Zana's schooling consisted of adversity, torture, 
humiliation, and State-sanctioned persecution that has never slackened 
to this day. She had given birth to a son when Mehdi was the Mayor of 
Amed and would later give birth to a daughter after her husband's 
arrest. She would learn Turkish the hard way, from the police who 
harassed her for being the wife of a popular mayor, and the courts who 
ruled that he was a trader and deserved to die.
  In 1998, she herself was thrown into jail and endured abuse, 
humiliation, and torture for organizing the wives of Kurdish political 
prisoners to demand visitation rights. Although behind bars, the 
authorities, fearing a chain reaction, gave in to these mothers' 
demands, and Layla Zana has related this brush with the police as a 
turning point in her awakening as a political activist. She began 
reading voraciously, wrote for various publications, passed a 
proficiency exam for a high school diploma; in fact, the first Kurdish 
woman to do so in her city.
  These were the years when the wall in Berlin came down, the Soviet 
Union let go of its subject nations, the Cold War that had dominated 
international politics was supplanted with a rapprochement between the 
East and the West. The winds of change that brought democracy to former 
communist nations, people now hoped with visit the lands administered 
by ``our dictators'' in such places as South Africa, Indonesia and 
  We all know that South Africa has made its transition to democracy. 
And just last year, the official world welcomed one of its smallest 
nations to the fold, the people of East Timor. But the Kurds, the 
Kurds, thus far, have been kept off of this forward march toward 
liberty. The adversaries of the Kurds and their misguided friends have 
managed to define them as the misfits of the world. But this cause of 
liberty is a just one, and the veil of oppression over the Kurds must 
come down.
  There was a time when the prospects of peace and reconciliation 
between the Kurds and the Turks almost became a reality. In October 
1991, the country held a general election. Twenty-two Kurds were 
elected to the Turkish parliament. The names I mentioned when I first 
began tonight, Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak 
were part of that group. Hopes were raised that these newly and duly 
elected representatives would be the mediators with the Turks and peace 
and justice might once again come to the land of the Kurds.
  But these hopes were dashed when Mehmet Sincar, a newly-elect Kurdish 
member of the parliament, was murdered in broad daylight on September 
3, 1993. One year later, 6 Kurdish parliamentarians were arrested for 
their advocacy of a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question. Six 
others, who were feeling the sword of Damocles hanging on their 
shoulders, fled abroad to seek political asylum in Europe, and the 
remaining nine Kurdish deputies in the parliament either resigned from 
their posts or changed parties to save their lives.
  An all-out war was then declared with devastating results. Turkish 
troops using American weapons wanted to silence the Kurdish resistance 
once and for all. The Kurdish cease-fire offers were spurned. The 
Kurdish villagers were forced to either take up arms against their 
family members, the Kurdish rebels, or face the consequences of the 
destruction of their villages. Over 3,400 villages have been destroyed; 
37,000 people, mostly Kurds, have been killed; 3 million Kurds have 
become refugees.
  Mr. Speaker, 3 years ago our distinguished colleague from Illinois 
(Mr. Porter) sent out a ``Dear Colleague'' letter which was signed by 
153 Members of the 105th Congress to President Clinton urging him to 
intervene on behalf of Leyla Zana. A year later, in fact, the gentleman 
from Illinois (Mr. Porter) visited her in Turkish prison and urged the 
Turkish authorities to do the same. Unfortunately, nothing came of 
these efforts. Her imprisonment continues and the intransigence of the 
Turks is still at an all-time high.
  The Porter letter, which was dated October 30, 1997 addresses some of 
the concerns of the resolution I have introduced in this Congress, and 
I would like to read that ``Dear Colleague'' for the Record.
  It states: ``Dear Mr. President: We want to draw your attention to 
the tragic situation of Leyla Zana, the first Kurdish woman ever 
elected to the Turkish parliament. Mrs. Zana, who is the mother of two 
children, was chosen to represent the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir by an 
overwhelming margin

[[Page 4818]]

in October 1991. She was arrested by Turkish authorities in March of 
1994 in the Parliament Building and subsequently prosecuted for what 
Turkish authorities have labeled ``separatist speech'' that is stemming 
from her exercise of her right to free speech in the defense of the 
rights of the Kurdish people. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison 
in December 1994 and remains in Ankara today.
  One of the charges against Mrs. Zana was her 1993 appearance here in 
Washington before the Helsinki Commission of the United States 
Congress. We find it outrageous that although she was invited to 
participate at the request of Members of Congress, her participation 
was one of the activities that led to her imprisonment.
  Mrs. Zana's pursuit of democratic change through nonviolence was 
honored by the European Parliament which unanimously awarded her the 
1995 Sakharov Peace Prize. In addition, Amnesty International and Human 
Rights Watch have raised concern about her case.
  ``Mr. President,'' the letter goes on, ``Turkey is an important 
partner of the United States, a NATO member, and a major recipient of 
our foreign aid, but its abuse of its Kurdish citizens and their 
legitimately-elected representatives is unacceptable. Mrs. Zana's 
majority Kurdish constituency gave her the mandate to represent them, 
but the government of Turkey has made an unconscionable effort to stop 
her. Her voice should not be silenced. This is just one of the many 
cases in which the Turkish Government has used the power of the State 
to abuse people, based on their political beliefs.
  We ask you and your administration, Mr. President, to raise Mrs. 
Zana's case with the Turkish authorities at the highest level and seek 
her immediate and unconditional release so that we may, once again, 
welcome her to our shores.''
  Mr. Speaker, that was the letter that 153 of us wrote recently. Since 
then, Amnesty International has adopted Leyla Zana and her duly-elected 
members of parliament as prisoners of conscious. In 1995 and 1998, the 
Noble Peace Committee that assigns its prestigious Peace Prize to 
people who embody our most deepest aspirations for a more tolerant 
world acknowledged that Leyla Zana was one of their finalists. The City 
of Rome has awarded her honorary citizenship. European organizations 
have bestowed on her numerous awards of their own.
  In 1867, Mr. Speaker, a great American, Frederick Douglas, in his 
``Appeal to Congress for Impartial Suffrage,'' summarized the situation 
of his family which is akin to what this resolution is demanding from 
the Turkish Government. Reflecting on Mr. Douglas's historical remarks, 
I was reminded of my encounter with Mehdi Zana and how he too echoed 
the same sentiments as our own great emancipator. Mr. Douglas wrote 
that, ``We have marvelously survived all of the exterminating forces of 
slavery, and have emerged at the end of 250 years of bondage, not 
morose, misanthropic, and revengeful, but cheerful, hopeful and 
forgiving. We now stand before Congress and the country, not 
complaining of the past, but simply asking for a better future.'' 
Simply asking for a better future.
  Mr. Speaker, my resolution, supported at this time by my esteemed 
colleagues, the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Porter), the gentleman 
from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Wolf), 
the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Eshoo), the gentleman from 
Michigan (Mr. Bonior), and the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pallone), 
calls for a better future for the Kurds. In that future, public service 
is not rewarded with punishment, but honored with gratitude. In that 
future, languages are not banned, but cultivated as a gift of God to a 
people and of a people to its offspring. And only in that future, Mr. 
Speaker, lies the promise of peace and justice for the Kurds and a 
brighter future with the Turks.
  Mr. Speaker, I ask my friends to support us as we help the peoples of 
Turkey to leap into the future for the good of themselves, as well as 
our battered humanity.
  Mr. Speaker, asking for a better future is what we are doing here