Letter: Silencing the voice of the Kurds

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The Independent Online
Sir: The ban on reporting events in Turkish Kurdistan by the Kurdistan Workers Party must be seen in the context of the Turkish state's determined attempts to silence the voice of the Kurds themselves ('Kurdish press ban deepens conflict', 19 October).

We returned from a five-day visit to Kurdistan on Sunday. There we heard about the latest attacks on the only newspaper to report the views of the Kurds, Ozgur Gundem. So far, no fewer than nine journalists working for the paper have been murdered; the chief editor Yasar Kaya has been detained in Ankara since mid-September following a speech he made at a meeting of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iraq; 55 correspondents have been taken into custody for periods of up to several months; three of these were tortured seriously and all were beaten up; all the paper's offices have been raided constantly and kept under surveillance including telephone tapping, and 39 issues of the paper have been confiscated.

During our visit we heard of a grisly new technique being used against the paper. Boys selling Ozgur Gundem have been attacked by armed men. One 12-year-old was grabbed round the neck and shot dead at point-blank range by a masked gunman on 10 October. We heard from Recep Demirtas, age 16, Mehmet Balamir, age 16 and Aziz Karadeniz, age 14, of how they had been attacked from behind by men wielding meat cleavers. All were seriously injured, receiving deep cuts requiring many stitches. Another boy, Abdulkadir Altan, age 17, was still in hospital following a similar attack.

The attempt to crush Ozgur Gundem is part of the Turkish government's systematic attack on the Kurdish people and their national identity. In recent weeks hundreds of villages have been forcibly evacuated; crops and fodder burnt; animals killed and houses burnt to the ground. Cobra helicopters rain bombs on civilian targets, Panzers block the roads and troops march down the streets with drums beating, flaunting the Turkish flag.

Several people compared what is happening with the attacks on the Armenian community in 1915-16, which left a million dead. If a repetition of that tragedy is to be avoided, the international community must act now, and the first step is for democratic countries and organisations to send observers to Kurdistan, to see for themselves what is happening.

Yours faithfully,

AVEBURY

Chairman

Parliamentary Human

Rights Group

JOHN AUSTIN-WALKER

MP for Woolwich (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

19 October

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