Türkei: Leyla Zana

We refuse to be silent! To speak out freely is a decisive step on the way to freedom.

— Leyla Zana

Since 1980, Leyla Zana has been active in gaining recognition of the social, political, and cultural rights of Kurdish populations and for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish conflict. She was a Representative of the Democratic Party in the Turkish Parliament (1991–1994), a political prisoner (1994–2004), and since 2004 a co-initiator of DTH, a new movement for democratic society. She has become a symbol of the struggle for human rights, democracy, and peace. Her courage has sensitized European public opinion about the problems of the Kurds and inspired numerous women to become active.

Once there was a small girl who was not allowed to speak or to learn, who was not allowed to go out without covering her hair, and who had many questions: Why did boys but not girls go to school? Why did men not go to hell but women did when they went around freely? The girl loved the meadows, the mountains, the landscape, and its freedom. Here and there, she rebelled and refused to wear a headscarf, but at barely 14, she had to bow to her family and marry the man chosen for her, a man 20 years her senior. When she was 16 – and pregnant – she learned of her husband’s arrest and torture. In her land, villages were burned and people were massacred. She found herself alone with her two small children. She was forced to stand on her own and move on. A life of suffering that strengthened her. Ten years later a young woman wearing a headband of red, yellow, and green – the colors of her people – spoke before tens of thousands of people at an election gathering. Men cheered her on. This woman was elected and spoke out. In Parliament she was shouted down by the old men because she spoke a few words in a language that had been banned and called for fraternity. She was arrested and still was not silenced: She wrote letters about her longing for peace and freedom, for spring, when “within a few days, the landscape is covered with flowers. . . . Then sometimes I am as free as a bird in the mountains of Kurdistan.” She wanted to convey this message to Kurdish women – and to all women: “Speak up! Begin to speak! Express yourselves in a way that is appropriate for you! So no one can say to us: ‘Keep quiet, woman!’” Many women are no longer silent; their solidarity is great and gives strength and support. After ten years in prison, Leyla Zana is free and continues to fight for peace and freedom.

Democratic Party (DEP) Demokratik Toplum Hareketi (DTH)