My curiosity centered on whether those deputies were going to read their oath in Kurdish, as some of them did in 1991 and were jailed for doing so, but they did not, and thus a crisis was averted.
Thirty-four deputies out of 35 from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) took the oath of office last Saturday ending a four-month-long boycott of Parliament protesting the court’s refusal to release five pro-Kurdish deputies in jail over charges of having links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). One Kurdish deputy, Bengi Yıldız, did not turn up to Parliament to take the oath, which raised questions over whether he was going to be expelled from the party due to his extramarital affair pictured lately in the resort town of Bodrum.
In 1991, four deputies from the now-defunct pro-Kurdish Democracy Party (DEP) were removed with force from Parliament by police when they spoke Kurdish instead of reading the oath in Turkish with the original wording. Leyla Zana, who served a 10-year prison sentence together with three other deputies, before being released in 2004, was re-elected as a deputy in the June 12 elections. They were put in jail over offenses cited in the now amended Article 8 on the Anti-Terror Law and were charged with aiding and abetting the PKK.
Last Saturday, she, together with other newly elected Kurdish deputies read the oath in Turkish. The oath affirms Turkishness, which the Kurdish deputies object to. Zana used the phrase “Turkey’s peoples,” instead of “Turkish people,” slightly deviating from the oath. When asked whether she had said “Turkey’s Peoples,” on purpose, she responded saying “no.”
“But I might have said Turkey’s peoples unconsciously,” she added.
TV cameras showed Zana’s face close up after she finished reading her oath during the Saturday’s ceremony in Parliament. A careful and sensitive eye could not have missed the misery and disguise that could be read in her eyes when she finished taking the oath, because the oath dictates the concept of Turkishness, and thus denies Kurds their own identity.
Ahmet Altan, the editor-in-chief of the Taraf daily and a famous novelist, touched upon Zana’s oath taking moments in his column last Sunday titled “The Eyes of Zana.”
“As a matter of fact only one moment explained the whole story; when she [Zana] raised her head looking at the audience in Parliament after taking her oath. The expression in her eyes reflected her misery of being insulted and a looking down on those who insulted her by making her to read the oath. In my opinion, the Kurdish question is hidden in that moment of her look. She is a Kurd. They are forcing her to read the oath that emphasizes Turkishness. No one has the right to do that to anyone,” Altan says. Altan’s piece on Zana is perfect and I strongly advise readers to read it in full.
Kurds have long been denied from even speaking their mother tongue, Kurdish, especially following the 1980 military coup. Kurdish rights have been addressed in the past several years, but it was not enough.
The PKK, who seek autonomy, has stepped up its violence targeting civilians. However, Kurdish autonomy is not acceptable in the foreseeable future due to the existing Turkish fear that this will infringe on the nation’s indivisibility.
The current Parliament has been tasked to write a new constitution that will replace the military dictated one of 1982 adopted after the 1980 military coup.
Almost 95 percent of the electorates are being represented in the new Parliament formed after the June 12 elections with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) having the majority of around 60 percent of the deputies in the 550-seat Parliament. In addition, hundreds of laws are set to be reviewed to bring them in line with democratic standards.
I am among the skeptics, however, that this Parliament will actually be able to come up with a brand new civilian democratic constitution. Even if it does, it will not embrace the mosaic of Turkey, where Kurds comprise roughly 20 percent of the population, nor will it be able to reverse the logic of the military dictated Constitution which says that citizens should be servants of the state. In addition, a will does not exist in some political parties that the Kurdish identity should be reflected in the new constitution.
I still hope that the new constitution, which will hopefully adopt the concept of Turkey citizenship instead of retaining an emphasis on Turkishness, will make Leyla Zana’s eyes bright and happy.
I invite the pro-Kurdish BDP to be more constructive during the constitution making process and become a real actor instead of acting in the shadow of the PKK.