Diyarbakir was a troubled city yesterday: protests by Kurds against the arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, ten years ago this weekend, lead to riots, some people were wounded and a dozen were arrested. Some of the disturbances took place in front of the headquarters of DTP, the pro-Kurdish party that is also represented in parliament. A crowd gathered there. Two prominent DTP leaders, (Osman Baydemir, mayor of Diyarbakir, and Aysel Tugluk, Member of Parliament), wanted to address the crowd, but they were prohibited from speaking because the protest was not permitted by the authorities. I wasn’t there, so I’m not sure exactly what happened, but in the end protestors threw stones and police used force to disperse them, leading to people being wounded and arrested.
I wonder what Aysel Tugluk in particular would have said in her speech. She really got into trouble over a speech she gave in May 2006 at a party congress. She commented on the pressure that is put on the DTP to call the PKK a terrorist organisation and Öcalan a terrorist, and she said (among other things), addressing the Prime Minister: “Those people you consider terrorists are heroes to some. If we call Abdullah Öcalan a terrorist, we won’t be able to face our people.” Reason enough for the prosecutor to bring a charge against Tugluk. After a lengthy legal battle, in which the high court decided Tugluk could not use her immunity as a member of parliament, Tugluk was sentenced to one and a half years in prison. She has not gone to prison yet, as the case now has to be reviewed by the parliament (to say it in the shortest and least complicated way).
I don’t think Tugluk would have made any less controversial comments yesterday. In all the things she has said since she has been on trial, she never took back any of her words. She stresses that in her opinion everything she says comes under ‘freedom of expression’. The court decided otherwise, but I agree with Tugluk. You may not like it that part of Turkey’s population considers Öcalan a hero, but as we once again saw this weekend: it’s true, to some people he is a hero. You can deny it, or you can try to find out why people see it this way. And likewise the people who praise Öcalan should try to see why other people call him a terrorist. That’s called real communication. It might actually lead to solutions, something that violence and sending people to prison for their opinions will never do.