Links to organisations working for Kurdish liberation in Turkey, Iraq and Syria:
  PEACE IN KURDISTAN Campaign. Patrons: Lord Avebury, Harold Pinter, Noam Chomsky, Arthur Miller
Connections with Turkey, concerning Human Rights (abuses of), Freedom of Speech (lack of) and The Kurds (discrimination against) have engaged Pinter for several decades. Turkey is in NATO.
The Kurdish Human Rights Project 10th Anniversary Lecture given by Noam Chomsky at St Paul's Cathedral on 9th December 2002. Introduction by Harold Pinter. Click here to read.
In 1985 Pinter visited Turkey with fellow playwright Arthur Miller. For an account of the trip, the highlight of which was being thrown out of the US Embassy in Ankara, please go to "With Arthur Miller in Turkey" in the Campaigns Against Torture section

11 December 1997

Reception at Article XIX to launch Julia Guest's Musa Anter Peace Train Photographic Exhibition introduced by Frances De Souza and Harold Pinter Bianca Jagger also spoke.

Harold Pinter's Introductory Speech
  I am very glad to be here to open this exhibition. Firstly I'd like to salute all the people who went over on the Peace Train to Turkey - I want to salute them for their determination, their commitment, and their courage. It was a remarkable thing to do and these photographs commemorate something of what happened. I think that they in themselves are remarkable. They capture some very, very moving moments of people greeting the actual peace delegation with such warmth while the military stand around looking very threatening indeed. What is not shown is that after these photographs were taken, Julia Guest, the brilliant photographer, was actually arrested and lots of the people you see in the photographs were treated with extreme brutality.

Now the point about this, it seems to me, is that what those people experienced was something that the Kurds in Turkey actually experience every day of the week. This is a scandalous state of affairs which is simply not reported in the British press.
If the British press actually took pains to understand that there are more journalists in prison in Turkey than anywhere in the world, more writers in prison in Turkey than anywhere in the world, you might think that they would show some interest, but they don't seem to be even interested in that - so there is not much fellow feeling there. In fact the only thing I can remember in the last few months of any moment in the British press, was an extraordinary front page account in The Observer of a supposed Kurdish plot to drop sarin gas on major cities in Europe.
Now the authority for that was one terrorist, so-called, who had deserted.
We haven1t heard another word about that. But it was followed a couple of weeks later (still The Observer) with a report that Saddam Hussein had enough chemical weapons to: "kill every man, woman and child on the earth". It seems to me that the next thing The Observer will come up with will be, let's say: "Cockney woman gives birth to eight donkeys". This is the level of journalism we are now facing in this country. And The Observer, I remind you, used to be a great newspaper. But it no longer is. However, it is much more serious than that: What is not on the front page or on any page at all, is the actual state of affairs, the actual facts of what takes place in Turkey every day, as I say. Now our Foreign Office here, I gather, in this new government, takes the view that the priority in our relations with Turkey is to keep Turkey away from Islamic forces to the East -- so what a politician or a diplomat would say is that the British government is concerned with the wider context of affairs in Europe. As you know, the British idea is to get Turkey into the European Union.
To take this view is to do the following: It is to ignore the fact that thousands of people are tortured, imprisoned and killed in Turkey every year - and we, the United States and Germany and Italy supply the weapons.
We also give them what is called moral support - we train happily with them, and we are in fact very much on their side. Don't forget Turkey is a member of Nato; it's also a member of the Council of Europe, which is supposed to be committed to the idea of human rights abuses. And in fact there is no question that in actual practice, Turkey's abuses should be taken into account, and Turkey should be fired, as it were, from the Council of Europe forthwith. But this will not happen. I consider this is an outrage. I know that there is one extraordinary lord, Lord Rea, who has performed great service in the House of Lords. Thank you very much for what you do for the cause! But in fact he is one of the few, few and far between. There are very few people who bother to take this extremely brutal regime into account at all.
One can only suspect......although I am not paranoid and don't believe in conspiracies, I have a funny feeling that there is a conspiracy afoot here, between the media and government.
I would like to say two last things. One is that I really do believe that the Kurdish people are a wonderful people. Their dignity and their courage and their will and their refusal to submit to terror is remarkable. They are a body of people who have their own extremely distinguished culture and traditions. And I believe they will prevail. They have to, but they must be given our total support.
I'd like to finish here by reading something which I think is a remarkable piece of prose by Dario Fo, which he actually wrote quite recently and submitted to the Turkish press.

'Kurdistan lives. It burns in the mind of every single person of the 35 million people who were robbed of their identity and made into refugees in Turkey, Iraq and Europe. It is burning and living in the fires of Newroz and in jails where 12,000 political prisoners are buried in isolation cells. It lives in the memory of those who disappeared and in the scars of those who disappeared and in the scars of those who were tortured. It is burning and living in the mountains of the popular resistance, called terrorism by the western world.'

I now know why he got the Nobel Prize.


The Guardian

20 February 1999

The extraordinary response of Kurds worldwide to the arrest of the Turkish Kurds' guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan demonstrates the depth of the despair of a people who have been degraded, humiliated and treated as an inferior race for decades. But the storming of embassies and the self-immolation of a Kurdish teenager in London also express the resolution and passion of a people who have been ignored for so long. In the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, Professor Norman Stone described Ocalan, leader of the Kurdlstan Workers Party (PKK), as a thug. The thug, in my view, is the Turkish state. Predictably, it has been obstructing Ocalan's lawyers' entry to Turkey. Will the US and UK object to this clear violation of human rights?

Kurdish family dispossessed, Turkey 1999 photograph by Paul O'Driscoll

The appalling repression of the Kurdish people in Turkey is generally unreported in the British media and virtually ignored at Government level. Vast numbers of Kurdish villages have been destroyed and their inhabitants displaced, thousands of people tortured and murdered.

It is only recently that the Kurds were allowed to speak their own language in public. The use of Kurdish in education, broadcasting and publishing is prohibited. Anyone publishing, or attempting to publish, an objective historical analysis of the Kurdish situation is subject to prosecution and imprisonment. Torture is, in fact, commonplace, particularly In police stations. According to International PEN, there are more writers and journalists in prison in Turkey than in any other country in the world, with the exception of China. Turkey is a military, totalitarian regime masquerading as a democracy. State terror Is systematic, savage, merciless. All efforts on the part of the Kurds to bring about a political rather than a military resolution to the conflict have failed and the international community has shown little interest. Turkey isa member of Nato, theUS subsidises its army to the hilt, and of course the country provides rich business opportunities for all Western Democracies.

Every time the name of Ocalan occurs in the British press it is accompanied by the figure "30,000 dead in the last 14 years". The implication is that Ocalan has brought about these deaths. The PKK hai certainly killed, and has also committed atrocities, but the overwhelming number of these 30,000 deaths, not to mention widespread mutilation and rape, are the responsibility of the Turkish military.

It's the same old story. Since Iraq and Iran are "anti-Western" regimes, the Kurds in those countries are described as victims, or - if they resist - freedom fighters. Since Turkey is a member of Nato, and a "loyal ally" the Turkish Kurds are described as terrorists.

This issue is not simply a queation of what is happening to the Kurds but also of what is happening to freedom of expression and independent thought. Something has been occurring beneath our very noses in Turkey for years: many thousands of people confront substantial and persistent persecution and yet we read little about it in the press and our Government is silent while trade with Turkey flourishes.

At last, the protests have brought some recognition of what is actually going on in Turkey. The considerable numbers of demonstrators at embassies throughout Europe are neither terrorists, nor guerrillas, nor subversives.

For them, Ocalan is not a thug but remains a deeply respected - and to a great extent loved - leader in their fight to preserve their culture and identity. These Kurds are ordinary mostly very poor people who have had their fill of oppression, indifference and humiliation. Their ulcer has burst.

They are people of immense pride, dignity and courage. Their plight desperately calls for recognition and support. As I write this, the chants of the Kurds outside the Greek embassy just around the corner reach me. They are chanting "Apu," Ocalan's nickname. These people have been ignored for so long. They cannot, and will not, be ignored any longer.

Mountain Language, written in 1988, four years after One for the Road, was first performed at the National Theatre. To see more click here to go to the Plays section. See also Mountain Language in Haringey, and A Pinter Drama in Stoke Newington in Various Voices, pp 228-230, which concern the armed raid upon a Kurdish theatre group at rehearsal.

Miranda Richardson and Michael Gambon

The Listener, 27 October 1988 (extract)

ANNA FORD: Why did you write Mountain Language?

PINTER: It has a rather odd history actually. In 1985 I went to Turkey with Arthur Miller, on behalf of International PEN to investigate the situation of writers in Turkey, which was pretty deplorable in fact. It was a very vivid and highly illuminating trip in a number of ways. One of the things I learnt while I was there was about the real plight of the Kurds: quite simply that they1re not really allowed to exist at all and certainly not allowed to speak their language. For example, there's a publisher who wrote a history of the Kurds and was sent to prison for 36 years for simply writing a history of the Kurds. When I got back from Turkey I wrote a few pages of Mountain Language, but I wasn't at all sure about it and put it away; in fact I nearly threw it away but my wife persuaded me not to. I did nothing for three years with it and then, one day, earlier this year, I picked it up and suddenly wrote it. The springboard, in answer to your question, was the Kurds, but this play is not about the Turks and the Kurds. I mean, throughout history, many languages have been banned - the Irish have suffered, the Welsh have suffered and Urdu and the Estonians' language banned; the Basques' language was banned, you know, at various times.

Was this the first time you had come across this sort of oppression? Well, it was the first time that I'd ever been in a place where I actually met people who had been tortured. But as you know torture and this kind of treatment not only tned to destroy the person suffering, but the whole of his family. For example, one trade union leader I met in Istanbul - a very distinguihsed man, by the way-had been very badly tortured. He was out of prison, and very shaky indeed, but his wife was actually mute; she's lost her power of speech altogether. I think she saw him in prison and hasn't spoken a word since.

In June 1996 a group of London-based Kurdish actors form the Yeni Yasam (New Life) Comapny, London, decided to revive Mountain Language. They hired a community centre In Haringey, north London, in which to rehearse. They also obtained military uniform and plastic guns from the National Theatre. But when a local resident, unaware they were actors, spotted a group of armed men entering the Kurdish community centre he contacted the police. Suspecting a shoot-out between local Turks and Kurds, the police despatched a helicopter, stationed marksmen with automatic rifles on an adjoining roof and besieged the building. The actors emerging from the hall were handcuffed, interrogated and manhandled by the fifty or more police. Above all, they were forbidden to communicate with one another in their native Kurdish language. Eventually, the police, who had actually been given advance notice of the rehearsal, grasped the situation and allowed the production to go ahead. On one level, it was all a ludicrous comedy of errors: on another, a graphic rebuke to those who insist that Pinter's astonishing play is totally alien to British experience.

Michael Billington, op cit. p 313

Click here for image of Harold Pinter at the opening of Mountain Language, Hoxton Hall 1996.
Later, eleven members of theNew Life Theatre Group brought a case against the police, for assault, trespass and false imprisonment. In the settlement (January 2000 )they accepted 55,000 damages, with the police paying costs.
Click here for image of Harold Pinter outside the Turkish Embassy, protesting at the detainment of Abdullah Ocalan, February 1999.
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