to organisations working for Kurdish liberation in Turkey, Iraq
IN KURDISTAN Campaign. Patrons: Lord Avebury, Harold Pinter,
Noam Chomsky, Arthur Miller www.puk.org
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
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.
||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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
here for image of Harold Pinter outside the Turkish Embassy,
protesting at the detainment of Abdullah Ocalan, February 1999.