May 18 2018

Nurcan Baysal: "Do I look like a terrorist?"

On May 18, 2018, Kurdish journalist and Ahval contributor Nurcan Baysal was awarded the Global Laureate for Human Rights Defenders at Risk by Irish rights group Front Line Defenders. Here is her speech as delivered at Dublin Town Hall:

It’s a great honor to be here and a great pleasure to accept this award.

I am really happy.

Let me tell you about one of the most important days in our lives as Kurdish people.

It was July of 1991.

I was 16.

Our neighbour, Vedat Aydin, an important human rights activist and politician was killed after being taken into custody by the police. Days later, his body was found tortured under a bridge. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered for his funeral in Diyarbakir. While the crowd was walking to the cemetery, we heard the shots. Masked Special Forces opened fire against the crowd from the top of the city walls. This continued for 20 minutes. Dead bodies littered the ground. As I looked around, I thought, “I never want to see this cruelty again. Never again.”

As a Kurdish woman living in Turkey, I have witnessed even worse cruelties. Nearly 30 years have passed since that day, but little has changed for Kurds.

After the peace process collapsed between the Turkish State and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in July of 2015, clashes began in Kurdish cities. The state declared military curfews in our cities and bombed civilians. More than 2,000 people were killed in our region since the clashes began. Our homes and cities were demolished and hundreds of thousands of Kurdish people are homeless today. Dead bodies remained in the streets for months. We have witnessed terrible human rights violations and war crimes.

After the July 15 (2016) coup attempt, the State of Emergency was declared and continues today. The government has used the Emergency Rule to stifle all opposition. Hundreds of thousands of people have been fired from their jobs or arrested without any reason. Civil society organizations and media outlets have been closed.

More than 170 journalists and writers have been imprisoned. Turkey remains the world’s leading jailer of journalists.

The situation in the Kurdish region of Turkey is even worse. Kurdish mayors and parliamentarians have been imprisoned and state administrators have been appointed to replace the elected Kurdish mayors. Kurdish media has been completely closed.

All political access has been cut off for Kurdish people.

Today in our region, the worst human rights violations and war crimes continue. A dirty war continues in my hometown. There are still dead bodies on the ground in rural areas.

To be a human rights defender in our region means to fight against torture, to fight to bury dead bodies in a dignified way,  to search for loved ones in mass graves and sometimes it means supporting families under bombardment and sometimes it means saving a Yezidi woman from the Islamic State.

The global community has done very little to respond to the violence against Kurdish people. Such cruelty has been met with deafening indifference. Indifference is a friend of cruel governments; indifference is a friend of evil. Why are we giving power to these cruel governments? Why are we closing our eyes against these crimes, crimes against humanity? After Rwanda, the world said “never again”. But it has happened again and again. Never again should mean never again!

Today in Turkey, academics, students, journalists, teachers, doctors, even wedding singers who criticize government policies, who demand peace and human rights, can easily be declared terrorists.

We are being killed, put in prison and forced to leave the country.

To demand peace is seen as a crime of terrorism in Turkey.

People like me, who demand peace and human rights, are declared terrorists.

Do I look like a terrorist?

These are very dark days for Kurdish people and for Turkey. But there are still people who struggle for human rights, peace and democracy. There are unsung heroes in Sirnak, in Istanbul, in Diyarbakir, in Izmir, In Cizre… Some of them are recording human rights violations, some of them are trying to stop torture, some of them are giving legal support to the victims of violence, and some of them are retrieving dead bodies from the ground.

I accept this award on behalf of these unsung heroes and for all human rights defenders in Turkey and especially in Kurdistan.  

I accept this award on behalf of the people who continue to struggle to shed bring light to the darkness in Turkey.

I want to believe that “never again” is possible.

Let’s stop giving power to these cruel governments!

Let’s stop closing our eyes against these crimes, crimes against humanity!

Let’s make “never again” really never ever again!

Azadî nezi ke!

Thank you!

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.