by Michele Naar-Obed
Twenty-two members of a Makhmoor Refugee Camp peace delegation, including a sixteen-year-old boy, face 127.5 years imprisonment collectively for their attempts to peacefully resolve the Kurdish-Turkish conflict in autumn 2009. The prosecutor from the Turkish province of Diyarbakir has charged them with speaking their native language in public, promoting PKK terrorist propaganda and association with a terrorist organization, because Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, encouraged them to come to Turkey.
On 19 October 2009, a twenty-six-member peace delegation from the Makhmoor Refugee Camp arrived at the Harbur border crossing from Iraq into Turkey, hoping to jump-start a peace initiative between the Turkish government and the Kurdish minority in Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development (AKP) Party and Ocalon spearheaded the initiative. They hoped through diplomatic means to address the need for a legal guarantee of Kurdish human rights.
The PKK ended its demand for a separate Kurdish state in the early 1990s. Currently, the peace initiative is at a standstill. PM Erdogan faces a hostile nationalistic populace that sees recognition of Kurdish rights as conceding to the PKK, the armed Kurdish liberation movement which has a fought a three-decade long battle with the Turkish military, resulting in more than 40,000 lives lost, and is still considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and E.U.
The PKK has held to a self-imposed unilateral ceasefire for the past year and its members have placed their hopes with Kurdish political leaders in Turkey who routinely face imprisonment for speaking publicly in their native language and whose political parties the Turkish authorities consistently ban from the political arena.
The delegation from Makhmoor consisted of eight women, fourteen men, and four children. The group included two families and one mother with her sixteen-year-old son. Most of the delegates left behind children and family at the camp. A public relations representative from the Makhmoor camp told CPTers that the delegation’s purpose was to “make brotherhood between Turk and Kurd” and “promote the peace initiative to all human rights organizations, associations, community gatherings and media.”
Following a court order for their arrest and imprisonment, delegation members have ceased their peace activities (see accompanying CPT Iraq action alert.) Only one of them is currently in jail.
Note: the Makhmoor Refugee Camp is located in Makhmoor, Iraq and was established by UNHCR in 1998 to provide safety and refuge to the family members and relatives of the PKK that lived in the Kurdish villages of southeastern Turkey. The Turkish military has frequently attacked these villages in retaliation for PKK fighting. Since 2003, Turkey has tried to close down the camp, accusing its residents of harboring weapons and terrorists. The total population of the camp is 12,000 people, 63% of whom are women and children.