Once-jailed lawmaker again uses Kurdish in Turkey's parliament

Reuters News
|
Posted: Nov 17, 2015 12:43 PM

By Gulsen Solaker and Ayla Jean Yackley

ANKARA (Reuters) - A member of Turkey's parliament spoke Kurdish while taking her oath of office on Tuesday, but the acting speaker said her vow was invalid.

Leyla Zana, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, spent a decade in prison for links to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants after speaking Kurdish in parliament in 1991. A representative from her office said Tuesday's gesture was to raise awareness of the renewed conflict that has killed hundreds of people in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast since July.

At the swearing-in ceremony, Zana, who won a seat in a parliamentary election on Nov. 1, began her oath by saying, "With the hope of an honorable and lasting peace" in Kurdish.

She finished by changing the oath's official wording of "Turkish people" to "people of Turkey."

The provisional speaker of parliament, Deniz Baykal, asked Zana to return to the lectern for an exact recitation but she left the chamber, media reported.

"If she sees fit, she should come and read the text of the oath exactly, or the oath is not valid," Baykal said.

It was not immediately clear whether speaking in Kurdish or changing the wording, or both, had rendered her oath invalid.

Many Kurds have called the parliamentary election unfair because it was conducted against the background of renewed clashes between security forces and the PKK.

JAILED FOR 10 YEARS

Zana rose to prominence in 1991, causing uproar in Turkey's parliament by speaking in Kurdish at her oath-swearing ceremony.

The speech prompted parliament to strip her of her immunity and eject her from the legislature. It was used as evidence against her when she and three other MPs, elected as independents, were jailed in 1994 for links to the PKK. They were freed in 2004.

Turkey has since broadened human rights and boosted Kurdish linguistic and political freedoms.

In June, Zana's Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) won seats in parliament as a party for the first time, depriving the ruling AK Party of a majority. Zana then took her oath in Turkish.

A new election was called after the AKP failed to form a coalition and a 2-1/2 year ceasefire was shattered following Turkish strikes against PKK targets.

The HDP lost a quarter of its seats in the re-run election.

Two bomb attacks, in July and October, blamed on Islamic State, targeted pro-Kurdish activists, killing 135 people and raising concerns about stability in NATO member Turkey, which borders Syria. The AKP tapped into people's security fears and was able to regain a majority in this month's poll.

(Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)