Nurcan Baysal, Kurdish author, journalist and human rights defender who in 2017 was awarded the “Brave Women Journalists Award” by the Italian Women Journalists Association, addresses the 11th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On being targeted by the Turkish government:
“I have been threatened and harassed, intimidated on social media, and security forces have unlawfully banned some of my articles. There have been charges laid against me because of my articles.”
“They broke down our door, and 20 masked and heavily armed Special Operation officers stormed my home. With all guns pointed at me, the head of the squad asked if I was Nurcan Baysal. They said they had a warrant to search my home…”
“They violently entered my home, knowing I had two small children inside.”
“I received a 10 month prison sentence due to an article I wrote recording the war crimes in the Kurdish town of Cizre, where nearly 150 people were burnt alive in the basements as they took shelter during the bombardment.”
“I am just one story out of many. And I am lucky. I am here and can talk to you.”
On human rights in Turkey:
“Human rights have never been so vilified, human life has never been so cheapened, and human dignity has never been so trampled upon.”
Thank you for having me. It’s an honor to be with you.
My name is Nurcan Baysal. I am a Kurdish writer, journalist and human rights defender.
Today I want to tell you the story of my city, Diyarbakır and the story of me. You will see 2 slides behind me. One is photos of my city before the military curfews of 2015 and 2016; the second is photos of my hometown after the military operations ended.
My city, my Diyarbakır is 7000 years old, still under UNESCO, and it is at the heart of Mesopotamia. It is the biggest Kurdish city and was under the state bombardment between December 2015 and March 2016.
Let me tell you how everything began.
The peace process between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers Party collapsed in July of 2015. In August of 2015, clashes began in Kurdish cities. The state declared military curfews in Kurdish cities across southeastern Turkey, at first lasting for a couple of days, and then they became regular and month-long.
Days went on under bombs and gunfire. People in the curfew areas were trapped in their houses; as they continued their lives with the limited food and water they had stockpiled before the curfew. People died inside their homes as shrapnel hit their houses. The state did not even allow families to bury their dead. In some cities, like Cizre, mothers put the dead bodies of their children in their refrigerators to prevent their decomposition. In my hometown Diyarbakır, dead bodies remained in the streets for months. We witnessed terrible human rights violations and war crimes.
These are the streets where I grew up, where I played and where I made memories. My state destroyed that area. My memories have no home.
There is no place for ongoing war and for the human rights violations in Turkish media today. Furthermore, there is no political access for Kurdish people. I take an active role in informing the public about what’s really happening in my Region of Kurdistan. For this, I have been threatened and harassed, intimidated on social media and security forces have unlawfully banned some of my articles. There have been charges laid against me because of my articles.
Last year, only days after the Turkish offensive to Afrin began, it was just after midnight, I was at home with my children. It was just after midnight. It was a normal Saturday night, when I heard a terrible noise. At first, I thought it was an earthquake. I then figured out that the sound was coming from our front door. I thought perhaps our house was under attack, being bombed and shot at.
I shouted to my children to stay where they were. We soon understood that the men on the other side of the door were police, trying to knock down our door. They broke down our door, and 20 masked and heavily armed Special Operation officers stormed my home. With all guns pointed at me, the head of the squad asked if I was Nurcan Baysal. They said they had a warrant to search my home. I asked if they also had a warrant to break down my door. This is how I was detained last year. They violently entered my home; a home they knew had two small children inside.
One day later, I learned I was detained because of five tweets I had made against “the war in Afrin”.
As you remember, the Turkish government gave the name “olive branch” to the war in Afrin.
Let me read you my tweets.
1-To give the name “olive branch” to war, to death. This is Turkey!
2-What are coming from tanks are not olive branches, they are bombs. When they drop, people are dying. Ahmet is dying, Hasan is dying, Rodi is dying, Mızgin is dying…. Lives are ending…
3-The leftists, the rightists, the nationalists and the Islamists are all united together in hate against the Kurdish people.
4-Where do you think that you are going to conquer? Which religion, which belief supports war and death?
5- (I retweeted another journalist’s photo of a dead child in Afrin) I wrote, “Those who want war, look at this picture, a child died”.
I was accused of terrorist propaganda and calling for provocative action. I believe these tweets demonstrate that I am against war and death, and yes, I criticized the policies of the Turkish government. The prosecutor demanded a 3-year jail sentence because of these five tweets. Just last month my case was closed and I was acquitted after a year.
I also received a 10 month prison sentence due to an article I wrote recording the war crimes in the Kurdish town of Cizre, where nearly 150 people were burnt alive in the basements as they took shelter during the bombardment. After 1 year in court, they ruled to suspend the verdict, meaning there will be no penalty as long as I don’t “humiliate the Turkish security forces” again within the next 5 years.
I am just one story out of many. And I am lucky. I am here and can talk to you.
Many are not so lucky in Turkey. Today, in my country, human rights are under the feet of the state.
Today when you visit our Region, you will see police barricades everywhere. You will see tanks, armored vehicles, you will see police and soldiers with heavy weapons in the streets. You will see how the state continues to control our lives.
There is so much violence in Turkey, but there is also so much indifference.
I am angry that these atrocities are happening in my country.
I am angry that these atrocities are happening in front of the world.
I am angry that my 7000-year-old “UNESCO protected” city, my hometown, was destroyed in front of the UN.
As someone who has witnessed countless human rights violations, I had always believed that human dignity would win in the end. But after what I have witnessed in the past 4 years, I now have my doubts. Human rights have never been so vilified, human life has never been so cheapened, and human dignity has never been so trampled upon.
What we love, what we believe is in danger in Turkey.
12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, March 25, 2019