Rudaw News Agency
By ABDULLA NIHELI
DOHUK, Iraqi Kurdistan: Layla was put behind bars for 11 years for her political activism in Turkey, a country that has yet to recognize her ethnic group. She became married to her cousin when she was only 14, but she spent only 5 years with her spouse due to punishments the couple received from the Turkish state.
The couple has spent their entire life in a political struggle aimed at granting more political and cultural rights for the Kurds, an ethnic group that formally and constitutionally does not exist in Turkey.
Layla is called Layla Zana named after her husband Mahdi Zana, who spent 16 years behind bars.
In a rare interview with Rudaw, she said she was fine to talk much but preferred to see little published, as she still feared that her words might end her up in prison like they did in 1993.
She was then a member of the Turkish parliament as a candidate for the now-defunct pro-Kurdish Social Democratic People’s Party (SHP). Layla got the prison term particularly for speaking in her mother tongue, touching on one of the taboos of the Turkish political arena.
She is the first Kurd to have had the audacity to do so. Suddenly after her, 7 other Kurdish MPs were jailed for the same reason. They were accused by the Turkish Supreme Court of violating Turkish constitution and attempting to divide the nation.
Some Turkish parliamentarians shouted: “What is this? Who dare to speak inside the Turkish Parliament in another language?”
Though Layla was sentenced for a15-year prison term, she was freed after spending 11 years in jail after Turkey came under a pressure by the European Union to release her.
She was here in Iraqi Kurdistan earlier this month. One of the places she visited here was a prison in Dohuk where she cried for almost two hours.
She said she had remembered the punishments and the unpleasant time she had spent during her prison time.
Layla has received several international peace prizes and awards including Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.
"My massage is peace and I love peace. I hope every one in the world lives in peace especially the Kurdish nation and Kurdish woman," she said in Duhok.
She was here in Kurdistan to make preparations for a conference about Kurdish women expected to be held in the north of Iraq.
Layla Zana was born on May 3, 1961 in Bakhcha village (20 Km near Farqini Town in Diyarbakir). Her village has 8 houses and all of them are relatives. They follow the religious school of Sunni Muslims Naqishbandi.
“When Layla wanted to became a member of parliament, I told her she would face arrestment, punishment, and prison, if we speak in Kurdish. But we have to,” said her husband; Mahdi Zana has told Rudaw in another interview.