House members seek help for Kurds
Ask Clinton to aid jailed politicians

By Maria Burnham


In an attempt to draw attention to Turkey's abuse of its Kurdish citizens, 153 House of Representatives members sent an open letter to President Clinton yesterday demanding he seek release of jailed Kurdish parliamentarians.

The letter mentions Leyla Zana, a Kurdish parliamentarian who was jailed for treason in Turkey for speaking about the treatment of Kurds before the U.S. Congress' Helsinki Commission.

. "There is not much those of us in Congress can do to help the plight of Leyla Zana, but we can send a strong message to those who can," said Rep. Elizabeth Furse, Oregon Democrat

Namik Tan, a spokesman for the Turkish Embassy, said he had no knowledge of the letter but spoke about the arrest of Mrs. Zana.

Mrs. Zana was arrested and found guilty of separatism and promoting the destruction of Turkey's territorial integrity in a trial that was open to the public and heavily covered by the media, Mr. Tan said.

Mr. Tan said Mrs. Zana helped form the Democratic Labor Party which he said had ties with the Kurdish Worker's Party, which is waging a guerrilla war against the Turkish government and has been classified as a violent terrorist organization by the U S. government.

Roughly 15 million to 20 million Kurds live in Turkey, mainly in its eastern and southern areas and they have been locked in a bloody ethnic war with the government over demands for a separate state.

In 1991, 18 Kurds were allowed to take seats in the Turkish Parliament. Of those, one has been executed, four have been imprisoned, and six have been exiled

"I continued to be appalled but have ceased to be amazed, at the lengths that the Turkish government, which is supposed to be a democracy, will go for the purposes of silencing its critics," said Rep. John Edward Porter, Illinois Republican.

"We have come to expect this kind of behavior from China, Nigeria, Iraq, Cuba and other totalitarian regimes, and our government has often criticized them for it, but Turkey seems immune from U.S. criticism."

Mr. Clinton will not criticize Turkey, Mr. Porter said, because it is viewed a friend and ally of the United States. He believes U.S. silence on the matter has allowed Turkey to carry the war into neighboring states-mainly Iraq.

"I firmly believe that Turkey feels they can attack civilians in another country with napalm as they are doing right now because we have let them get away with it," Mr. Porter said. "We have emboldened them to carry their campaign of terror across borders into other nations."

Five Kurds and Americans have been fasting for the release of Mrs. Zana. A vigil is also being held in front of the U.S. Capitol each day.

"Our suffering is for the restoration of democratic choice in Turkey," said Kani Xulam, director of the American Kurdish Information Network. "We will continue to fast in front of this building with the hopes that as we lose strength, the champions of human rights will gain the upper hand."

Compliments of Proposition One Committee