I congratulate you on your efforts and am most willing to endorse this project to raise public awareness of human rights abuses against the Kurdish people. -- Archbishop Desmond Tutu
It was hoped that Turkey would allow the Peace Train through to the rally to be held in Diyarbakir on International Anti-War Day on 1 September 1997, but (possibly predictably) this was not to be .... by not allowing the train even to start (with German agreement) banning the rally and subjecting delegates from many countries as well as from Turkey to harassment, physical assault and arrest, the regime revealed itself for all to see as the anti-democratic police state that repeated eye witness accounts and personal testimony have long revealed. -- Lord Rea
I've been in in Cambodia and Indonesia and this is easily the most brutal show of force I've ever witnessed. I think it has done a lot for people to really see what is going on. -- Julia Guest
The systematic silencing of legitimate political and other voices by the most brutal means is growing in Turkey. One now has to question whether the Turkish government is in fact controlling the military. These actions are an outrageous and blatant infringement of all international treaties of which Turkey is a part. -- Frances D'Souza, Executive Director Article XIX
I bring greetings to all of you from comrades in Kurdistan. We fought against racism and we were killed and disappeared ... we were called terrorists. Today you are suffering what we suffered. We know what the Turkish government is doing and I want you to know that I am a part of you and I am with you. -- Imam Gassan Soloman, South African Minister for Foreign Affairs
A Peace Train (named after the Kurdish writer Musa Anter, gunned down by a death squad in Diyarbakir, September 1992) was due to leave London (25 August 1997), travel across Europe, then across Turkey to Turkish occupied Kurdistan to finally arrive in Diyarbakir on International Anti-War Day (1 September 1997). On the train were peace activists, writers, parliamentarians and journalists. The train was blocked by Germany, who bowing to pressure from Turkey, refused to allow the train to pass through German territory. An emergency plan was put into effect whereby everyone flew to Turkey, then hired a convoy of buses. The highlight of the trip was to have been an International Peace Festival in Diyarbakir organised jointly by local Kurdish people and activists on the train. 600,000 people were expected to attend the Peace Rally in Diyarbakir.
Supporters of the Peace Train included (though not necessarily on the train): Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr Jose Ramos-Horta, the Bishop of Edinburgh, Julie Christie, Lord Hylton, Lord Avebury, Harold Pinter, Frances D'Souza, Imam Gassan Soloman, Noam Chomsky, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, Musicians Union, Greek-Kurdish Solidarity Committee, Kurdish Information Centre, Danielle Mitterand Foundation, Article XIX, Index on Censorship ...
The Peace Train was sabotaged before it got started. About a month before it was due to leave London Turkey spread false rumours that the train had been cancelled. A few days before the train was due to leave London the German government bowed to pressure from Turkey and refused to allow the train to cross its borders. In a flagrant breach of EU Law the German Interior Minister issued instructions to border patrols not to allow participants to cross into Germany. Undeterred the participants rose above the German sabotage and caught scheduled flights to Istanbul.
Germany is one of the largest weapons suppliers to Turkey. Currently bidding to supply Turkey with 1,000 Leopard II main battlefield tanks.
On Saturday 31 August 1997, delegates took time out. Some paid a visit to the Saturday Mothers, a group of women who protest every Saturday over the disappeared. Other delegates went to visit the offices of Ulke'de Gundem, one of the few newspapers in Turkey who have been prepared, at grave risk to its staff and journalists, to print the truth about the Turkish state. Other delegates staged an impromptu demonstration outside the German Embassy.
In May 1988, the Saturday Mothers were brutally attacked by the security forces and their peaceful protest banned.
Whilst talking to the journalists of Ulke'de Gundem, the delegates learnt that 'Kurd', 'Kurdistan', 'guerrilla', 'PKK', 'torture', 'bombing by security forces' are banned words.
On the afternoon of Sunday 31 August the convoy left for Turkish occupied Kurdistan. In the morning, 60,000 people attended a rally on the outskirts of Istanbul, despite a ban by the Turkish Interior Minister. Kurds were singing, waving flags, pushed forward to embrace members of the convoy and to tell them tales of atrocities by the state apparatus. En route the convoy was stopped for an hour at Bolu for the police to check IDs.
At 2000 that evening the convoy was blocked from entering Ankara. The police forcibly dispersed an estimated 3,000 Kurds who had arrived to greet the convoy. That same evening, the eve of International Anti-War Day, trade union officials and HADEP officials were arrested in Diyarbakir. News of their arrests was conveyed by Kurdish Trade union officials who were attending the blockade of an Arms Fair in Farnborough, Hampshire (UK), organised by Campaign Against Arms Trade.
Selma Tanrikulu, HADEP Assembly member for Diyarbakir, is still detained and on trial for links with PKK. Her husband, Zeki Tanrikulu was killed by state death squads two days before the murder of DEP MP Mehmet Sincar. The state prosecutor has warned her off, not to attempt to bring her husband's killers to justice.
Members of the Turkish government and the pro-government media labelled the peace convoy as a convoy of terrorists.
The morning of International Anti-War Day Diyarbakir was a city under siege. Bruce Kent, Lord Rea and Christine Blower who had flown direct to Diyarbakir were detained at the airport and forcibly expelled. A stadium containing an estimated 2,000 Kurds was sealed off. Mass arrests of 2,000 Kurds followed, there was also press reports of people being attacked by the police. Erling Folkvord, a member of the Norwegian Parliament was arrested. Contacts were made with embassy officials and protests lodged with the Interior Minister.
All along the route the Peace Convoy was greeted by jubilant Kurds. Many showing their disdain for the security forces by raising two fingers.
In the morning, at Birecik, the convoy was met by 6,000 Kurds, or would have been if the convoy of Kurds had not been surrounded by troops. The Kurds shouted slogans and greetings across the troops.
One group from Adana who attempted to join in the Peace Convoy were threatened with a massacre.
At Urfa the Peace Convoy was detained for two hours by a special forces. The convoy was served notice that it would be stopped from entering Diyarbakir, if necessary by force.
Just outside Diyarbakir the Peace Convoy ground to a halt. The way forward was blocked by armoured vehicles, helicopter gunships and a large contingent of troops. The convoy was faced with a choice: to disembark and continue on foot, to stage a protest or return. The South African delegates, recognising state brutality from recent experience advised caution. There was a real risk of being shot by the troops if people proceeded on foot. An unpleasant stand-off ensured. Singing and dancing in the road was the best that could be achieved. Kurds forced their way through the troops and joined in. As night approached remaining on the road was not an option. The area was controlled by local warlord Sedat Bucak. There was a grave danger that his men would use the convoy as sitting ducks for target practice.
Sedat Bucak: key player in the Susurluk mafia scandal and the only person to survive the crash that exposed State-mafia links. The area controlled by Sedat Bucak is a drug baron's paradise. According to Turkish government figures more than 50 million cannabis plants have been seized in the last three years from land under his control.
At dusk it was decided to turn the convoy around and head back. There then followed what Miranda Watson (convoy co-ordinator) described as detention-in-exile. It had been decided to stop at Urfa to agree on where to go next, but under armed military escort the convoy was not allowed to stop. To emphasise the point, as the convoy passed through Urfa special forces sat in the back of landrovers with machine guns aimed at the convoy.
The convoy needed to stop. People needed toilets, food. Many had neither for 11 hours or more. At the first attempted stop the police attacked, injuring two European delegates. The relief driver was badly beaten and had his arm broken to emphasise the point. At Birecik service station the convoy stopped, but due to the tense atmosphere and that the area was known to be a stronghold of the fascist Grey Wolves (responsible for the death of protesters on the Green Line in Cyprus) it was decided to move on.
The following day, when the convoy attempted to enter Ankara at midday they found it sealed off and entry denied by a military blockade (including minibus-loads of special forces and water cannons). There was rumour that even entry to Istanbul would be denied. A sit-down protest in the road was staged. Embassy officials intervened to calm the situation.
The various military road blocks encountered en route used Nato supplied equipment - German supplied BTR-60s, UK Shortland armoured Landrovers, UK Landrover Scorpion armoured personnel carriers, US M-113s (APCs) with mounted machine guns, US Cadilac-Gage armoured vehicles equipped with water cannon.
On the approach to Istanbul the convoy was searched. Kurds and Turks travelling with the convoy were dragged off the coaches and arrested. Two Swiss trade unionists who tried to intervene were beaten and themselves arrested. Of those arrested was Tomris Ozden, whose husband a Turkish general was assassinated for voicing concern over Turkey's treatment of the Kurds.
On Wednesday 3 September, a planned press conference for that morning at the Pera Palace Hotel was banned. That area of the city was sealed off to prevent either delegates or press from attending. It was decided to hold an informal, impromptu 'press conference' at the MIM Hotel. The 'press conference' started at 1600. The proceedings were frequently interrupted by Istanbul Deputy Police Chief Mehmet Calgar, who threatened arrest and deportation. By now the hotel was surrounded by heavily armed riot police. At 1630 the security forces smashed their way into the hotel. Julia Guest was the first to be arrested and she was carried away screaming. Neil Frape, British diplomat, who tried to intervene was next arrested. His two hour illegal detention caused a diplomatic incident between UK and Turkey. There was then mayhem as the security forces began beating and attacking delegates. Two delegates suffered very serious injuries, including a fractured neck and severed leg. The delegate with the fractured neck was left lying on the floor for three hours without hospital treatment. Whilst this was going on plain-clothes officers were 'planting evidence' in the delegates' rooms. The British diplomat Neil Frape witnessed detained delegates being badly beaten. 'It was pretty grim,' is his reported comment.
Calgar warned the delegation that a repetition of the days events would result in a 'harsher' approach. It was difficult to see what could be harsher short of a massacre of the delegates.
That evening, the MIM Hotel refused to honour reservations and the delegates were forced to look elsewhere for accommodation. Hotel after hotel refused to accept them. Eventually, in the early hours of the morning, the British delegation had little choice but to accept accommodation that meant they were dispersed over two hotels.
The following day, Thursday 4 September 1997, those arrested appeared in court charged with organising an unauthorised press conference. They were to be held in detention until their deportation could be arranged. The accused had spent the night on the floor in the police station. Eyewitnesses at the court proceedings said they looked very tired, many were badly bruised and some had their clothes covered in blood stains.
On Friday 5 September 1997, concern was raised for Julia Guest, now the only detainee remaining in custody. Following representation by the British Consul she was given police escort with a consular official to the airport where she joined her fellow British delegates on a flight to Brussels. The other British delegates had travelled to the airport in a clearly marked British Consulate minibus with the British Consul as they no longer felt safe to travel alone. Two Spanish filmmakers who had travelled in a taxi to the airport had been intimidated at gunpoint by police.
On their arrival at Brussels airport the delegates were greeted by a small group of Kurds who gave each delegate a red rose. The following evening, with the rest of the British delegation having travelled on to London that morning, Miranda Watson and two other delegates participated in a live discussion on Med-TV (the banned Kurdish satellite TV station).
For the Kurds and Turks left in Turkey facing trial the outlook is bleak.
The sad death of Princess Diana meant that the brutal treatment of people who travelled in peace got little coverage by the Western media. In the UK the coverage was virtually zero. It did though raise the question that if the Turkish state behaves like this to Europeans and other foreigners with Western media looking on, how does it treat its own people when no one else is looking?
Asiti Jibo Kurdistan, SehNews, Justice?, No 134, Friday 12 September 1997
PN photographer arrested as thousands greet Kurdish Peace Train, Peace News, October 1997
Miranda Watson, the Musa Anter Peace Train Initiative: report of the British delegation, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, 13 November 1997
Stephen Hancock, Musa Anter 'Peace Train' makes hazardous journey, Kurdistan Report, No 26 Jan-March 1998
PN, Charges Dropped, In Brief, Peace News, August 1998