Bruno Kreisky Foundation

for Human Rights

Leyla Zana (Turkey)

Leyla Zana was raised in a small village near Istanbul, and when she was fourteen she was forcibly married to Mehdi Zana by her father. Her husband moved her to Diyarbakir, the capital of Kurdistan, where he had recently risen to power and become the mayor. He worked to better the rights of the Kurdish minority in Turkey. Soon thereafter he was overthrown in a coup and placed in jail. At the time of his imprisonment, Leyla Zana had two small children to take care of by herself. Despite this she took on the responsibility of getting the education that she wasn’t allowed as a child because of her gender. After learning to speak Turkish she became a representative for other women whose husbands had also been imprisoned by the government. She became a prominent figure and was elected to the 1981 Parliament in Ankara.

Leyla Zana was the first Kurd to have a seat in Parliament. At the end of her acceptance speech she stated in Kurdish that she would take the oath in the name of brotherhood between the Turkish and Kurdish Peoples. Speaking Kurdish publicly was forbidden in Turkey and protests erupted shortly after her statement. Leyla is viewed as a threat by the Turkish government and in 1994 was also imprisoned, coincidentally in the same prison where her husband is located. Leyla Zana continues to fight for Kurdish rights in Turkey, and has spent many years falsely imprisoned for her political commentary regarding their situation. On the 8th of April, 2010, she was sentenced to three years in prison for the “distribution of terrorist propaganda.” More specifically, she praised the Kurdish People’s Party leader Abdullah O?calan for fighting for Kurdish rights. Even though she won numerous Human Right prizes such as the Sakharov prize or the Aachener Friedenspreis on the same year as of the Bruno Kreisky Prize(1995), she is still held in custody. (