Leyla Zana

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Leyla Zana

Zana (cropped).jpg
Member of the Grand National Assembly
In office
20 October 1991 – 30 June 1994
ConstituencyDiyarbakır (1991)
In office
12 June 2011 – 11 January 2018
ConstituencyDiyarbakır (2011)
Ağrı (June 2015, Nov 2015)
Personal details
Born (1961-05-03) 3 May 1961 (age 58)
Silvan, Turkey
Political partyDemocratic Society Party (2005-2009)
Peoples' Democratic Party (2014-present)
Mehdi Zana (m. 1975)
OccupationPeace activist

Leyla Zana (born 3 May 1961), is a Kurdish politician, who was imprisoned for 10 years for her political activism, which was deemed by the Turkish courts to be against the unity of the country. When she was a member of pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, she was banned from joining any political party for five years with the Constitutional Court's decision to ban this party. She has been elected as an independent member of parliament for Diyarbakır by the support of Peace and Democracy Party.

She was awarded the 1995 Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament, but was unable to collect it until her release in 2004. She was also awarded the Rafto Prize in 1994 after being recognized by the Rafto Foundation for being incarcerated for her peaceful struggle for the human rights of the Kurdish people in Turkey and the neighbouring countries.[1]


She was born in May 1961, in Silvan, Diyarbakır Province, in the southeast of Turkey. When she was 14 years old, she was married to Mehdi Zana who was the mayor of Diyarbakır until the military coup d'état and a political prisoner after it.


1991 oath in parliament[edit]

In 1991 she became the first Kurdish woman to win a seat in the Turkish parliament. She created a scandal when she spoke Kurdish on the floor of the parliament after being sworn in, even though it was known to be illegal. The Kurdish language, even when spoken in private, had been illegal for years in Turkey. Only in that year, 1991, was the Kurdish language finally legalized, though speaking Kurdish remained illegal in public spaces, as Zana was sworn in.[2] Her remarks ended,

I swear by my honor and my dignity before the great Turkish people to protect the integrity and independence of the State, the indivisible unity of people and homeland, and the unquestionable and unconditional sovereignty of the people. I swear loyalty to the Constitution. I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people.[3]

Only the final sentence of the oath was spoken in Kurdish: "I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people."[3]

Although Zana's parliamentary immunity protected her, after she joined the Democracy Party, that party was banned and her immunity was stripped. In December 1994, along with four other Democracy Party MPs (Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak and Orhan Dogan), she was arrested and charged with treason and membership in the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)[4] and wearing the colors red, green, yellow.[5] The treason charges were not put before the court, and Zana denied PKK affiliation; but with the prosecution relying on witness statements allegedly obtained under torture,[4] Zana and the others were sentenced to 15 years in prison. At her sentencing, she asserted,

This is a conspiracy. What I am defending is perfectly clear. I don’t accept any of these accusations. And, if they were true I’d assume responsibility for them, even if it cost me my life. I have defended democracy, human rights, and brotherhood between peoples. And I’ll keep doing so for as long as I live.[3]

She was recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. In 1994 she was awarded the Rafto Prize, and in 1995, was awarded the Sakharov Prize by the European parliament. She also won the Bruno Kreisky Award. In 1998 her sentence was extended because of a letter she had written that was published in a Kurdish newspaper, which allegedly expressed banned pro-separatist views. While in prison she published a book titled Writings from Prison.

With Turkey applying to become a member of the European Union, the EU repeatedly called for her release on human rights grounds, making its position clear by awarding Zana with the Sakharov Prize in 1995.

In 2001 the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Turkey after a review of her trial; although Turkey did not recognize the result, in 2003 a new harmonization law permitted retrials based on ECHR decisions. In 2002, a film named The Back of the World, directed by Spanish-Peruvian filmmaker Javier Corcuera, examined her case. In April 2004, in a trial which the defendants frequently boycotted, their convictions and sentences were reaffirmed. In June 2004, after a prosecutor requested quashing the prior verdict on a technicality, the High Court of Appeals ordered Zana and the others released.

In January 2005, the European Court of Human Rights awarded Zana and each of the other defendants 9000 from the Turkish government, ruling Turkey had violated her rights of free expression. Soon after Zana and others announced the new political formation Democratic Society Movement (DTH).[6] On 17 August 2005, Democratic Society Party (DTP) was founded as the merger of Democratic People's Party (DEHAP) and DTH.[7]

Later political activities[edit]

Leyla Zana, 2010

As of 2007, Zana is active in human rights issues in Turkey and working in the new party she co founded in 2005. One controversial idea is her proposal to reorganize Turkey into a set of federal states, one of them being Kurdistan.[8]

In April 2008, Zana was sentenced to two years in prison by Turkish authorities for allegedly "spreading terrorist propaganda" by saying in a speech, "Kurds have three leaders, namely Massoud Barzani, Celal Talebanî and Abdullah Ocalan."[9] Massoud Barzani is the president of the Kurdistan federal region in Iraq, Celal Talabani is the ethnic Kurdish president of Iraq, and Abdullah Ocalan is the imprisoned Kurdish leader of PKK in Turkey.

In December 2008, Zana was sentenced to another 10 years in prison by the Turkish court. The court ruled that she had violated the Turkish penal code and the Turkish anti-terror law in nine different speeches. The European Union Turkey Civic Commission called on the European Union and the international community to take political action and strongly condemn Turkey for having convicted Leyla Zana to ten new years in prison.[10] Leyla Zana released the following statement to the EUTCC:

“The case against me is a violation against freedom of thought, and represents a threat to every Kurd in Turkey. The decision of the court is just another way to repress, silence and punish the Kurds. The mentality governing this country is that problems can be resolved by anti democratic and repressive means and that unfair trial can provide political and social peace. But despite all this, our people will claim their legitimate rights, and will continue to struggle for this as long as it takes”.[10]

On 28 July 2009, at the 4th Diyarbakir High Criminal Court, Leyla Zana was sentenced to 15 months in prison because of a speech she had made at SOAS in the University of London. [11]

These prison sentences were overturned by higher courts.[12]

In December 2009, Constitutional Court of Turkey banned the DTP due to alleged links with the PKK and Leyla Zana as well as Ahmet Türk, Aysel Tuğluk, Nurettin Demirtaş, Selim Sadak and 30 other Kurdish politicians were banned from politics for 5 years.[13] While this decision forbids them to be members of political parties, it does not prevent them from being elected to the parliament as independent deputies.

She was re-elected to Parliament in the 12 June 2011 general election.[14]

On 1 July 2012, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met Leyla Zana in his office. This meeting took place after a recent Hürriyet interview in which Leyla Zana said she was hopeful that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would solve the Kurdish–Turkish conflict. Her words were criticized as 'naive' by the BDP leadership, but were welcomed by the Turkish government.[15]

In November 2016, Zana was again arrested along with other lawmakers from BDP/HDP, again accused of affiliation with the PKK.[16]

In July 2017, Zana's HDP deputy seat was under AKP-lead parliamentary review and potential exclusion for "failing to properly take her oath of office, as well as rampant absenteeism". Zana, arrested in November 2016, missed over 200 legislative sessions.[17]

On 11 January 2018, Zana's parliamentary membership was revoked for missing 212 parliamentary sessions from October 2016 to April 2017 by a 302-22 vote in the Turkish Parliament, with CHP and HDP MPs in attendance voting against.[18][19][20]


  1. ^ "Rafto Prize Laureates". The Rafto Prize. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
  2. ^ Nelles, Wayne C. Comparative Education, Terrorism and Human Security. 2003, page 167.
  3. ^ a b c Amy Goodman (10 June 2004). "Kurdish Political Prisoner Leyla Zana Released After a Decade in Jail". Democracy Now!. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
  4. ^ a b http://www.amnestyusa.org/amnestynow/leyla.html Archived 12 February 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Jailed Kurdish MPs awarded damages by European court". The Independent. 12 June 2002. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
  6. ^ Entessar, Nader (2010). Kurdish Politics in the Middle East. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 132. ISBN 9780739140390.
  7. ^ "ParlGov · parties, elections, cabinets". www.parlgov.org. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
  8. ^ "Pro-Kurdish politician Zana: Time to divide Turkey into states". Kurdish Aspect. 23 July 2007. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
  9. ^ Kurdish politiican Zana sentenced to prison in Turkey : Middle East World[dead link]
  10. ^ a b "Kurdish Spokesperson and EUTCC Patron Leyla Zana Convicted to Ten Years in Prison by a Turkish Court". European Union Turkey Civic Commission. 6 December 2008. Archived from the original on 5 March 2012. Retrieved July 4, 2012.
  11. ^ "Turkish court sentences ex-MP for PKK propaganda". World Bulletin. 28 July 2009. Retrieved 4 July 2012.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "Kurdish Yargıtay Leyla Zana'nın hapis cezasını bozdu". Radikal. 21 June 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2014.
  13. ^ "Gul urges Kurds to show restraint over DTP closure". Press TV. 19 December 2009. Archived from the original on 20 January 2012. Retrieved July 4, 2012.
  14. ^ "DİYARBAKIR İLİ SEÇİM ÇEVRESİ" (PDF). Supreme Electoral Council. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  15. ^ Turkey Leader’s Meeting with Controversial Kurdish Politician Raises Hopes
  16. ^ Farooq, Umar. "Eight leaders of pro-Kurdish party arrested amid growing tension in Turkey". latimes.com. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 September 2017. Retrieved 23 July 2017.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ "Turkish parliament strips pro-Kurdish lawmaker of her status". Reuters. 11 January 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  19. ^ "HDP's Leyla Zana dismissed from Turkish parliament". www.rudaw.net. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  20. ^ https://www.tbmm.gov.tr/tutanak/donem26/yil3/ham/b23040oylama.htm

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