TURKEY: Kurdish child singers face prison

[19 June 2008] - Members of a Kurdish children's choir face up to five years in prison as they go on trial in south eastern Turkey.

The choir - whose members are aged from 12 to 17 - is accused of spreading propaganda for the outlawed Kurdish separatist rebel group, the PKK.

The charges were brought after the group took part in a world music festival in San Francisco, and sang a march in Kurdish.

The prosecutor's indictment claims the song is the anthem of the PKK.

Turkey has been fighting the PKK since the 1980s, in a conflict that has cost almost 40,000 lives.

In a statement on the case, Amnesty International argues that singing a historic anthem cannot be judged a threat to public order - and is therefore a matter of free expression. It warns that the children will be considered prisoners of conscience if they are found guilty.

Old Kurdish

The children's choir performed in America in several languages, but it is a march in Kurdish that has caused the controversy.

The prosecutor claims the song "Ey Raqip", or "Hey, Enemy", is the anthem of the PKK: the separatist militant group Turkish troops have been fighting for two decades.

The indictment also says PKK flags were displayed at the music festival - and accuses the children of making propaganda for terrorists.

One of the singers told the BBC the lyrics to the march were in an old form of Kurdish, and he and his friends did not even understand them. He said the choir wanted to showcase Kurdish culture, not engage in politics - and they only sang the march in response to a request from the audience.

Three teenagers - aged 15 to 17 - will be tried in an adult, serious crimes court in Diyarbakir, in the mainly Kurdish south-east of the country.

They face up to five years in prison if they are convicted.

Six younger choir-members, aged 12-15, will be tried in a children's court on the same charge in July.


Michael Santoro, who is in charge of the San Francisco World Music Festival and, who personally invited the choir from Diyarbakir to take part, said: "These events were not political propaganda, nor were they designed with a separatist agenda in mind."

He said the events were "designed to mentor, empower and showcase musicians, composers and artists that historically have been under-represented due to cultural, political and economic barriers".

As for the prosecutor's claim that the children performed beneath PKK flags, Mr Santoro recalls that one audience member draped the flag of Kurdish northern Iraq on part of the stage, but says there were no PKK flags or insignia at the venue.

There is far more freedom in Turkey today to speak or sing in Kurdish than when the PKK took up arms, in the days when even the existence of the Kurds was officially denied here.

Private courses in the Kurdish language are now permitted and there is some Kurdish language broadcasting on Turkish state TV.

But there are still strict limits. Those who insist on a distinct Kurdish identity are widely viewed with suspicion and state prosecutors regularly file criminal charges for spreading PKK propaganda or for supporting separatism.

The main pro-Kurdish political party, the DTP, has 20 seats in the current parliament but is now on trial and facing closure. It is accused of having links to the PKK and being the "focus of activities against the integrity of the state".

Kurdish human rights groups also say many children who were involved in street protests that became riots in the south-east two years ago are still on trial there.

They have been charged with supporting the PKK - or even belonging to it.

Further information

pdf: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7462728.stm


Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.