Kemal Says Kurds Top Human Rights Issue in Turkey

FRANKFURT (Reuters)–Renowned Turkish writer Yasar Kemal on Thursday said solving the Kurdish question was the biggest human rights issue facing Turkey.

Kemal–in Germany to receive a prestigious peace prize–attacked Turkey’s European allies for not pushing enough for democracy and said he felt he had to speak out even if it meant risking jail.

A Turkish court has imposed a 20-month suspended jail sentence on Kemal for writing an article in a book on freedom of expression which was deemed to have promoted Kurdish separatism.

More than 20,000 people have died in fighting between Turkish troops and Kurdish guerrillas in the mountains of south-east Turkey in the last 12 years.

Kemal–the 73-year-old author of the internationally known novel "Memed My Hawk," said of Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz: "I believe that he is a democrat and he intends to introduce some reforms in Turkey to establish democracy."

"I have known him since he was young. He is a left-wing politician and I am a Marxist. But our friendship continued until now. He is a friend of the family," he told Reuters.

"The main problem of democracy in Turkey is the Kurdish question. We have to find a solution without war…It must be a political solution."

Kemal was imprisoned in 1971 for his work for the Marxist Turkish Workers’ Party. He later lived in Sweden after international protests prompted the Turkish military regime to release him.

He poured scorn on Turkey’s allies in Europe.

"They didn’t help at all with the establishment of a real democracy in Turkey. It is a pity European countries are not interested in political development and establishing democracy and human rights in Turkey," he said.

The European parliament has withheld financial aid to Ankara–partly due to its poor human rights record. European countries say Ankara must make substantial progress on the issue before it can join the European Union.

Kemal–who is being given the German Booksellers’ Union’s peace prize – one of Germany’s most prestigious – at the world’s largest book fair–said he viewed the future of Turkey with mixed feelings.

He said Turks and Kurds were all "waiting–searching and yearning for peace."

But he warned: "Now in Turkey there are many hawks who would like to shut my mouth and put me in jail…The hawks in Turkey are against peace and our friends–our allies in the Western countries don’t help us."

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