Activists Call for Release of Minors in Turkish Prisons
BY SEROUJ APRAHAMIAN
LOS ANGELES – While a15-year-old Kurdish girl gets sentenced to eight years in Turkish prison, here in the US, a longtime civil rights lawyer waits to hear from the Supreme Court on whether his advocacy for Kurdish rights will land him in jail. This Wednesday, a coalition of Armenian and Kurdish human rights activists will bring these travesties of justice to light with a mid-day protest in front of the Turkish Consulate.
“They want me not to speak out even for peace for this group of people [Kurds] who have been so woefully oppressed,” said Ralph Fertig, a well-known nonviolent activist and professor at USC, whose current U.S. Supreme Court case will determine whether speaking out on behalf of the Kurds constitutes support for terrorism under U.S. law. “They’re not going to stop me. I’ll speak out no matter what.”
Mr. Fertig is schedule to speak at Wednesday’s protest, which is set to begin at 2:00 p.m. on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and McCarthy Vista. The United Human Rights Council (UHRC) and several Armenian and Kurdish youth organizations are organizing the demonstration, to demand the release of a 15-year-old Kurdish girl named Berivan, jailed in Turkey for eight years on charges of “supporting an illegal organization.”
Berivan was detained this past October at a pro-Kurdish rally in Turkey and charged with shouting slogans and throwing stones. Despite denying these accusations and explaining that she was not part of the rally—but was merely watching out of curiosity on her way to visit an aunt—Berivan was sent to jail for eight years. There are currently hundreds of other Kurdish children in Turkish jails for similarly false accusations and minor offenses.
In addition to erecting an eight-by-eight makeshift “children’s cell” to represent the unjust jailing of Berivan, demonstrators will release doves into the sky and call for the freeing of the more than 2,600 minors currently in Turkish prisons.
“We plan to expose the human rights violations Turkey is committing against Kurdish children,” said Sanan Shirinian, Chairwoman of the UHRC. “These kids should be going to school and playing with their friends, not being thrown in jail because of their nationality.”
The case of Berivan and Mr. Fertig are emblematic of both the ongoing repression of the Turkish government and its attempts to curtail discussion of its abuses here in the United States. “Our right to speak out against the systematic effort to eliminate an ethnic group on the soil it has occupied for 6,000years is now being tested in the U.S. Supreme Court,” explained Fertig. “It is mandatory that we exercise free speech rights before they are curtailed and our appeal is rendered criminal.”
Now in his eighties, Mr. Fertig has a long history of nonviolent activism on behalf of the oppressed and downtrodden. He was jailed and beaten as a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights movement and has fought for social justice as a federal administrative judge. More recently, he has taken on the cause of the Kurds in Turkey.
“I will speak not only for the Kurds but for America, for the right to tell my fellow Americans that others suffer because we are silent,” said Mr. Fertig.
The United Human Rights Council (UHRC) is a committee of the Armenian Youth Federation. By means of action on a grassroots level the UHRC works toward exposing and correcting human rights violations of governments worldwide, and aims to foster dialogue and collaboration between peoples who share this common vision.