Leyla Zana, born on May 3, 1961, in Silvan, Diyarbakır Province, Turkey, is a Kurdish politician renowned for her activism and advocacy for the rights of the Kurdish people. Her life and political career have been marked by imprisonment, legal challenges, and international recognition for her commitment to human rights.
Early Life: Leyla Zana was born into a Kurdish family and married her cousin Mehdi Zana at the age of 14. Mehdi Zana later became the mayor of Diyarbakır until he was arrested as a political prisoner after the military coup d'état in 1980.
Political Career: Leyla Zana's political journey began with her activism on behalf of her husband, Mehdi Zana, who was arrested. In 1987, she was first arrested for participating in a rally against torture. Leyla Zana entered national politics in 1991, elected to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey as a member of the Social Democratic People's Party (SHP). Her swearing-in ceremony in Kurdish, a language prohibited in public spaces at the time, led to calls for her arrest in the Turkish parliament.
As a member of the Democracy Party, she faced legal challenges, and her parliamentary immunity was stripped. In 1994, she was arrested along with other MPs and charged with treason and PKK membership. Despite maintaining her innocence, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
International pressure and a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights in 2001 led to a retrial in 2004. Leyla Zana and others were released after a prosecutor requested quashing the prior verdict on a technicality.
Awards and Recognition: Leyla Zana received several awards for her dedication to human rights and the Kurdish cause, including:
- Rafto Prize in 1995
- Sakharov Prize in 1995
- Bruno Kreisky Prize for Services to Human Rights in 1995
- Honorary citizenship of the City of Geneva
- Aachener Friedenspreis in 1995
She was also recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
Later Political Career: Despite facing further imprisonments, including a two-year sentence in 2008 and a ten-year sentence in 2009, Leyla Zana continued her political career. In 2018, her parliamentary membership was revoked, and in 2021, a lawsuit sought a five-year ban for her and other politicians, alleging organizational links to the PKK.
Cinematic Recognition: In 2002, a film titled "The Back of the World," directed by Javier Corcuera, delved into Leyla Zana's imprisonment, providing a cinematic exploration of her experiences and the broader issues surrounding her activism.
Leyla Zana's life exemplifies the challenges faced by Kurdish activists in Turkey and their ongoing struggle for human rights and political representation.