Aysel Doğan, a veteran Kurdish politician, lost her life at 69 in a hospital in Germany where she was receiving cancer treatment, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-chair Pervin Buldan announced on Wednesday.
Doğan was among early Kurdish rights advocates to win elections. She ran as an independent candidate from her hometown of Tunceli (Dersim) in the 1991 general elections, and won the highest vote in the province. However, she was not allowed to swear in and hold her elected office.
Coming from a highly-politicised town, Doğan was childhood friends with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) co-founder Sakine Cansız. She was first arrested in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup in Turkey and remained behind bars for two years without a trial. She was arrested again in 1990, ahead of her election victory, and remained in prison for 11 months.
In the mid-1990s, at the height of the conflict between Turkey and the PKK, Doğan sought asylum in Germany and continued her political organising in exile.
Doğan was part of the two groups who returned to Turkey following the arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999, when Öcalan issued a call for peace envoys to return to the country as a show of good will. Upon Öcalan’s call, eight PKK members had returned to Turkey on 1 October 1999, and were jailed after turning themselves in. A second group, which included Doğan, flew from Vienna to Turkey and faced trial. Doğan spent the next 10 years in prison.
Two years into the so-called KCK trials of 2009, when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government launched a crackdown against Kurdish politicians and accused the umbrella organisation Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) of forming a ‘parallel state structure’, Doğan was arrested again upon terrorism charges related to her alleged membership in the KCK. She was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
In 2015, the fourth year of her most recent prison sentence, Doğan was released by a Court of Cassation decree due to her deteriorating health. She left Turkey once again to settle in Germany, where she received treatment for her cancer until her passing.
Doğan believed Ankara’s approach had to change to resolve the Kurdish issue. “Turkey is not the only country. Other states have changed, and so should Turkey,” she told Dicle News Agency (DİHA) in a 2009 interview.
“If a state does not stand at an equal distance to citizens regarding rights and freedoms, there is an issue,” she said. “We are working to fix this issue, and not for ourselves but for all the peoples of Turkey.”
Turkey was lucky to have the PKK to usher in a necessary change, Doğan believed. “They have not seen the opportunity from day one. They do not see that the Kurdish people are an opportunity for them. If they could see the PKK has a chance (to improve), there would be no Kurdish issue left,” she said.
Calls for peace from the Kurds’ side failed because the state considered Kurds to be potential criminals, Doğan told DİHA. “They see us as excessive. They push us out and other us. Under these conditions, however much we call for peace, they continue to seek for ulterior motives behind it. This is a disease, these are politics of fear.”
Doğan considered the years she spent behind bars to be a necessary sacrifice. “This is the price for peace, freedom and fraternity. And I would make the same sacrifice again today,” she said.