Throughout the last decade, the Rafto Foundation has actively supported non-violent initiatives to improve the human rights situation in Kurdistan. The Foundation has regularly received information on current developments relating to the predicament of the Kurds, and also on Leyla Zana´s condition, both from her husband and from other Kurdish human rights advocates. Director Arne Lynngård and member Kariane Westrheim of the board at the Rafto Foundation met Mehdi Zana while he was in Bergen in January. -Zana is among the best known Kurdish leaders in Europe, says Lynngård. -Widely supported by his people, Zana insists that no single political party or movement should capitalise on his efforts.


It is now ten years since Zana´s wife was awarded the Rafto Prize for her non-violent struggle for the rights of the Kurdish people. At the time, Leyla Zana was already in prison, serving a  17 years´ sentence for having spoken in Parliament in Kurdish, and for having worn a hair ribbon with Kurdish colours. Mehdi and Leyla Zana have not seen each other since she was imprisoned, but from his exile in Sweden, Mehdi has kept in touch with his wife, both directly and indirectly, receiving reports on her case and circumstances. Relative to the fact that Leyla has spent the last decade behind bars and is in dire need of medicines, she is as well as one can expect, Zana said. He also took it as a good sign that Leyla recently asked for pictures of their children. Zana believes that his wife will be released in 2005.   


During the meeting with the Rafto Foundation, Zana presented an overview of the current situation for the Kurds, with particular reference to the consequences of the war in Iraq: 

“All Kurds share the joy of the Kurds in the Southern part of Kurdistan, which is in the North of Iraq, but it is a well-known fact that the majority of the Kurdish population live in North Kurdistan, which stretches across Syria, Turkey and Iran. In these areas, very little has changed. Currently, the Turkish Government is concentrating on solving the Cyprus issue. Again, no matter how important this is to Turkey at large, and especially to its relations to the Western world, it has no bearings on the situation in Kurdistan. 


-Even so, said Zana, -our position has improved. Due to the growing interest in our region, the Americans now seem to consider us a serious negotiation partner. This also gives us a chance to present an alternative identity to the “rogue state” image that, over time, the Turkish government has given us. I understand that the Americans need to concentrate on finding solutions for South-Kurdistan before they can turn to us, Zana concluded.


Zana emphasized that he will do his utmost to prevent any person anywhere in Kurdistan from turning to the use of arms or violence. -It is puzzling, he said, -that our opponents won´t do the same. We stand stronger unarmed, since the use of armed resistance will be used against us, as a reason and justification to fight back in a similar manner. Hence, for instance to get access to the White House, a non-violent approach is essential, says Zana, who speaks on the back of 30 years´ experience as a non-violent human rights activist.