Leyla Zana

Turkey's first female Kurdish parliamentarian

Leyla Zana is a Kurdish human rights activist, politician, and former political prisoner. Zana, an outspoken advocate for Kurdish people in Turkey and neighboring regions, became the first Kurdish woman elected to the Turkish parliament in 1991. In 1994, she was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison for speaking Kurdish on the parliamentary floor. She received the Rafto Prize in 1994, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Union, and the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Services to Human Rights in 1995. While incarcerated, she published “Writings from Prison,” in which she chronicled the hardships she faced while fighting for the rights of Kurds. After an intensive international campaign that led to the European Court of Human Rights ruling against Turkey, Zana was finally released in 2004. In 2011, she was re-elected to parliament. In June 2015, Zana was part of Turkey’s first pro-Kurdish political party to gain representation in the Turkish Assembly with a focus on peace.

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