In 1991, iconic Kurdish activist Leyla Zana became the first Kurdish woman elected to Turkey’s parliament. While taking the oath, she uttered a few Kurdish words that were to alter her life. In the ensuing chain of events, Zana and several fellow Kurdish lawmakers were expelled from the legislature. She had her parliamentary immunity revoked and found herself in prison for a decade.
The nationalistic uproar Zana caused in parliament was frequently evoked last week, when another remarkable Kurdish woman took her parliamentary oath. Dilek Ocalan — the niece of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — was among 80 members of the Kurdish-dominated Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who assumed their seats in the new parliament. Ocalan’s sheer presence in the legislature comes as a striking illustration of how far the Kurdish struggle has progressed and transformed Turkey since the days Zana was booed for simply speaking in Kurdish.