Any traveller who has spent time in Turkey has probably heard racism directed towards Kurdish people. It is believed that 20-25 million Kurds live within the borders of Turkey. I am often told that south-eastern Turkey, which is predominantly Kurdish, is dangerous, and that I shouldn’t get into cars with Kurdish numberplates. This is, of course, nonsense. I have argued with people over their assumption that their government provides everything for Kurdish people, but that Kurds are never grateful. This common attitude can partly be explained because the Turkish government presents itself “as if it gives substantial concessions to Kurdish people never granted in the history of Turkish Republic while, on the other hand, repressing the Kurdish movement by “anti-terror” measures.” (document published by Michael Albert on ZBlogs)
Mats, Robert and I arrive in Turkish Kurdistan at night, and a lovely man lets us spend the night on the floor of a petrol station! We are told about a recent attack in the town by the Turkish military, killing over thirty people.
The Norwegians and I spend our last few hours together in Mardin, a beautiful but boring city, perched on a mountain.
I continue my travels alone and head to the heart of Kurdistan – a city called Diyarkbakır. The first thing I notice is that there is a HUGE Turkish military base right in the centre of the city. The Old Town, enclosed within beautiful walls, is fascinating. The area evidentally doesn’t get funds for regeneration and many of the houses are crumbling. I love the atmosphere here. Local women laugh at the way I dress and at my terrible Turkish skills and invite me for tea. When children see me, they literally punch each other to get to me first and walk arm-in-arm with me. At one point, I have twenty children following me down the narrow alleys, practising their English with me. As the sun goes down, a man asks me, “why are you walking here? It’s dangerous!” I fail to see how children playing on the streets and old people buying bread is dangerous.
I then travel to a stunning, ancient town called Hasankeyf. This town is 12,000 years old but is set to vanish forever when a hydroelectric dam is completed. Hasankeyf will disappear under a 121 sq-mile artificial lake. 95 Kurdish villages and farms will vanish entirely and another 104 will be affected. According to the Initiative To Keep Hasankeyf Alive, the dam will displace up to 78,000 people. The lack of decent government compensation means that people will be forced into the cities, where they will have no skills to live a decent life. There was already a forced depopulation of Kurdish villages in the 1990s, depriving children of basic needs, such as education, health and shelter. There have also been recent reports of the Turkish military burning down villages in the Hasankeyf area (see the Kurdish Human Rights Project). As I walk around beautiful Hasankeyf, I remember a comment someone made to me in Diyarbakır: “The state wants to erase all Kurdish history in this area”.
A final few words
There were general elections when I was travelling in Turkey last year. There was a mass detention of Kurdish activists during the electoral campaign, bringing the number of Kurdish activists in prison to roughly 5,000. Turkish military operations also accelerated after the elections, and an “anti-terror” strategy was declared.
I think that this statement by Abdullah Demirbaş – Mayor of Sur municipality in Diyarbakır – is a nice way to finish this blog post on Turkish Kurdistan:
“Kurds’ identity, along with other minorities, are not recognized by the State. Our existence is being denied constantly as well as our language. Our language is deemed to be non-existent. Kurds are faced with annihilation. We don’t get education in our native language. Our identities are not recognized in the Constitution and in national laws. We have some difficulties participating in politics. We are faced with oppression, arrest, death, and threat of closure of our legal parties. We have to live in Turkey as Turkish.”
(Democratic Autonomy by Abdullah Demirbaş & Michael Albert)