An intense weekend it was. I went to Diyarbakir, biggest city in the southeast of Turkey, to visit a sit-in protest by pro-Kurdish party DTP. They were protesting not only the (lack of) policies to deal with the problems of the Kurdish southeast of Turkey, but also the (alleged) mistreatment of Öcalan. The PKK-leader is serving a life sentence on a prison island not far from Istanbul, and I knew of course that Öcalan is a hero to many Kurdish people. Without him the whole Kurdish issue probably wouldn’t have been on the agenda anyway. But that the man is worshipped the way I saw this weekend, really, I had no idea.
There were many portraits of him carried around, and when I bought a newspaper just to sit on it, somebody quickly told me: “We don’t sit on that newspaper, it’s a Kurdish paper and there are pictures of Apo in it.” – Apo is the short name for Öcalan. Now and then choruses started up in which people passionately cried out that Öcalan is their leader and that they love him so much. Inside the tent where the sit-in was held, now and then two young guys would carry a lifesize portrait of Öcalan around and, when it passed by, people got up, cheered and applauded like crazy. The young guys carrying the portrait around were totally incognito, wearing big shawls around their faces leaving only the eyes visible, because it’s illegal to praise Öcalan and secret police were of course keeping a close watch on what was happening.
Then this afternoon Ahmet Türk, leader of the DTP in parliament, entered the tent. He took his shoes off before entering, like everybody else, and walked to a corner of the tent to join the sit-in. Some people got up, some people kissed his hand (a sign of respect), there was applause. But nowhere near as much applause as for Öcalan. That made me sad. Öcalan and the PKK represent violence, at least in my mind, whereas Türk and the DTP represent the longing for democratic solutions to the problems of Kurds. I hardly ever show my own opinion when I go somewhere as a journalist, but this time I couldn’t help myself: for Ahmet Türk I got up and gave him loud and heartfelt applause.