I’ve often wondered about the use of tear gas against Kurds who for example demonstrate or attend a funeral of PKK members. You sometimes hear that the police ‘just started’ throwing tear gas bombs, but is that really the case? As of yesterday I can say: yes, that is really the case.
I’m in Diyarbakir for a conference on the history of the Diyarbakir region around 1900, and I heard there would be a funeral of two PKK members. I decided to attend. It started at a mosque, from where people would walk to the graveyard. Around 7,000 people were there, shouting slogans, waving PKK flags and showing portraits of PKK leader Öcalan and of the two men whose funeral it was. See pics here, here and here.
Very slowly the crowd moved to the graveyard, a walk of about two kilometres. That was soon brought to an end: after the first turn left, the road was blocked by police. The PKK flags went down and the slogan shouting stopped, and people told me that was so as to not irritate the police any further. It was all really quiet, people were just waiting for the road to be opened again.
Out of the blue
Then Selahattin Demirtas came walking through the crowd. He is an MP for the pro-Kurdish party BDP. He intended to talk to the police, to negotiate about opening the road. People applauded him. But before Demirtas reached the police, all of a sudden the first tear gas bomb was thrown at the protesters. Just, really, totally out of the blue. Nobody was shouting slogans, there were no PKK flags, nobody was throwing stones, nothing. Not that those things in my eyes would be reason to start a tear gas attack instantly, but still: there was no reason whatsoever at that point to use tear gas.
I was pretty much in the front, so the gas reached me quickly. I was talking to a Kurdish journalist from the Kurdish paper Özgür Gündem when it happened, and he held me by the arm and directed me, along with some other people, to an apartment building. We quickly went inside, and climbed the stairs. Some people opened their homes for the ‘crying’ funeral participants, and provided lemon to ease the eyes and throat. I went in too, but soon wanted to go out again to see what was happening. I asked the Kurdish journalist to join me, but he didn’t want to go out again: ‘They know my face, I will get arrested for being a journalist. But you are a foreign journalist, you won’t get arrested, so if you want, go out and report what’s happening.’
Lemons from balconies
So I went back into the street, but I had to go into an apartment block again when tear gas was used. Whenever tear gas spread, people started throwing lemons down from the balconies of apartment buildings, and protesters would break them in smaller parts and distribute them.
I went out on the street again, and then I saw a group of people loot a shop. You are supposed to close your shop on days when PKK members are buried, out of respect for the dead. They say this is ‘voluntary’, but what’s clear is that if you keep your shop open, it will be attacked and looted. The police used tear gas to stop the looting, and later I saw a group of men in front of the shop shouting ‘Allah akhbar’. I was surprised, that’s not something you hear very often in Turkey. I asked a man for more info, and he said: ‘They are Hezbollah. They always keep their shop open as a sort of provocation, and then PKK sympathizers come and loot the shop. It’s always the same.’
Flowers or a shawl
I couldn’t see the thousands of people anymore, so I asked the way to the graveyard. I started walking and met a few women who were on the way too. We reached the cemetery without any further trouble. Everybody else arrived in small groups too, running back and forth to avoid the police and the tear gas. At the cemetery the police usually leave the funeral alone. The flags were out in the air again, the coffins were covered with PKK flags too, songs were sung, slogans shouted. See a pic here, the coffins can be seen on the right, in red. Then prayers started (pic here), and the bodies were laid to rest in a part of the graveyard where more PKK members were buried. Their graves can be easily recognized: they all have something on it showing the Kurdish colours: green, yellow and red. Flowers, a shawl, or a stone daubed with paint, whatever. See an example here.
I saw groups of police on the roads around the graveyard. A woman told me: ‘Trust me, the tear gas is not over yet. They will start using it again when people leave the burial ground, you wait and see.’
I don’t know if she was right. I didn’t wait. I left before the others, taking a bus to the conference hall again. From the breaking news back into the history of the Diyarbakir region, where Kurdish resistance had already started even before 1900. Will it ever end?
I made the pictures for live reporting from my twitter account. I couldn’t take pics of the looting (I kept my distance) and of the teargas (I was running).