When you wake up at six in the morning as a Kurdish intellectual, politician, administrator or activist, you must feel relieved. Because when the police come to get you, they always knock on your door in the early hours of the morning, around five. That’s what also happened to some thirteen youngsters on Monday, two days after a banned protest demanding the release of PKK leader Öcalan got out of hand in Diyarbakir.
I was in Diyarbakir during the protest, and ran around in the Baglar district with young Kurds. Baglar is the poorest part of the city. It had become a refuge for people who were forced to leave their villages in Southeast Turkey, after they were set on fire by the army in a horrible strategy to fight the PKK. They are packed in with too many people in large apartment blocks, unemployment is high, and prospects for the future are low.
In the lives of these young Kurds, the PKK, which carried out its first violent attack in 1984, has always been there. They grew up with violence. They saw their friends leave for ‘the mountains’ only to return in coffins, and they see no change in their situation. The concessions the Turkish government has made over the last ten years are nowhere near enough to give them hope for the future.
Some of the young Kurds I was with covered their faces. When they saw me with my camera, they urged me not to film any faces. Since you don’t want to upset young angry men and women with stones in their hands, I didn’t. That’s part of the reason why my footage turned out to be unusable: who needs shaky footage of running legs? And the part where a pink cooler box turned out not to contain bottles of cold water but Molotov cocktails was not usable either: some faces were visible.
But of course, the police filmed too. I even saw them filming the next day at the gate of the park where the BDP was about to give a press statement about the police violence the day before. After the riots, they study all their images, identify whoever they can, get up early the next morning and carry out arrests around five.
Do I approve of stone-throwing or throwing Molotov cocktails? That’s not really the point. The point is, as a journalist, I try to understand what is going on. What can these young people do to show their anger about their lives, about the lives of their parents, their people?
They don’t even get permission to demonstrate in a peaceful way – which I am pretty sure they would have done if the governor had not found ridiculous reasons to forbid the demonstration. Any other legal way of protesting also gets you in trouble. We all know how many Kurdish mayors, administrators, lawyers, journalists and students are imprisoned for openly working for the rights of Kurds. These young Kurds are apparently not ready (yet?) to join the PKK. So what is left? Expressing anger with violence and with their faces covered. They have no chance whatsoever against the massive police presence, but at least for them this is a way to express themselves anonymously.
I found one short piece of footage that is usable. Half a minute only. I was close enough to film it properly, and nobody can be identified by his left foot, hands and legs. I hope the police didn’t film them more closely, and they are both still free.