‘You don’t ask the sun why it rises in the morning either, do you?’ I couldn’t believe what I was reading. A Turkish journalist replied with this question to tweets of mine in which I wondered why Turkish journalists in the Kurdish areas of Syria just reported there were flags of Öcalan seen on the streets there, without asking the people why the flags were there, if they approved, and if so why, and if not, why not.
I find this the perfect example of what’s wrong with Turkish media.
The journalist clarified himself by saying everybody knows that the Kurds there support the PYD, a Syrian-Kurdish party affiliated to the PKK. So you don’t have to ask anymore. This disqualifies you as a journalist. Even if it is true that all Kurds in the Kurdish areas of Syria support the PYD, it is still important to ask why that is the case.
Of course, it is obvious why Turkish media don’t ask these kinds of questions. It would be pointless, because they already know in advance that they will not be able to publish any of the answers they get – well, apart from the ones condemning the PYD and the PKK of course. Turkish media cannot quote people who express what the PYD or, for that matter, the PKK has meant for their Kurdish identity. They would be accused of ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’ and end up in jail.
It made me think of the last trip I made to the Kurdish areas in Turkey. Last week, I came back from the most distant south-eastern corner, Hakkari province. One of the people I talked to was a father of seven, a man in his forties. A soft voiced and friendly family man. His daughter had married too early for his liking (she was 21), but he agreed to the marriage she wanted because he found his daughter very easily influenced by others. ‘She quit school before her marriage. I didn’t like that. On the other hand, I knew the risk if she stayed in school. What if people tried to convince her to go to the mountains? I was so afraid of that. So I said: okay, get married then.’
He told me it was so frustrating that, in general, Turks consider everybody in his part of the country a ‘supporter of terrorists’. He said: ‘I would love to talk to one of the big Turkish papers and tell them about the humanitarian people that live here. I sent some letters, but didn’t hear anything back.’ Simply for being a Kurd and on top of that coming from Hakkari, he feels he is considered a terrorist.
One all-embracing answer
This father was so afraid of his daughter going to the mountains, but at the same time he was not fiercely against the PKK. Not surprisingly, since the organisation has a very big and solid support in the south-east, and in the Turkish cities where many Kurds live. Hakkari and also the neighbouring province of Sirnak are considered PKK strongholds. For many Turks and most of the Turkish media, this is reason enough not to talk to the people there. Not only because of the risk of going to jail, but also because they think they have the one all-embracing answer already: terrorist supporters.
Turkey is in a very dangerous circle of labelling non-violent Kurds who support the PKK but also desperately want peace (a majority of the Kurds as far as I have seen, and yes, the two can co-exist, people’s loyalties and dreams can be complicated) as ‘terrorists’. By this labelling and by not even considering it relevant to talk to these ‘terrorist supporters’, the climate of prejudice, misunderstanding and, ultimately, violence is being maintained.
To reach peace, communication has to start on all levels. Not only between the highest leaders of the players involved, but even especially on the level of citizens. Turkish journalists have a responsibility to help facilitate this communication and contribute to the mutual understanding. That obviously doesn’t include comparing Kurds to the sun coming up in the morning because that’s just what she does.