He is 21 years young. And I can’t get him out of my head. He left his family to join the PKK and left them a note to explain his choice. Written in somewhat sloppy Turkish, with a sloppy hand. Where did he write this note? On his mattress at home, or maybe outside sitting somewhere on a bench or in the wild? Did he cry while writing it, or was he just angry, or feeling vigorous? How, and at what time of the day did he leave the house? What did he take with him? And what does he expect to find in the mountains?
I am intrigued by the question of why some Kurds join the PKK, and others don’t. I talk about it with people whenever I get the chance. If it leads to a good conversation, it always gets emotional. For the person I talk to, but sometimes also for me, because their sometimes very personal revelations can be very compelling.
The story of T.T., the 21 year old, touches me too. I didn’t talk to him, but I read the letter (of which you can find a translation below this post). In the letter, T. writes about the suffering he experienced at a young age. What he is talking about are his experiences in prison. T. is one of the many boys who were locked up in the prison at Pozanti, a town in the southern province of Adana.
At the beginning of this year, the news came out that underage boys had been subject to mistreatment and sexual abuse in the prison of Pozanti, where they were locked up among ordinary adult criminals. Most of the Kurdish children had been arrested for throwing stones at the police during demonstrations in the southeast of Turkey, and were awaiting trial for so called ‘terrorism-related crimes’. According to the news reports of today about T.T. leaving for the mountains, T.T. was in Pozanti prison in 2008 and 2009.
Going to the mountains is not necessarily only a product of your life experiences. In other words: not all the boys who were in Pozanti prison join the PKK. Not all the men and women who have experienced or seen violence inflicted on them or their loved ones for being Kurdish leave to take up arms. One of the questions related to making the choice about going to the mountains or not, is what you expect to find there. When I talk to people about this, I don’t take the one-dimensional ‘If I go, I go to fight for my people’ as an answer. If that is the case, then why are you not up there? is my next question. Why don’t you go? A friend answered: ‘Because I am afraid’. I asked: ‘Afraid to die?’ ‘No’, he said, ‘afraid to kill.’
Some time ago, I talked to a young man about this subject for several hours. He was a fierce PKK supporter, and it was hard to get the interview beyond the PKK propaganda and official PKK theory. After some time, it turned out he had several friends who did join the PKK and who died in battles. I pressured him to tell me what the difference was between him and his friends. Why did they go up, and why did he not?
He got confused. Then he said that before you go to the mountains, you have to read more about the movement and about the theory behind it, think really hard and long about who you are and what your place is in the struggle. ‘I am afraid to do that’, he said. ‘It is actually the biggest fear of my life. What if I find out there is no guerrilla in me?’
He totally idealized life in the mountains. Up there, he would find absolute freedom, he was convinced of that. A life ruled only by solidarity and beautiful socialist principles. As if he somehow along the way forgot that he was talking about an armed group with a very strong hierarchy, where thinking for yourself is not appreciated and where the leader has to be followed no matter what. Where to kill or to get killed defines life.
Of course, not all young Kurds who go to the mountains make a deep personal journey first. I doubt that T.T. did. He seems to me a deeply traumatized young man, having no idea what to do with himself and how to deal with the pain. This one phrase in T.T.’s letter struck me: ‘Now I am going to the free mountains’. He too thinks joining the PKK will make him free. Maybe in a way, it will, I don’t know. But in making his decision, did he realize that he is taking himself and his pain with him on his journey? Did he realize that the chance of him getting killed in the near future is very real? Or is that, maybe unconsciously, the freedom he is looking for?
Here is a translation of the letter from T.T.
I am T.T. I am going away from here. The Turkish state is responsible for what will happen to me because I suffered a lot at this age. I was being blamed for defending my language and such and I was under pressure. But I never gave up (this word I’m not sure about, his Turkish isn’t flawless and I couldn’t figure this one out, FG) my struggle.
Turks and Kurds are brothers but the Turkish state always discriminates. But we never compromised on any of it, we always struggled, because we always wanted peace in this country and we will continue to want this. The Turkish state will not forget this. Kurdish people will never give up the struggle. Now I am going to the free mountains in order to join the struggle of the Kurdish people. The Turkish state will be held accountable for the suffering I had to go through at a child’s age.
I am going to continue with my head up high, let the world know. Until leader Apo (PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, FG) is free we will never give up on the struggle. I vow for the freedom of the Kurdish people and the freedom struggle of all nations.