The basics don’t change. The basics are: people are born with rights. That’s what we, many nations of the world, have agreed upon and have put down on paper in international treaties and declarations. The right to self-determination, the right to express yourself in your mother tongue. The right to live in dignity. The right to life.
In Turkey, people wish death upon each other.
Today is the 67th day of the hunger strike by Kurds in Turkish jails all over the country. The condition of the people on hunger strike has deteriorated further; I heard that hospitals in several cities are emptying rooms to make space for strikers who are about to die (and will be force-fed in hospitals to prevent them from dying?) and several Kurdish MP’s have now joined the hunger strike for an indefinite period. And how does the majority of Turkish society react? With plain cruelty.
To sum it up: let them die, who cares? I try to understand where this utter cruelty is coming from. And of course, that seems not so very hard to grasp. It has to do with the PKK. Since 1984, when they carried out their first armed attack, tens of thousands of lives have been lost. Over the last 18 months the violence has been increasing again. Recently seventeen soldiers were killed. Not directly by the PKK, but when their helicopter had an accident in bad weather. But of course the helicopter and the soldiers wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for this ongoing conflict.
Turks see coffins coming back from the south-eastern part of the country, and understandably it makes them very sad and very angry. But they never get angry at the state for not being able to end this conflict, and for continuously sending young conscript soldiers to a war that can’t be won by military means. They have a blind spot when it comes to holding their own government responsible for the safety of its citizens. They only blame the PKK. That the second largest army in NATO hasn’t been able to crush a few thousand PKK fighters in thirty years, and why that is so, the question just doesn’t come into their minds.
But the approximately seven hundred people on strike are not PKK fighters, are they? No, they are not. They are mostly political prisoners, jailed because they made use of democratic rights, like representing the people as an elected mayor, working as a journalist, being in a human rights group, studying at university, or being in a union. But many Turks fail to see it that way. They label them all as ‘terrorists’, or at least ‘terrorist supporters’. As does the judicial system, because they are all in jail as a result of the very widely interpretable Turkish anti-terrorism laws, which equate peaceful resistance with terrorism. No difference is made between a Kurd taking up arms to fight, or a Kurd fighting in a peaceful way for the natural rights of his people. Consequently, the lives of both groups don’t mean anything to many Turks. The more Kurds die, the better. Either in the mountains by bombs of the Turkish army, or on hunger strike in jails because the state is unwilling to grant people their natural rights.
Can this be explained only by the violence of the PKK? Would it make Turks behave significantly more humanely if the PKK announced a cease-fire now? No. There is more to it than that. It is the whole mindset of Turkish society that is stuck in this way of thinking.
Brutally bombed to death
Over the last ninety years, the state has been extremely successful in planting the basic dogmas of the republic in everybody’s mind. Anyone who challenges these dogmas, of which two of the most important are that everybody is a Turk and that the country can’t be divided, is a traitor. The last ones before the PKK and the current Kurdish political movement to face that cruel reality after standing up to the state were the Kurds of Dersim, in 1937 and 1938. They resisted forced assimilation and were brutally bombed to death.
The next uprising started with the PKK in 1984. It made Kurds aware of their identity again, then from the same grassroots a Kurdish political group emerged – yes, approved by the PKK, no denying that – and by Turks they are all seen as one big danger. Yes, the PKK wanted to divide the country, but those days are over now, and even the Kurdish political party and Kurdish society don’t demand their own country anymore. They want autonomy within the Turkish state. International law is on their side.
Not only state institutions motivate Turks to see anybody who challenges the state dogma as a traitor, the media help a lot and are part of the problem. You also see that very clearly in the reports on the hunger strike. On the big channels, PM Erdogan gets all the air time he wants to fulminate against the hunger strikers, ridicule their action and put it in the terrorist framework, as do his ministers. But the speeches of the BDP MP’s are hardly ever broadcast. No, from the south-east we only see footage of clashes between Kurds and the police, when the latter get tear-gas-happy again.
Window frames, drums and pans
The support for the hunger strike is huge here in the region, and it is very strongly shown by peaceful action: every night at seven, the whole city is a sea of noise. People bang iron window frames, drums and pans, honk their car horns, youngsters let off small (but noisy!) fireworks, people whistle, and here and there people light fires on the street. Part of the action is turning your lights off at home, and many people do that again and again, causing flickering behind many windows. And all this not for five minutes, but for half an hour or forty-five minutes. It’s getting louder every night.
I talked to people on the street during the commotion. I asked them what will happen if a hunger striker dies. Will they get violent? Often the answer is, even from young men: ‘No, we want peace’. But yes, there is also fear about the consequences of approaching death. Of course there is not a word about all this in the Turkish media.
So, an activist Kurd, whether a weapon is around his or her shoulders or not, is seen as a terrorist, and terrorists just have to die, preferably as painfully as possible. It’s the easiest way, of course, a comfortable world view to hide behind. If you really delved into the matter, you might start questioning the state truths yourself, and of course that’s too scary. Better keep your mind closed.
Too many deaths
It gets interesting when you compare this Turkish mindset with those of the Kurds. I have talked to many, many Kurds, and not one of them has ever told me they wish Turks dead. They don’t even wish soldiers dead. They want nobody to die, they have seen too many deaths already – most of the thousands of lives claimed in the violence were Kurdish. It doesn’t matter if I talk to old women in a mountain village or a young man in the city, the magic word here is ‘peace’. The soldiers are their children too, I hear people say it so very often. People deal with violence every day, their daily lives are directly influenced by this conflict (unlike the daily lives of most Turks); they have a history of being oppressed in many ways and they want it to end. I have never heard a Kurd cheering at any death on either side of the conflict.
Recently I was asked if Kurds don’t secretly cheer when soldiers die. The woman who asked was willing to support the Kurds and their struggle for rights, but she just couldn’t get herself to do it, because she thought Kurds celebrate soldiers’ deaths and she wouldn’t accept that. No, Kurds don’t cheer at the death of soldiers. I have never seen it, not in real life and not on social media. Really, they are sick of the violence.
She asked me that question, but she refused to take a look in the mirror. And that makes her a perfect image of the whole of Turkish society. A society that couldn’t care less if a Kurdish prisoner on hunger strike dies, and that only wants more bombs thrown at the PKK by the Turkish army, and doesn’t let a chance go by to shout that out loud and be proud of it. Isn’t it mind-blowing that this blood-thirsty society has the nerve to portray Kurds as the ones that are thirsty for blood?