Dutch Chopy Fatah sings for PKK guerrillas

QANDIL – As soon as Chopy Fatah leaves the backstage tent, it starts: girls in guerrilla outfits or in traditional Kurdish glitter dresses want to give her a kiss, journalists want a quote and PKK members can’t wait to get a picture taken with her.

Dutch-Kurdish singer Chopy – living in the city of Amersfoort – was born in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk and moved to the Netherlands with her family when she was just a toddler. She can’t turn down all the requests, and doesn’t want to either: ‘These people love me, they are my fans. Look at these adorable girls, how could I possibly say that kisses would mess up my make up?’

Chopy Fatah performing in Qandil. (pic by me, click to enlarge)
Chopy Fatah performing in Qandil. (pic by me, click to enlarge)

It’s Newroz, 21 March. The first day of spring when Kurds (and many other nations in the region) celebrate the beginning of the new year. Location of the celebrations: a green meadow between the rugged ridges of the Qandil mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan on the Turkish border, an area that has been under the military control of the Kurdish armed movement the PKK for years. A few hundred guerrillas have come down from their camps to this meadow, just like thousands of their followers from Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. On stage there is Kurdish music and speeches by politicians and high PKK members. By the fence between the stage and the public five guerrillas are standing guard, two men and three women. On the meadow people are dancing and picnicking in groups.

Chopy Fatah (30), who is usually dressed in wide dashing glitter dresses, is performing today in guerrilla outfit: wide green trousers, coat, keel. ‘It was made especially for me and I love it’, she says. But the fact that she is here, does that also mean that she supports the PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the EU and US? ‘I support the Kurds’, she says. ‘I don’t speak out about politics. I prefer to contribute via culture and music.’

But in Qandil everything breaths politics. And even more so during Newroz, a centuries old celebration that was brought back to life over the last couple of decades in Turkey, instigated by the PKK. It’s for a reason that PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan picked Newroz as the day to announce a ceasefire and a withdrawal of PKK forces from Turkey, now exactly a year ago.

The AKP government, lead by Prime Minister Erdogan, was supposed to carry out democratic reforms, but nothing much happened apart from a few half-hearted measures. One of the most important problems, the constitution that breaths Turkish nationalism, remained untouched.

The PKK is becoming impatient. The withdrawal of the troops has already been put on hold last fall, and this month a PKK leader said the peace process would be over if the government doesn’t start reforms soon after the local elections of 30 March. The threat wasn’t made more concrete.

Several guerrillas express their disappointment in the peace process,which started so promisingly. But they prefer not to talk about it too much today. Today there are celebrations. While Dutch Chopy is getting ready to go on stage, a guerrilla says: ‘It’s important that Chopy is here. She represents Kurdish unity for me. Because she makes pure Kurdish music, and also because she doesn’t speak about politics. She is very popular in our camps, did you know that?’

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