Back to the dark days

‘Life in Diyarbakir’, some Turkish media reported, ‘has returned to normal’. The curfew that applied for a few days was lifted. As I drank coffee, I heard the sound of teargas shots outside. Around 7 in the evening (every evening since a few days) a protest started in which people banged pots and pans on their balconies in support of Kobani and against the AKP’s inaction against IS. At least ten Diyarbakir citizens died in clashes over the last three days, and some guerrilla fighters who died were brought to the city for their funerals. F16’s left from the military airport, the army was present on the streets and a helicopter was keeping an eye on the city and its people from the air.

For once, the Turkish media are right: life in Diyarbakir has returned to normal.

Army in the streets of Diyarbakir, 9 October 2014

Army in the streets of Diyarbakir, 9 October 2014

For almost two years, life has been extraordinary in Diyarbakir. There was hope, although not much faith, that the peace process that started early in 2013 would actually lead somewhere.

Of course, there has been violence in the city during the last twenty months. The police have been attacking peaceful demonstrations, for example when the Kurdish movement organized marches to call on the government to take serious steps to democratize and give the peace process a serious nudge. An Öcalan flag would be enough to start a tear gas attack. But however unjust such violence might be, it was not such a big deal. The Kurds were committed to the peace process.

His months as a soldier

For almost two years, no guerrillas or soldiers have died in battles. No PKK funerals in Diyarbakir, no families losing yet another son or daughter to the struggle for peace and justice. I remember talking to a young taxi driver in the early days of the peace process. I asked him how the process made a change in his life. He said: ‘I have been postponing my army time. Now I think I will start my duty. It’s safer now that there is a ceasefire.’ I have been thinking of him these days. I hope he has finished his months as a soldier by now.

While there was relative calm, the Kurdish movement had the chance to start building the autonomy they wish to establish as the ultimate and inevitable outcome of the peace process. They expanded their power in the southeast in the local elections earlier this year, which gave them even more confidence to do so. They installed local councils for example, they further advanced the role of women in politics and society, they expanded their efforts to recognize minority rights and they tried to establish schools where education was given in Kurdish.

A brighter future

They were hindered by the state, but that didn’t ruin their perseverance in what they were doing, nor their conviction that they were doing the right thing. And they knew they were preparing for a brighter future, thus accepting (while protesting) the hurdles on the way. Well, hurdles… Since the peace process started, fifteen Kurdish civilians have died at the hands of the state, not counting those who died during the last days of unrest.

Kobani is eventually the drop that makes the bucket overflow. Some people might find that strange, since Kobani is not even in Turkey. But you see, Kobani is in Kurdistan, and it is one of the three cantons in west Kurdistan (Rojava, the Kurdish name for Syrian Kurdistan) where the democratic model that the Kurds in south east Turkey (north Kurdistan) were preparing for was put into practice. If one of Turkey’s foreign policy goals is to do everything to block Kurdish autonomy in Syria, then why continue with a peace process that is inevitably aimed at creating such self rule (an internationally recognized right of nations) in Turkey?

The new life

Öcalan has said that there is nothing more he can do after 15 October. There have been dates and deadlines before, but this time it is different. The army entered the streets of Diyarbakir, capital of Kurdistan. Nearly forty civilians have been killed in a few days. And Kobani is still on the verge of falling – without military help on the ground the effectiveness of the air strikes of the international anti-IS coalition will eventually be limited. It’s not anymore a matter of if, but when the first PKK attack since late 2012 will take place.

Then Diyarbakir will be fully back to normal. Guerrilla funerals, police showing no restraint anymore because of a weak peace process, the Kurdish movement being preoccupied with dealing with the renewed violence, thus having less energy left to work on local democracy. It is only a matter of time before the new life that Diyarbakir got a taste of will be over. Back to the dark days.

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