TedX Leiden University: 12 May

On Sunday 12 May, I will be one of the speakers at TedX Leiden University. The theme is ‘Through a new lens’, the title of my talk is ‘Are you ready to wash your whiteness away?’ I will connect the PKK’s fight against the patriarchy – about which I learned a lot during my time with the Kurdish armed forces – with the struggle against racism in the Netherlands. Come listen!

More info at the site of TedX Leiden University!

Turkey’s claims of PKK demise exaggerated

Late last month, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported that a Turkish airstrike had seriously wounded veteran Kurdish fighter Rıza Altun.

Altun is a member of the executive council of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organisation that includes the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting an armed insurgency for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey since 1984 and is labelled a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.

The KCK neither confirmed nor denied the report. Meanwhile, the PKK has been relatively quiet for more than a year now in its fight against Turkey. Has the armed movement really been weakened and reported strike on Altun the icing on the cake of the Turkish army’s victory?

Continue reading at Ahval!

In Turkey, PKK Weakened but Vows to Step Up Attacks in Spring

According to statements issued by the Turkish government in early 2019, more than 10,000 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters have been ‘neutralized’ since the end of the so-called ceasefire between the two sides in the summer of 2015, and only 700 fighters remain in the mountains in northern Iraq. It is hard to give this number credence: if it were accurate, Turkey would surely have wiped out the PKK by now. Then again, there have not been many recent PKK attacks in south-east Turkey, where the majority of Kurds live, and the armed movement seems at least weakened in its capability to strike. Fanack sorts out the facts.

Continue reading at Fanack!

Beginnend journalist, censureer jezelf!

I have published on Frontaal Naakt before, but as of 1 October 2018, I will regulary contribute to this independent Dutch website. Frontaal Naakt relentlessly takes a principled stance against racism, seksism, sloppy journalism and other evils of our times.
The columns will appear in English on my channel at ByLine – soon!

In my first contribution, I give some advice to young journalists who are about to enter the profession. That’s not boring, that’s sharp!

(from the column)
Zelf doe ik nooit aan zelfcensuur. Bijna dertig jaar in de journalistiek maar ik heb nog nooit iets niet geschreven, een woord niet gebruikt of een interview niet gedaan omdat ik bang was te worden weggezet als wat dan ook. En geloof me, als journalist in Turkije en Koerdistan heb ik reden te over gehad dat wél te doen. Continue reading at Frontaal Naakt! 

Murdered by the state, and remembered till justice is done

The swallows are about to leave their nest. Father and mother swallow encourage their little ones to take the dive into the bigger world, despite all the dangers out there. Every now and then, I see the adult swallows try to scare off the cats that come too close to the nest. It’s their way to give their offspring as much chance in life as possible. I go take a look at the nest a few times a day, and wait a bit. I’d love to see the little ones take their first flight.

Palamutbükü, Datca peninsula – which is where the nest is, located in a corner of the ceiling of the hotel where I am staying for a short holiday – is paradise. I look at the birds, I swim in the sea, read a book, have a glass of wine at night. And of course I follow the news.

Another state murder

The sorrow over the loss of 301 lives in the Soma mine isn’t even over yet and then the news comes in of two other deaths inflicted by the state, this time in Istanbul: Ugur Kurt and Ayhan Yilmaz. The incident in which they were killed was connected to another state murder: Berkin Elvan, who eventually died on 11 March of this year, after having been in a coma for months after being hit by a teargas canister in June last year, is remembered in his neighbourhood every Thursday. The police could have decided to back off, but they didn’t.

‘Will you organize a ceremony for every death?’, Erdogan asked in a speech, adding: ‘They died, and that’s it.’ No, sir: they did not just ‘die’, they were killed. Killed by the state. The mine workers because of negligence, the otherss because of brutal police violence, which is getting even more out of control because of impunity.

For average citizens who die of natural causes, no mass commemorations are held. Not right after they die, not on every anniversary. Remembering them is a private matter. But for the ones the state killed, it’s different.

Until there is justice for the victims

On 13 May 2015, people will remember the 301 deaths of the Soma mine, not only in grief but in anger too. On 22 May 2015, people will publicly remember Ugur Kurt and Ayhan Yilmaz. Soon, on 3 June 2014, the first deadly victim of last year’s Gezi protests, Abdullah Cömert, will be remembered. After that Ethem Sarisülük (14 June), Medeni Yildirim (28 June), Ali Ismail Korkaz (10 July), Ahmet Atakan (9 September) and Hasan Ferit Gedik (30 September).

These commemorations will go on until the day that there is justice for the victims. And it doesn’t look like that day is getting any nearer. The court cases that have started against the policemen who are responsible for the individual deaths over the last year don’t promise serious results. And who truly believes that the bosses of Soma Holding will be held responsible for the death of their workers, or that any government official, like energy minister Taner Yildiz, will step down?

Musa Anter, Hrant Dink

History doesn’t inspire confidence either. Turkey still remembers countless murders that everybody knows were committed by the (deep) state but the truth of which has never officially come out.

On 9 January we remember Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan, Leyla Söylemez, murdered on that day in 2013.

On 19 January, we remember Hrant Dink, 2007.

On 5 May, the Dersim massacres of 1937 and 1938.

On 6 May, Deniz Gezmis, 1972.

On 2 July the victims of the Sivas massacre, 1993.

On 6 and 7 September we remember the Istanbul pogrom of 1955.

On 20 September we remember Musa Anter, murdered in 1992.

On 28 September we remember little Ceylan Önkol, murdered in 2009.

On 24 October, we remember Ugur Mumcu, killed in 1993.

On 21 November, little Ugur Kaymaz, 2004.

On 28 December, we remember the 34 deaths of the Roboski massacre, 2011.

The list is close to endless. The Baran Tursun Foundation has been constantly updating a list since 2007 and the list now contains 157 names. Fraksiyon has a list of children killed by the state, starting in 1988.

Uprising, terrorism, civil coup

State murders go back to the early days of the republic, when opponents of Atatürk lost their lives. Murders have continued ever since and the state always had an excuse. In Dersim there was an ‘uprising’ (only there wasn’t: the people tried in vain to defend themselves against the mass slaughter they knew was coming), in the Southeast there was ‘terrorism’ (although it was a matter of human rights from the beginning), during the Gezi protests it was a ‘civil coup’ that needed to be put down.

It shows that, although many people call Erdogan ‘Ottoman’, the Prime Minister is in fact very much a child of the Turkish Republic. Under his authority and to keep him in power, citizens are murdered – despite all the excuses, and that is always the reason behind all the state murders of almost the last hundred years. Whoever was in power, Atatürk, Erdogan, or anybody else.

What is happening in Turkey now makes clear that all the so called democratization packages and policies are nothing but superficial. I knew that already, and it’s sad to see it confirmed again and again. I will only believe democratization has started when all these countless murders get solved, if those responsible get punished if still alive, if the state apologizes sincerely and if the history books get changed.

Then, the state will finally do what it is supposed to do: not protect itself, but its citizens. An important task, because it’s a dangerous world out there. No swallow hands its children over to the cats.

Coal mine disaster in Soma, western Turkey

I have updated several radio shows about the mine disaster in Soma, Turkey. Listen back here:

13 May, Dichtbij Nederland, Radio5, Netherlands. The interview starts at 13.20 (scroll down for the podcast).

14 May, The Pat Kenny Show, Newstalk, Ireland. The interview starts at 17.51.

14 May, De Ochtend KRO/NCRV, Radio1, Netherlands.

I couldn’t find the interview for a London based radio station on 14 May.

Since I was not on the spot (I was shortly visiting the Netherlands when the disaster happened) I have not written about what happened at the mine. As you know, I usually try to find an angle that others in Turkey don’t write about, and it struck me how much the Soma disaster resembles the Roboski massacre: both lay bare state structures.

Read about it in this blog post:
The mine killed the people of Soma. Like the planes killed the people of Roboski.

And in this article on Beaconreader (you can subscribe for 5 USD per month, for which you get an exclusive story from me every week and on top of that access to all Beacon writers):
‘Soma mine disaster makes us re-live Roboski massacre’ 

Turkey struggles with state armed citizens

The peace process in Turkey, that started in March 2013, still continues. One part of the problem that doesn’t get much attention, is the village guard system. It will have to be abolished, but for now, the state continues to expand the system. Village guard Seymus Akbulut: ‘We want peace, but we want to be safe too. What if anybody wants to take revenge on us?’

Village guard. Picture: Tommaso Protti.
Village guard. Picture: Tommaso Protti.

Dressed immaculately in a dark blue suit and with his hair perfectly combed, he sits in front of a portrait of Atatürk, Turkey’s founding father, and a huge Turkish flag. On his desk two more Atatürk’s: one on a silver plate, one as a glass statuette in a red velvet box. ‘We love Atatürk’, says Seymus Akbulut. ‘Whatever the state wants us to do, we do it’.

That is how it all started in the early nineties, now more than twenty years ago. Southeast Turkey was in turmoil: the war between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), that wanted to carve out an independent Kurdistan, and the Turkish army was getting more violent every day.

This story was published on Beaconreader, a US based site that supports independent journalism. If you subscribe to my page there, you get an exclusive story from me every week, and on top of that access to all other Beacon writers. Lots of interesting writers and stories there! Want to read the whole story? Click here and subscribe! Thank you!

Defending Erdogan’s rights

Sivas massacre, Ergenekon trial, Uludere, the Van earthquake and its aftermath, press freedom, May Day celebrations, KCK trials, the Fenerbahce court case, Berkin Elvan, Medeni Yildirim, the countless ‘unsolved murders’ in the southeast, and the Constitutional Court: the head of the Bar Associations, Metin Feyzioglu, spoke out against a wide range of injustices in Turkey’s present and past. Erdogan got extremely upset and didn’t hide it. He had better think again: he may need people like Feyzioglu one day.

As a foreign journalist, in the last couple of months I have been spam mailed several times by a huge group of Fenerbahce fans. They send all foreign journalists in Turkey thousands of emails about the unjust treatment their sports club is getting, and for some reason they think annoying foreign journalists incessantly helps to get attention for their case. First time ever I heard of the Fenerbahce base. They speak out when injustice is done to them, but not when it’s done to others.

Ergekenon trials

The CHP has spoken out time and time again against the Ergenekon trials and against the violations of justice that were obviously part of the trials. Kemal Kilicdaroglu visited suspects in prison. Did he ever visit jailed KCK suspects? Or speak passionately on behalf of the families of the people who were murdered in the nineties and whose murders are still unsolved? No he did not.

Did the BDP ever defend the highest military leaders on trial in Ergenekon, or against injustices done to Fenerbahce? No. They have been vocal during the aftermath of the Van earthquake, and they speak out about the Uludere/Roboski massacre, but not about injustices done to their opponents.

In short, Turkey is full of groups who advocate mostly their own rights. The bar association, in the person of Metin Feyzioglu, showed itself differently.

In Feyzioglu’s speech, not only the government is reminded of its responsibilities, but others too had a mirror held up to them. The army, for example, must have applauded the bar head’s criticism of the several trials pending against them, but I hope they realized that by naming the Uludere massacre and other ‘unsolved murders’ Feyzioglu was addressing the army too.

Into trouble one day

This makes the speech apolitical. The bar association’s head would have been engaging in politics if he had only spoken out against one particular injustice. He did not: he mentioned so many, done to so many different groups in society, that he rose above politics – which perfectly suits a lawyer, of course.

Erdogan should applaud this. He may himself get into trouble one day. He and his party may be no longer in power and his political opponents may want to get back at him. What if a trial against Erdogan and other AKP politicians is opened because of the corruption allegations? What if those trials become a political theatre? Who, besides AKP supporters, is going to speak out on behalf of Erdogan if his rights are violated in a court case? The only one he might be able to count on is Feyzioglu, or a future bar association head. That wouldn’t be political either, but purely a matter of defending Erdogan’s rights. Will Erdogan then feel ashamed of his behaviour towards Feyzioglu and apologize for it?

PKK has no expectations anymore from the government

The one year old peace process between the PKK and the Turkish government seems to be leading nowhere. The ceasefire is holding, but the government has taken no steps towards democratization and is now distracted by accusations of corruption. The KCK, the umbrella organization of Kurdish groups that also represents the PKK, has stated that they are running out of patience. Beaconreader went to PKK controlled area in the Qandil mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan and talked to Rıza Altun, one of the founders of the PKK and currently a member of the executive board of the KCK. Altun: ‘We have no expectations from AKP anymore.’

PKK's Rıza Altun during the interview.
PKK’s Rıza Altun during the interview.

All things considered, the peace process went wrong from the very beginning. At least that is the conclusion that can be drawn from an exclusive interview with Rıza Altun, member of the executive council of the KCK. Altun: ‘The AKP is not representing the peace process anymore. No expectations are left.’

The interview with Beaconreader took place on 23 March, two days after Newroz and exactly one week before the local elections. The day trip to the Qandil mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan started early in the morning in the Kurdistan capital of Erbil. READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE ON BEACONREADER.

Free state Okmeydanı

The around two hundred young men and women around a burning barricade in the Istanbul neighbourhood of Okmeydanı joke around, the atmosphere is relaxed. But then an aerosol in the fire explodes, BAM, and the group scatters. Right under the surface, the tension is high. The battle can begin any moment.

It’s Thursday evening, 13 March. The day after Berkin Elvan was burried. Berkin is the latest victim of the massive anti-government protests last summer. He went out to get bread for his family in June 2013, was hit in the head by a teargas canister shot by the police, slipped into a coma and died 269 days later, early on Tuesday morning.

Tens of thousands of people joined the funeral on Wednesday. It was perfectly peaceful, until after the little boy was laid to rest: then the police decided it was enough with the massive mourning over the loss of a boy because of brutal police violence, and started the violence again. Two people died. A policeman in the eastern province of Dersim/Tunceli suffered from a heart attack, reportedly due to too much teargas, and passed away. And a young man, Burak Can Karamanoğlu, was shot.

Vague circumstances

The tension Thursday night was all about the second death, of Burak Can Karamanoğlu. The circumstances around his death are vague, and the Istanbul governor plainly claimed: ‘A youngster identified as Burak Can Karamanoğlu died after a verbal scuffle between two groups turned into a fight in which firearms were used’. Later the DHKP-C, a leftist group designated as ‘terrorist’ by Turkey and also held responsible for the attack on the American embassy in Ankara in February 2012, claimed responsibility for Karamanoğlu’s death.

The murder happened in Okmeydanı, the neighbourhood where Berkin Elvan lived and died. Burak Karamanoğlu was not from Okmeydanı himself, but from Kasimpasa, a conservative area not too far from Okmeydanı where PM Erdogan spent part of his childhood and where he still has a solid supporter base. Okmeydanı, at least some parts of it, is known as an area where the DHKP-C has many supporters. In short: when Kasimpasa and Okmeydanı get together, trouble is likely, especially when tension is running as high in the country as now and even more so when from both sides somebody lost his life.

Several blockades

Curious about what would happen and about how present the DHKP-C really is in Okmeydanı, I took a cab, together with a photographer friend, to the neighbourhood. We passed a few policemen on a corner and walked down the road, towards a fire, in the middle of the Piyalipasa area. There were several blockades, the biggest one in the middle of a road: two burning piles of rubbish, and a huge door standing up, with the text ‘Berkin Elvan Blockade Front’ on it, painted in red. There were some two hundred men and women around the blockade, and down and up the road were two more blockades.

Against who? Against the police and against ‘fascists’, they told us. ‘Fascists’ is an often used word in Turkey, mostly referring to a group you radically disagree with. For these young people, the fascists are AKP-supporters from other area’s than theirs, this evening more specifically those from Kasimpasa. ‘We are defending our neighbourhood’, a 18-year old man told me. ‘You know our organization, don’t you?’, he asked, pointing at the shutters behind him, DHKC in huge red letters painted on it.

Red clothes

We were welcomed by the youngsters, almost everybody was willing to talk and behaved friendly. But during the evening, the atmosphere got more tensed. The group heard that there were ‘fascists’ coming from Kasimpasa, trying to enter Okmeydanı. The ‘fascists’ had to be prevented from entering against all costs.

The preparations against the ‘invasion’ started. All of a sudden a big part of the group had their faces covered, mostly with red cloths – the symbol of ‘Halk Cephesi’, People’s Front. Then I saw a whole lot of Efes beer bottle’s turned into molotov cocktails. A few people were holding wooden sticks, others started breaking big stones into pieces.

Molotov cocktail
Molotov cocktail

Nobody had any problem with the presence of foreign journalists. But that didn’t make me feel particulary safe. Neither did the prospect of a group of opponents coming from Kasimpasa who just lost a friend and may want some sort of revenge. I could only guess the exact identity of the people who were apparently on the way, but both most logical guesses were not comforting me.

Die hard AKP-supporters are not fond of foreign press, as they believe the propaganda of their leader Erdogan that there is an international conspiracy going on against Turkey (= the government) and that the foreign press is part of that conspiracy. If it were ultra nationalist on the way, it would make the prospect worse, since they are known to be (very) violent. On top of that, both groups are always protected by the police, so any help from that side was not to be expected either.

On twitter there were reports of violence in the area around Okmeydanı, but it was impossible to tell which reports were true and which were not. People asked me on twitter what was going on, but all I could say was that I was safe, and that there was tension but no clashes and no groups from other neighbourhoods. I had no clue what was going on in the areas around us and it was too dangerous to check it out. A weird feeling: were we in the eye of a storm? And if so, how were were ever going to get out?

‘It has begun’

Then slowly the trouble started. A small group of young men ran towards the corner where a police vehicle was standing and threw fireworks and one molotov. The others applauded. A bit later from a street behind us a group of young men came running, and it seemed police were reacting with teargas in the streets that we couldn’t see. ‘Basladi’, the group said, ‘it has begun’.

As I walked around trying to assess the situation, I saw kids behind windows watching the scenes, women sitting on the stairs outside their homes supporting the youth of their neighbourhood, and people throwing cardboard boxes from their houses to contribute to the burning blockade.

I asked a young man: ‘I’m not sure what is happening. Who started the fight? You, or the police? The police didn’t shoot our way, right, so why throw the molotovs? I don’t understand.’ He shrugged his shoulders: ‘Catisma’, he said, ‘Clash’, adding nothing else. It didn’t matter to him: maybe the police started, maybe not. And what if the police didn’t start?, he seemed to be saying. I concluded: in this area, the DHKP-C rules, in cooperation with the PKK. They don’t defend themselves against authorities, they actively fight them.

I didn’t wait for the moment the teargas would be shot in our direction. Via the side streets, the gas was coming to us anyway, my eyes and throath were suffering. A young woman sprayed a mix of milk and some other things in my face to stop the burning feeling. It helped. We asked some people the safest way out. Walk down the road, keep going down down until you reach the main road. Then you are out. And that’s what we did.

A more detailed report with many pictures and a video is available at Beaconreader! I report there at least on a weekly basis, and you get accesss to the stories for only 5USD per month. For that reasonable price you also get access to all other Beacon writers! 

And here is a piece by social anthropologist Jenny White, explaining why it is so scary that different groups start fighting each other on the streets. Follow her on twitter!