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!

With your head up high

Sarai Sierra is dead. She was on a trip to Istanbul, her first trip outside her own country, the US. A 33 year old woman, a wife, and a mother of two boys. She loved photography and that’s why she came to the city. She went missing on 21 January, and on Saturday her body was found on the historic peninsula in Istanbul, not far from many tourist highlights. Killed with a blow on the head.

It’s quite confronting, to say the least. I have been living in Istanbul for more than five years now, and I have never felt unsafe. Not late at night outside, not alone on the street, not anywhere at any time. And that’s not me being naïve. Data from, for example, the International Crime Victims Survey show that Istanbul is way safer than megacities of comparable size and development, like Rio de Janeiro or Lagos.

Sarai Sierra
Sarai Sierra

But what’s the use of saying Istanbul is a safe city when a woman was just murdered brutally? Statistics don’t mean anything when it comes to personal situations. And the scary thing is that it can lead you to the wrong conclusions. Oh yes there are people asking why she was travelling alone, what she was doing abroad without her family, and so on. Speculations that only suggest one thing: that she had it coming. I couldn’t object to that more fiercely.

It’s not that Sarai was killed despite Istanbul being a safe city. I think we shouldn’t look at this from the Istanbul perspective, or compare Istanbul statistics to those of other places in the world. We should look at the world as a whole. It’s just not a safe place for women. Our physical strength is hardly ever enough to defend ourselves against men who want to harm us. So we get beaten up, we get raped, we get assaulted, we get murdered. That is the risk every woman on this planet lives with every day. Some places may have a higher risk of getting harmed, but being a woman is enough to be at risk always and everywhere.

Pippa Bacca

Prompted by what happened to Sarai Sierra, two people have told me to ‘be careful’. I find that sweet, but strange too. I wouldn’t know how to be careful enough to make sure I won’t get beaten up, raped, assaulted, or murdered. For many women, staying at home is not even going to help – I don’t have to tell you about domestic violence do I?

Even stranger are the people who say that ‘we would not allow this to happen again after Pippa’. Pippa Bacca was an Italian artist who was raped and murdered in Turkey in 2008; read her story here. It is so naive to think that our collective shock and anger or even campaigns and whatever can make these horrors stop, and to think that Pippa could have been the last. Of course she wasn’t, and Sarai was not the last either – how many women have been murdered since Sarai’s life came to this cruel end?

So what can we do, when it’s not ‘be careful’, and when the reality is that violence against women will always be there? Accept it? Of course not. I opt for being realistic and not giving  in. Realize that being a woman automatically means being at risk, but don’t let your choices be in any way defined by it. Be a woman with all the mental strength you have. Whatever happens, go through life with your head up high.

May Sarai Sierra rest in peace.

The boys are dead

Life was good in Gülyazi, I heard. Poor and not easy, but good. Happy, even. I wish I had been here a year and a day ago, so I could have experienced it myself. But a year and a day ago, I, like many other people, had never heard of a place called Gülyazi, a town in the Uludere district.

Everything changed last year. With a bombing in which 34 villagers were killed, twenty of them children. They were smuggling, like the people of this region have done for decades to earn a living, and were ‘mistaken for PKK fighters’. Thirty four bodies ripped to pieces and burned beyond recognition  – they were smuggling petrol.

Who gave the order to bomb?

It is as I predicted after the bombing: the state has done nothing but cover up the Uludere massacre. A commission was set up in parliament – a subsidiary commission of the parliamentary human rights commission – and several times they announced a date for release of the report with their findings, but the report never came and has now been postponed to January. But in no way can I pat myself on the back for predicting this. Anybody could have known this in advance, because till now the state has never answered any questions about murders they have committed, now or in the past.

That’s why my next prediction is easy too: even if the report is ever published, it will give the villagers none of the answers they need. Where did the intelligence come from, who interpreted it and how, and based on which information was the decision taken to bomb the smugglers? How come the one(s) ordering the bombing didn’t know that the smugglers were on their way again, like it was always notified to the gendarmes? Or did they know? Who gave the order to bomb? Why did it take so long before help came to the place where the bombing happened, to try to save the lives of the few people who didn’t instantly die?

A sincere show of regret

I visited Gülyazi right after the bombing – read the publications of those days here – and I came back for two weeks in spring, and I returned again for the Feast of Sacrifice, in October. And now I am here again, to commemorate the loss of 34 lives and to report about what’s happening.

I have seen no healing in this year. The people don’t get the chance to heal. The state is scratching the wound open over and over again. Not only because they don’t give any answers to all the questions, but also because cruel things have been said by several members of the government (read an example here), no sincere apology has come. The damages the state says it has paid were not accepted by the people. Culturally, it is not necessarily a bad idea to apologize for and compensate a loss with money, but it only works when it is accompanied by a sincere show of regret, and with opening up.

Old men at the graveyard, 27 December 2012

What has struck me this year and what really makes me so sad is how the bombing has affected everybody in the village in so many ways. For example, in October I talked to a 17 year old boy who I had talked to earlier that year as well. I just wanted to chat a bit, so I asked how school was going. He had to quit school, he said. He couldn’t concentrate anymore after what happened, he failed all his classes and he had to pay a lot of money before the principle of the school would allow him to do the same school year again. His family didn’t have that kind of money.

This week, something similar happened with another boy I talked to. He also quit school, like many of his friends, he said. None of these young students can concentrate on their school work anymore, and at the state school they attend the bombing and the loss of their close friends is never discussed. All these kids (still) go smuggling every now and then to contribute to the family income. That’s what hits me when I see them walking in the village: it was kids just like this who died. It must be burning inside them too: it could have been me. How can you deal with that as a young man of 16, 17, 18 years old?

A huge field surrounded by mountains

‘The boys are dead’. That’s what a young woman who just turned 18 told me earlier this year. Again, I was just trying to chat a bit, and after she told me she had just turned 18 I asked her if there was any wedding in the picture. ‘I will never marry’, she said. ‘All the boys are dead’. One of the boys who died in the massacre was her brother. He was only 13 years old.

Since the massacre, no weddings have been celebrated. People get married, but only in front of the imam, not officially, and there is no party. I have seen a video of a traditional wedding here, taken before the massacre. Picture a huge field surrounded by mountains, and then picture a huge, huge circle of people doing the traditional Kurdish wedding dance. The men in traditional costume, the women too, in brightly coloured glittering dresses. All in the past now. I tried to figure out when weddings will be celebrated again. Nobody had an answer. ‘Never?’ I asked. They just don’t know, but for now, they cannot picture ever celebrating a wedding again.

This is little Mahmut, mentioned in the blog post, holding a picture of his dad. The neighbours, also related, mourn next to the fresh grave. The picture was taken by Serpil Polat, and I took a picture of it at a photo exhibition about the massacre in Diyarbakir.

Just like the women may forever wear black. The brightly coloured skirts and shirts that they got as presents from the wife of opposition leader Kilicdaroglu, who visited Gülyazi this year with some members of the women’s branch of the opposition party, are in cupboards now and won’t ever be worn. Some women were actually a bit pissed off after the women of the party left: do they actually think we wear skirts with orange and yellow flowers?

I don’t know if Gülyazi will ever really heal. The state is forgetting about it slowly, as it has  forgotten about all the other unsolved murders it has committed in the past in this region. But the people will never ever forget. It changed their lives forever. They do find some comfort though. I asked Pakize (29), who lost her husband Osman (32) in the bombing and was left to look after Özkan (12), Esra (11), Sinem (10), Hülya (8) and Mahmut (6), how she deals with the pain, and if she still has any hope of ever getting answers. She said: ‘I pray for it. That gives me some peace. Allah knows everything’.

Battle of the universities

It was a real battle last week around the Middle East Technical University (METU, or ODTÜ in Turkish) in Ankara. PM Erdogan visited the university to witness the launch of Turkey’s first ever domestically produced satellite. Students wanted to protest, so Erdogan took along some 3,000 policemen who were very quick to attack the students, who started burning tires and throwing stones, after which the police used excessive force. Now, amazingly, the whole thing has turned into a battle between universities: those who support the students, and those who condemn them.

For me it’s kind of simple. You cannot condemn anybody for demonstrating. It’s a democratic right, and that’s it. Especially students can’t be condemned for protesting. They are young, the ones studying at METU are supposed to be the smartest of the country, they are developing their thoughts, their direction in life, they have opinions, they are supposed to learn to think for themselves. As a student you do that by studying, discussing, reading, and, well, what student’s life is complete without a demonstration now and then? Especially in this country, where freedoms are being limited more and more. To not demonstrate against that as a student would be bad. The rector of METU thinks so too, and is behind his students, and several universities agree with him.

Critical minds

Twelve universities though, among them even those considered to be among the best in the country, like Marmara University, Istanbul University and Mimar Sinan Art Academy, condemn the students’ behaviour. They write in a joint statement that the students were ‘trying to overshadow the historic success of Turkey in the field of space technology through violent acts’, adding that ‘the only way of protest for students should be with critical minds. Students should not be associated with rocks, sticks and Molotov cocktails’.

Universities that want to limit the freedom to demonstrate. Unbelievable. But I’m not surprised. Turkish universities are not free themselves, but rather political actors. The state institution YÖK, the Board for Higher Education, controls academic life. They decide which universities have which faculties and which studies, how many students are allowed, who teaches where, everything.

Teach students repect

The rectors of universities are political figures too, appointed by the President. The ones from the universities that now condemn the students are the ones with rectors close to the the AKP government. They follow the Prime Minister, who said after the clashes that it’s universities’ first responsibility to teach students respect.

New student protests have erupted after the METU clashes. One of the students’ demands is the abolition of YÖK,  which was actually installed by the military rulers after the 1980 coup d’état. It’s been a long-term demand of students. And they are right, of course. Academic freedom without political interference is very important, and actually the basic requirement for any university to function properly. The students are brave to speak out and they should keep on doing so, while some rectors show themselves to be unworthy representatives of academic standards.

A loudly barking…

No, Turkey is not going to go to war. Yes, it adopted a law that makes cross border operations into ‘foreign countries’ possible, but that should be considered a warning, absolutely not a declaration of war. 

Turkey is shouting itself down somewhat. It is trying to demand things: a no fly zone, a safe haven across the border, an end to the violence. But its demands are never met. You would think that you would lower your tone a bit when you are not being listened to, but Prime Minister Erdogan and also Foreign Minister Davutoglu choose not to.

One of the results of their demands not being heard is the mortar that came across the border yesterday and killed five people in the border town of Akcakale. If there had been a safe zone in Syria, there would not have been ongoing trouble between Syrian government troops and the Free Syrian Army over control of the border post right there. This fighting has been bothering Akcakale for almost two weeks already, and some firing had already crossed the border before, luckily without hurting anybody. If there had been a safe zone, the mother, three of her children and another relative would still be alive.

Another front

Turkey is, in short, basically alone in this. It is the only NATO country directly affected by the civil war in Syria. Other NATO countries don’t have to take care of thousands of refugees, and their citizens’ lives are not under threat from spill-over violence. The only thing that Turkey can really do now is bark really, really hard. So that’s what it tried to do today.

I talked about the situation with several experts today. The conclusion is: this was not a calculated attack from Syria, it was an accident and Syria regrets it. Syria doesn’t want a war with Turkey while it’s busy killing its own citizens. Another front with a powerful country with a strong army is the last thing on their wish list. So the idea is that Syria will really try hard to not let this happen again. Because Turkey might be alone in this, you never know what Erdogan is capable of, especially with this new law in his hands.

But if it does happen? It’s not unthinkable. Remember not too long ago a Turkish plane was downed by Syria? Then Turkey quickly changed the ‘rules of engagement’, and the result of that was that now there was an immediate retaliation by Turkey. Can and will Turkey live up to its threat to immediately intervene even without parliament convening to discuss it, if Syrian fire crosses the border again? No, probably not.

Predictable

In that case, there is still one hurdle to be taken that can take long enough for Erdogan to cool down. Turkey doesn’t want to act without its allies. And the biggest ally, the US, won’t do anything, at least for sure not till the elections are over. And after those elections, would NATO join Turkey in an attack when there is no clear planned attack by Syria? Doesn’t seem very likely. Is it thinkable that in that case Turkey act on it’s own? The point is: we don’t know. Erdogan has been predictable till so far in wanting international support, but who knows if there’s an end to his patience.

So, we have to hope that the barking scared Syria off. I heard some reports that the Syrian army is indeed retreating from the border area. And if Syrian fire does come over the border again, that Erdogan can keep his cool, and his reaction will not be based on his own image of himself as being a very powerful man, with the new law backing him. Inside Turkey, he is a powerful man indeed. On the international stage though, he is mainly a loudly barking dog. And you know what they don’t do.

Black summer

We have to stay calm, says the Turkish government. But how can you stay calm in the middle of a black summer? It’s been the deadliest for many years, even continuing during Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. Monday evening’s bomb blast in Gaziantep was the lowest point: nine civilians, including four children, died, and 70 people were wounded.

So far it remains unclear who is responsible for the attack. As Ahmet Altan of Taraf newspaper put it: ‘The PKK says they didn’t do it. If that’s true, that leaves two other options: the Syrian secret service and the Turkish deep state. One of these three did it. Maybe two of them did it together. Or maybe all three did it together.’

The government was quick, very quick to blame the PKK for the attack. Now they are not so sure. It might have been Syria. Or no, it might have been Iran. Or some other country in the region ? But the damage of hasty conclusions had been done: offices of the pro-Kurdish BDP were attacked by angry people, including two in Gaziantep and one in Kocaeli, not far from Istanbul. Does the AKP now see that tension in society could just rise too high, and is that the reason why their suspicions are beginning to turn openly to beyond the Turkish border?

Demands for freedom

Maybe we should see the words of the BDP in that light too. They denounced the bombing from the beginning, but after a few days they went further than that. The BDP’s deputy group leader Gültan Kisanak said that ‘if the PKK did this, it harms the Kurdish demands for freedom’. Her fellow BDP MP Sirri Sureyya Önder was quoted as saying a few days after ‘Gaziantep’ that ‘bombs don’t lead to democracy’. Their contribution to easing tensions in society?

Many Turks have no doubt the PKK did it, and for the first few days after the bombing, the government confirmed it without knowing for sure. And even if the public thought the Syrian or Iranian secret service did it, or the Turkish deep state, where would they direct their anger if they lose control of themselves? Attack the Syrian or Iranian embassy? Throw stones at Turkish state institutions? Besides the security at those places making it practically impossible to do so, it’s hard to imagine that Turks who can’t control their anger and grief would consider taking it out on anything but the PKK, or, more preciese, on those who are somehow related to it.

And that is, however horrible and illegal, understandable. The conflict that is tearing this society apart now is not the war in Syria or the dictatorship in Iran, and not the actions of the deep state. It’s the Kurdish issue and the related war between the PKK and the Turkish army, (in which the deep state of course plays a role, but that’s another blog post). That is the conflict that has caused so much pain in both Turkish and Kurdish families. Openly for the last twenty-eight years since the PKK took up arms, secretly in the decades before that.

Cease fire

Of course, it is important that people stay calm and that the government asks them to stay calm. But look who’s talking. The government is responsible for keeping people as safe as possible, but failed to do so. Stay calm, ministers tell the people whom they have left standing in the cold, but they don’t stay calm themselves. Not right after the bombing, by pointing the finger at the PKK too soon, nor in their general approach to trying to reach peace in this country.

And as for the PKK, after the Gaziantep bombing they continued with attacks on military targets in the Southeast. Six soldiers died, if I managed to correctly keep track of the death toll this week. ‘Showing their strength in the region’, it’s called, and I even heard a PKK supporter say ‘they are very successful in that’. Wouldn’t be my choice of words, to say the least. How about a cease fire?

In the end, it’s not about who started the violence, but who feels calm and strong enough to give it up. Neither the government nor the PKK seem calm and strong enough. I cry for Turkey.

Selling the Semindli battle

I managed to sell a story about Semdinli. The fighting there, in the far South-eastern corner of the country close to the Iraqi-Iranian border, had been going on for eleven days already, which is very unusual for clashes between the army and the PKK. But that in itself wasn’t good enough to trigger my news agency. So I used a trick: I tried to give it greater relevance than ‘just another fight’. Without doing that, you can forget about it, was also the conclusion in a discussion I had with some foreign colleagues here.

You can read the story here. The headline basically says it all: ‘New tactic PKK against Turkish army’. The headline was the work of the news agency, since I’m not the best headline maker ever. A few days earlier, I also notified the agency about the ongoing fighting, but at that time they didn’t bite. The story was, they said, ‘too local’.

I understand their point of view. Imagine the foreign desk of a Dutch news agency, with stringers all over the world. Most freelance journalists are (if they are smart) located in a country with at least one conflict going on, so in all these countries clashes can be reported continuously. A clash is only interesting to report if it distinguishes itself from all the other clashes that are going on in the world. Either in number of deaths, in importance for the rest of the region or world, or in the way it shifts balances in the conflict itself – and the latter often only when the country where the clash occurs has some relevance to the Netherlands.

A domestic fight

In this case, I couldn’t convince the agency with the number of deaths. Although both parties mentioned significant numbers of deaths on the other side (their own losses are always lower than the losses on the opponent’s side, how coincidental is that?), all these numbers could in no way be verified and were thus unusable.

Also, the war between the army and the PKK is a domestic fight. Who for the time being has the upper hand, is of no importance for people outside Turkey who are not personally interested in the conflict. This particular clash doesn’t change power balances in the region and it doesn’t really have potential to do so (yet?), like for example the civil war going on in Syria. This clash is, from the journalism perspective, just another fight in a long-lasting conflict.

But then I heard something I could use. The PKK said it was a conscious change of strategy to not just hit and run, like usually, but to conquer territory. I didn’t know yet what to make of it, but that could trigger the agency. So that’s what I wrote them: ‘You know, the clashes in Semdinli about which I contacted you before, they might be a sign of a strategy change by the PKK’. A possible shift of balance in the conflict itself – and that during summer, a slow time for news. ‘Okay, write the story’, they reacted.

A brilliant solution

I checked more sources, I called some people, but I couldn’t really prove the PKK had changed its strategy. It could also be that they planned the usual hit and run attack and something went wrong and they found themselves caught up in long clashes. The government of course had its own version: ‘We are carrying out a long-term offense against the PKK’. But if it was a planned action of the second largest army in NATO, how come it took so long against a far less well-equipped armed group?

So I wasn’t too confident when I sent the agency my piece with the headline: ‘Fight between PKK and Turkish army continues’. That’s not what they opted for, so would they use it? I asked them if they could send me the article in the final version. They did. And I saw the headline: ‘New tactic PKK against Turkish army’. The quote headline! Always a brilliant solution. It triggers readers, and in the article they read the nuances.

Wasn’t there a conflict?

To sell hard news, like in this case, as a journalist you know the criteria and you try to find an angle to make it fit those criteria. But for bigger background stories about the conflict and even more so about Kurds in general, it’s harder. When I try to sell something to, for example, a monthly magazine, and it’s a story that has nothing to do directly with the news or the PKK-army war, I get the feeling magazines immediately link it to the conflict anyway. Which makes them less eager to buy the story. Stories about lives of Turkish women can be sold, no problem, but about Kurdish women? Help, wasn’t there a conflict?

Kind of a cynical situation. Because who contributes to this notion that Kurds are tied to conflict? Me myself, by trying hard to sell stories about the news.

Boots, and other questions

How can you find two complete pairs of boots in the Mediterranean Sea, belonging to two missing soldiers who were in a plane that was shot down, and for the rest find nothing of the soldiers or the plane? Impossible, right? Yet Turkey did it. I just don’t believe it and the claim makes me doubt Turkey’s version of the events last Friday, when their jet that was shot by Syria.

The story of the boots, who were reportedly shown on a photograph to opposition leaders yesterday, is not the first reason to doubt Turkey’s version of what happened. Foreign Minister Davutoglu was interviewed by stat-run TV channel TRT Sunday morning. Well, interview is not the accurate word. Davutoglu was there to explain what happened according to Turkey, not to answer critical questions.

Borders

So, one of the important questions that remained and until now remains unanswered, is: if this was, as Turkey claims, a test and training mission, why was it carried out so close to the Syrian border in a time that tension around Syria is already high? Turkey has borders it violates all the time without getting into trouble, like the Greek and the Iraqi border, so why not test there?

Another one: if the plane was shot down above international waters, how come Turkey is searching for the pilots and parts of the plane in Syrian waters?

And then the two pairs of boots came up. The whole story just rambles. Of course, in situations like these not all intelligence is shared with the media and the public, but if you raise these kind of questions without answering them, how reliable are you? What kind of extra intelligence is Turkey sharing with its allies in NATO and with other countries that were consulted, that might make these blanks vanish?

Clean up the mess 

Turkey admits that the plane violated Syrian air space. If it was shot in Syrian airspace, which Turkey denies, then the shooting down was still unusual to say the least, but clearly not an ‘attack’ as mentioned in the North Atlantic Treaty, as you can read here (published on Saturday, before FM Davutoglu spoke on TRT). Then, if it was an attack, which could be if it was flying over international waters, would it justify a military NATO respons? No – the article makes sense when it explains not all attacks are equal: it would only worsen the situation. A military respons would mean war with Syria, and later NATO would have to clean up the mess. They’re not going to do that over a single incident.

So, no war. That’s the good news, of course. Tomorrow we are going to find out what Turkey will do, after it has talked with NATO, also scheduled for tomorrow. But what are the options? I can’t really figure it out. Even sanctions against Syria are impossible, since Turkey imposed those already months ago because of Assad’s brutal suppression of the uprising in his country. A strong condemnation? A demand to bring the perpetrators to justice? That’s hardly going to make Assad tremble or even blink. Turkey has used strong words, but it seems it won’t be able to act accordingly.

Love and death

I am still in the south-eastern province of Sirnak, in the village of Gülyazi. Yesterday, I decided to take a bus to Uludere, the biggest town of the district of Uludere, some twenty kilometres away from Gülyazi. Just to take a look around. On the way back, something weird happened, and I had the weirdest talk in the bus.

It started in the main street of Uludere, from where the bus left. There was some sort of fight going on in the street; a group of men were trying to control two other men who were obviously very angry with each other. I recognized one man I had talked to a few hours earlier in the park, as he tried to calm things down a bit. When he walked away, I asked him what had happened. ‘A girl took off’, was all he said.

The bus driver got involved too, so when the bus left some ten minutes later I asked him what the fight was all about. I was on the front seat, and next to him, in between us, was a young woman of maybe just under twenty years of age. The conversation that unfolded didn’t get a serious tone for one second: my conversation partners were giggling and laughing, which felt totally unreal to me.

Me: ‘What was the fight about?’
Driver: ‘A girl ran away.’
Me: ‘I don’t understand, can you explain?’
Driver: ‘Okay, look, imagine you’re in love but your family doesn’t allow it. Then what do you do? You can run away.’
Me: ‘Together?’
Driver: ‘Yes, together, or the boy takes the girl.’

Me: ‘So what was the fight about then?’
Driver: ‘The two fathers had a fist fight’.
Young woman, laughing: ‘Sometimes they use guns, but this time only fists.’
Me: ‘So there is a problem with their children but they decide not to talk but to fight.’
Driver and young woman laugh very hard, and driver says: ‘Yes, that’s right, they fight.’
Me: ‘So now what’s going to happen?’
Young woman, talking very casually: ‘The girl will be killed.’
Me: ‘Where is she then?’
Young woman, laughing: ‘I don’t know, but they will find her.’
Me: ‘Why does she have to be killed?’
Young woman, in the meantime taking the wrapper off a chocolate ice cream: ‘For honour. You know, honour is the most important thing for us Kurds. So that’s why she has to die.’
Me: ‘How do you feel about that?’
Young woman: ‘How I feel about it? Well, it’s just the way it is, it’s about honour.’

Me: ‘Do girls go voluntarily with the boy, or not?’
Young woman: ‘Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.’
Me: ‘What’s going to happen to the boy?’
Driver: ‘He will be beaten.’
Me: ‘So he can stay alive?’
Young woman, laughing hard: ‘Yes, but you are right, they should kill the boy, shouldn’t they, I mean, the girl can’t help it that the boy takes her!’
Me: ‘Well, I was actually thinking: don’t kill anybody.’
Driver and young woman look at me puzzled and laugh – that’s a good one indeed, don’t kill anybody.

Me: ‘So, imagine, as a young couple, you want to run away because you don’t get permission to get married. Where do you go?’
Young woman, slowly eating her chocolate ice cream: ‘To a big city. Diyarbakir, Izmir, Istanbul.’
Me: ‘And if you get there and they don’t find you, your escape was successful.’
Young woman: ‘Yes, it sometimes happens.’
Me: ‘And if you don’t succeed, you will die.’
Young woman: ‘Yes.’
Me: ‘So soon there will be a headline in the paper: girl killed by family in Uludere.’
Young woman, laughing: ‘Yes, imagine a big headline: ‘In Uludere a girl..’
Driver takes over: ‘… ate a chocolate ice cream!’
The two laugh very hard at the joke.

Me: ‘And the police, what are they going to do?’
Young woman: ‘Nothing, they can’t stop the killing from happening.’

A few minutes silence. I wonder why the two find this such a funny conversation. The first thing that comes to mind of course that this is a way to deal with such horrors, but that’s a rather Western interpretation. I think they just found it very funny that I, a Western woman, didn’t understand this very fundamental issue and kept asking qustions about it. That these basics need to be explained!
Then the young woman takes her bag and says: ‘Can I show you a picture?’ Now she sounds serious.

She shows a picture of herself and a young man, they were photoshopped into the same picture. She says: ‘He’s dead.’
Me: ‘What happened?’
She: ‘He was killed together with 34 others in the bombing by the army when he was smuggling diesel, at the end of December. Have you heard about that?’
Me: ‘Yes, I know about it. My condolences. Was he your brother?’
She: ‘No, he was my fiancé.’
Me: ‘Oh, how very sad. So you were about to get married? Your dad agreed to your relationship?’
She: ‘I don’t have a father, he died when I was very young, I don’t remember him. But my family gave permission.’
Me: ‘But now he is dead.’
She: ‘Yes, I lose the people who love me.’