De bizarre weg naar de verkiezingen in Istanbul

(Radio interview at popular Dutch current affairs radio show Nieuwsweekend, Saturday 11 May 2019)

Luister het interview terug via deze link!

De oppositie spreekt al van een ‘openlijke dictatuur’ en een ‘civiele staatsgreep’ nu de bevolking van Istanboel volgende maand opnieuw naar de stembus moet. De regerende AK-Partij van de Turkse president Erdogan had om nieuwe verkiezingen gevraagd omdat er sprake zou zijn geweest van georganiseerde fraude bij de verkiezingen. Hoe nu verder in het land nu de politieke, sociale en economische onrust volop borrelt onder de oppervlakte? We vragen het Turkije-kenner Fréderike Geerdink.

Turkey’s ruling AKP manipulates election outcomes in Kurdish South-east, leaves municipalities broke

The big question in the Kurdish-majority municipalities in the south-east of Turkey was whether the candidates for the leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which won the most votes in the local elections on 13 March 2019, would be acknowledged as the winners. Now that most of them have received their mazbata (official certificate) and assumed their positions as mayors, another story has emerged: the crippling public debts the mayors have discovered in their towns. In the background, another issue lingers: will the Kurdish mayors actually get the chance to fulfill their five-year terms?

Continue reading at Fanack!

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!

Kurds find cold reception as they flee Kobani into Turkey

As the battle for Kobani rages, up to 200,000 Syrian Kurds have fled into Turkey, where long-running animosities mean a suspicious reception at best. Frederike Geerdink reports from Suruc, close to the border.

(written in cooperation with a foreign desk editor) Continue reading “Kurds find cold reception as they flee Kobani into Turkey”

Kurds not giving up on education in mother tongue

The Kurdish political movement has no intention of giving up on the three private schools they opened to teach exclusively in Kurdish. The opening of the schools last week led to a cat-and-mouse game between the schools’ administrators and the local governors — the latter closing the schools, the former reopening them several times. Clashes between the schools’ supporters and the police erupted, and nearly 100 people were taken into custody.

Read the whole article here! 

An article that explains education in mother tongue in seven questions and one anecdote can be found on my Beaconreader page!


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!

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?’

Kurds who became ‘village guards’ fear a betrayal

Dressed immaculately in a dark blue suit and with his hair perfectly combed, Seymus Akbulut was sitting in front of a portrait of Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founding father, and a huge Turkish flag. On his desk were two more Ataturks: one on a silver plate, one a glass statuette in a red velvet box. “We love Ataturk,” he said. “Whatever the state wants us to do, we do it.”

Mr Akbulut, from the south-eastern town of Midyat, is one of many Kurds who in the early 1990s were branded traitors when the conflict between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which wanted to carve out an independent Kurdistan, and the Turkish army was getting more violent every day.

The state needed helpers, and in the late 1980s started to set up the so called “village guard” system: citizens were given a weapon and a salary to help fight the PKK. Mr Akbulut, who became a village guard in 1992, was one of tens of thousands of Kurds who, sometimes voluntarily but mostly under heavy state pressure, accepted the Kalashnikovs and started fighting against their own people.

Seymus Akbulut behind his desk.
Seymus Akbulut behind his desk.

The system kept growing, and currently there are some 80,000 village guards in Turkey’s southeast. Most of them earn about 900 Turkish lira (£235) per month, others get only the weapon and no salary.

Now in his late fifties, Mr Akbulut is head of an association of village guards that advocates their rights and supports the families of guards who died in the conflict. “Before, I worked in tourism,” he said. “I made more money in a week than as a village guard in a month, but I did it willingly. We had to defend our lands. Nobody but the state can control our lands.”

However, the end of the village guard system is approaching – at least if the peace process in Turkey continues. Almost a year ago, the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, announced that the group would withdraw from Turkey. “We have now reached the point where weapons must be silent,” he said.

The withdrawal had, by all accounts, been very well prepared. Turkish authorities for the first time admitted talking directly to Mr Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence in prison for high treason. And the development now means that the village guards must be disarmed.

Nesrin Ucarlar, a political scientist at Bilgi University in Istanbul who investigated the system, said: “Such a system has no place in a democracy.”

But disarming the guards will not be an easy matter, Ms Ucarlar said, adding that the system had penetrated every layer of society in the region.

“In the past, many political parties have vowed to abolish the system if they came to power, but nobody did,” she said. “They need it. The guards don’t want to give up their arms without the PKK doing the same.”

There is also the not insignificant matter of finding alternative employment for thousands of people in a region that already has a high unemployment rate.

“It needs a comprehensive plan to abolish the system,” Ms Ucarlar said. “But the state is not working on it. It has even employed more village guards since the peace process started.”

In Midyat, Mr Akbulut told The Independent on Sunday that he was not intending to give up his weapons easily. “I will not turn in my weapon until there is real peace,” he said. “Peace for everybody.”

In a small building which serves as the guards’ headquarters, many said they were scared of what might happen to them if they disarmed.

“We want peace, but we want to be safe too,” said one guard in his fifties who was unwilling to provide his name. “What if anybody wants to take revenge on us? We have to keep our weapons to be able to defend ourselves.”

Ms Ucarlar says the fear is probably without foundation: “The PKK has been very harsh against village guards, but that is over now. It became more realistic and I don’t think there is any danger. But their fears should be taken seriously.” However, the village guards in Midyat do not trust the PKK. The head guard compared the state and the PKK to a father and son: “Imagine you have a child, and you take good care of him, you educate and feed him. And then, when he grows up, he betrays you by turning against you. That is unacceptable, right?”

Kurds who refused to become village guards often paid for it by having their villages burnt down in the 1990s and were forced to migrate to the cities.

Those who were pressured into the group despise the guards who took up the state’s weapons willingly. They see them as traitors to the Kurdish cause of greater political and cultural rights. But Mr Akbulut and his men dismiss that criticism: “It is a lie,” they say.

“There is no suppression of Kurds,” Mr Akbulut adds. “Father State has always been good to us.”

This article is on the site of The Independent too.