So, basically, the life of HDP co-leader Selehattin Demirtas was directly threatened. The bombs going off simultaneously in front of the HDP offices in Adana and Mersin not too long before Demirtas was to arrive in Mersin, where the HDP held an election rally that day, could have killed him. Meanwhile it is the governing party AKP that is trying to make people believe that the life of President Erdogan is under threat, by totally distorting a headline in one of Turkey’s biggest newspapers, Hürriyet). Continue reading “The separatism behind the attacks on HDP”
While Islamic State was starting to take over Ezidi towns in Iraqi Kurdistan this weekend, I was driving around in Dersim and Erzincan provinces. I was following the trail of Arshalus Mardiganian. She was 14 years old in 1915, when she and her family and all other Armenians in Tchemesh-Gedzak were forced to leave their home town on foot, on the way to an almost certain death.
Tchemesh-Gedzak, that’s the name that is used for present-day Cemisgezek in the book Arshalus (meaning: ‘light of the morning’) wrote after she arrived in the United States shortly after the genocide. Well, she didn’t write it herself, she was only seventeen years old and didn’t speak a word of English, but she shared her experiences with a journalist, who wrote it down for her. In the States, her first name changed to Aurora. Continue reading “Ravished Armenia and Ezidi lands”
For the last couple of days I was in Fethiye, Mugla province. I needed to go to the coast to make an item for Dutch radio about the start of Ramadan in a tourist town, and chose Fethiye because a Dutch friend is living there, and it was about time we did some catching up. I feel like I was in another country for a few days. It may surprise you, but I felt less free in Fethiye than I feel in Diyarbakir. Not on a superficial level, of course. In Fethiye, you can dress how you like, drink what you like and where you like, there are hardly any head-scarfed women and the coast and the sun gives it all a feeling of freedom.
But that’s all appearance.
What I mean is the atmosphere. Fethiye is very nationalistic, with a MHP-turned-DP mayor who openly objected to the HDP opening an office in town – remember how the sign with the HDP party name was taken down and people were besieging the HDP office early in the local election campaign? Fethiye was not alone in that, of course,similar things happened in many Turkish towns, but, well, that only makes the point I want to make more valid. Continue reading “From Fethiye to Diyarbakir”
Bread crumbs. That’s how I define the measures Prime Minister Erdogan took for Kurds in the democratization package he announced a week ago. I picture the man in power throwing the letters Q, W and X to the Kurds, expecting them to be grateful for it. It is a whole crust he is throwing when he allows them to make political propaganda in Kurdish. A whole crust! And you still want more?
Let’s first look into the measures that Erdogan announced concerning Kurds. Continue reading “The supremacy of Turks”
‘Kurdistan does not exist!’ When you write about the Kurdish issue, now and then Turks feel the need to tell you with exclamation marks that a place called ‘Kurdistan’ doesn’t exist. Not only when I use the term – which I don’t do so often – but also just randomly. Sometimes, I take the trouble to answer that countries are not only defined by official borders, and that Kurdistan definitely does exist in the hearts, minds and dreams of many Kurds. Since this week’s events in the Black Sea Coast cities of Sinop and Samsun, I think it even exists in the minds of nationalist Turks. Unconsciously but unmistakably. Continue reading “The message of Sinop”
The basics don’t change. The basics are: people are born with rights. That’s what we, many nations of the world, have agreed upon and have put down on paper in international treaties and declarations. The right to self-determination, the right to express yourself in your mother tongue. The right to live in dignity. The right to life.
In Turkey, people wish death upon each other. Continue reading “Thirsty for blood”
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. Continue reading “Black summer”
‘You don’t ask the sun why it rises in the morning either, do you?’ I couldn’t believe what I was reading. A Turkish journalist replied with this question to tweets of mine in which I wondered why Turkish journalists in the Kurdish areas of Syria just reported there were flags of Öcalan seen on the streets there, without asking the people why the flags were there, if they approved, and if so why, and if not, why not.
I find this the perfect example of what’s wrong with Turkish media. Continue reading “Ask the sun”
Usually a handshake only becomes historic when a remarkable deal has been made between two sworn enemies. Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk. Reagan and Gorbachov. Not in Turkey. Here, it’s already historic when two political opponents, CHP leader Kilicdaroglu and Prime Minister Erdogan, finally shake hands and talk for an hour about the biggest problem the state has faced in its entire history. The nation’s papers speak of a ‘historic step’, a ‘historic breakthrough’ even. Sorry, I have tried, but I really don’t see much reason for optimism here.
Some people see reason to be optimistic because the leaders of the two biggest parties now both recognize that there is a Kurdish issue that needs to be solved through democratic means. I’d almost say: isn’t that a reason to be pessimistic? After almost a century of oppression of Kurds and almost thirty years of horrible violence claiming thousands of lives, the two biggest parties sit down and agree to see what they can do to solve the problem. Is it only that far that Turkish politics has advanced? Okay, better late than never, but to see it as a sign of hope – no. That it is only now happening says something about their stance so far, doesn’t it?
All parties in parliament
The starting point of the talks between Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan was a ten point roadmap towards solving the Kurdish issue, put together by the CHP. One of its important aims is to establish a parliamentary commission of wise men and women to search for solutions. Nothing wrong with that, of course. The point is, though, both leaders immediately stressed that support is needed from all parties in parliament. While saying that, they very well knew that the ultra-nationalist MHP will never support it. The MHP says there is no such thing as a Kurdish issue, there is only terrorism. The AKP and the CHP say they will keep pressuring the MHP, for months if necessary. For months? A great way to lose momentum.
If Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan are serious about this, why did they not start neglecting the MHP as soon it made clear they refused to cooperate, which was right after the Kilicdaroglu-Erdogan talk? Why does Kilicdaroglu propose to not speak about ‘the Kurdish issue’ but rather about ‘terrorism’ to get the MHP on board? Why give a party which by a policy of denial places itself outside the political arena the power to redefine the issue yet again as a terrorism problem? If you say your goal is to solve the problem, how can you then possibly avoid even defining it honestly?
Maybe they need the MHP as an escape route. What if Kilicdaroglu’s party in the end doesn’t back him up? Not out of the question, since he is not that solid in his position as party leader. There are many staunch Kemalists in the CHP who could not live with the fundamental changes that are needed in, for example, the constitution to really solve the Kurdish issue.
And Erdogan? He is unchallenged as party leader, but is he strong enough as the country’s leader to push through changes? You could say ‘yes’, since he has done so in reducing the power of the military. But this is something else. Weakening the military was not a controversial issue among the voters, and he only angered people who were already against him. But his voters are not only pious, middle class Muslims, as they are usually defined, they are also nationalist. Like the average Turk: the state has been very successful in making people believe the nationalist truths the Turkish republic is built on, coming together with the slogan ‘one flag, one nation, one language’. No party in Turkey can survive without being nationalist. The MHP thrives on it, but the AKP and the CHP are in essence nationalist as well. Does Erdogan dare to alienate his voters? Or will he find a way to convince them – maybe just by telling them this is what needs to be done?
What also worries me is that the CHP and AKP suggest they could solve the matter just by themselves if the other parties in parliament don’t want to cooperate. To do that, they could for example set up a commission outside parliament. One: the only place where the Kurdish issue can be solved is inside parliament. Two: the issue cannot be solved by talking about Kurds, but only by talking with Kurds. In other words, with the pro-Kurdish BDP.
The BDP has stressed several times that they support the idea and are open to talk. So why do Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan still suggest they can work on the problem as just the ‘two of them’? Why don’t they – soon! – meet with BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş and shake hands with him and agree to work together? Why haven’t they done that already? Are they already afraid of the consequences of their handshake? Afraid that shaking hands with the BDP would suggest they admit they will have to talk with the PKK too, something that they know needs to be done but can’t easily ‘sell’?
Civilians and soldiers
Apart from the questions that can be raised, there are facts. Daily realities. They are another reason for me not to be hopeful. The arrests in the KCK probe continue: earlier this week, ninety (!) medical students were taken into custody and almost on a daily basis BDP officials are taken from their homes. This week, the mayor of (earth quake stricken) Van was arrested, sparking demonstrations. There are ongoing clashes between the army and the PKK, many of them never making headlines in the Turkish media. Soldiers and PKK fighters die, and this week a young boy was killed by a police bullet at the funeral of a PKK fighter. Last week, at several universities in Turkey, nationalist groups attacked Kurdish students, who were not protected by the police but arrested instead. Let’s not forget Uludere. The PKK has started kidnapping civilians and soldiers again, sometimes one, often groups of three to ten people. The tension, the frustration, the anger among Kurds is rising.
Did Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu speak out about these things? We know how Erdogan deals with Uludere – read more here and here. Erdogan supports the KCK trials and does so rather passionately. Kilicdaroglu never spoke out strongly against the KCK probe, about racist violence against Kurdish students, about the AKP policies that have increasingly treated the Kurdish issue as a terrorism problem over the last year or so. And from these men we now have to believe they are sincere about solving the Kurdish issue? Forgive me for being somewhat sceptical.
The state’s worst enemy
But of course I hope I am wrong. Who knows, one day we might look back and define this as one of the crucial developments on Turkey’s road to a solution. Maybe Erdogan will be President then. Will he, as the highest representative of Turkey, shake hands with the state’s worst enemy, who is imprisoned on Imrali island now but who – everybody knows it – needs to be part of the solution? Unimaginable? It is. Now. But historic handshakes always were.
Usually a handshake only becomes historic when a remarkable deal has been made between two sworn enemies. Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk. Reagan and Gorbachov. Not in Turkey. Here, it’s already historic when two political opponents, CHP leader Kilicdaroglu and Prime Minister Erdogan, finally shake hands and talk for an hour about the biggest problem the state has faced in its entire history. The nation’s papers speak of a ‘historic step’, a ‘historic breakthrough’ even. Sorry, I have tried, but I really don’t see much reason for optimism here. Continue reading “Historic handshakes”