“Afyon will be a graveyard for Kurds!”


Tensions have been high in the western Turkish province of Afyon after some two thousand angry nationalists stormed a Kurdish neighborhood on Saturday (December 29). Members of the mob were carrying Turkish flags and chanting, “death to Kurds!” and “Afyon will be a graveyard for Kurds!”

The attack, which took place in the Sultandagi district of Afyon’s capital city, was sparked by the death of an 18-year-old student named Orhan Sahin, who was allegedly stabbed during a fight that broke out between two groups of youth. But witnesses say not only was the fight not racially- or politically- charged, they also claim that Sahin wasn’t stabbed during the quarrel, a dispute that could easily be settled, but authorities have refused to release the autopsy.

Nevertheless, Kurds in Sultandagi have since become a target for racist violence and discrimination. Some of the Kurdish residents have not left their homes since the incident occurred – not even to go to work or school. Others say they have been denied work and service at local businesses because of their ethnicity.

Unfortunately, what has happened in Afyon is not an isolated incident. Threats and assaults against Kurds have been on the rise in Turkey, especially in the west, since Erdogan’s AK Party took power in 2002. But does the state play a role in the worsening racial polarization? For many, the answer is a clear “yes”; they point the blame at state authorities for perpetuating a culture of violence and anti-Kurdish sentiments, and not taking sufficient action to protect minorities from persecution.

Just two months ago, textile workers in Istanbul were severely beaten by a group of nationalists because they had been playing Kurdish music. The workers filed a claim with the Human Rights Association (IHD) after authorities informed them that police officers were not in a position to prevent violence against them. And when office buildings of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) were set on fire in many Turkish cities last year, the government justified the attacks by reiterating the supposed link between the political party and so-called “terrorist” militants.

This same trend of impunity for crimes against Kurds is now being followed in Afyon as well. Instead of treating the root of the problem – institutionalized, legal racism – Sultandagi’s district governor has gone a different route: asking Kurdish residents to move away.

As absurd as this solution may sound, it is not that unusual in Turkey. In a 2007 report, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) cited a number of cases in which authorities opted to remove victims of ethnically motivated violence rather than apprehend the perpetrators.

On Wednesday the 8 Kurdish families, who had migrated from Wan, Bedlîs and Muş 20 years ago for economic reasons, made the decision to leave their homes in Afyon for their own security.  So the Turkish government can pat itself on the back for another potential crisis averted, at least until the band-aid peals off.