Not Quite the Bastille: Kurds protest at the Guardian while Turkey continues its assault


Friday morning brought an unusual disruption to the London offices of the international newspaper, The Guardian. Fifteen Kurdish youth stormed the office as they sought a new means of amplifying the Kurdish voice within mainstream media. The group assembled in the office as activist Mark Campbell read a dramatic statement in front of the employees of the Guardian. Although the demonstration began raucously, it was received well and ended in a discussion with editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger.

Although their methods were unusual, the Kurdish protest was undeniably effective. The Guardian did indeed speak up, and because the media delights in nothing more than reporting on what happens to other media outlets, the protest was picked up by the New York Times (with a detailed commentary from the Twitter accounts of some of the Guardian editors), the Pittsburgh Gazette, Turkish news site Milliyet, and in Journalism News. By reporting on the protests at the Guardian, each news site gave a little bit of context to the protests, with a few sentences thrown in casually about the months-long Turkish assault on Iraqi Kurdistan or a bit of background about the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party).

And so some of the media silence, the silence that is “the greatest enemy of the Kurds”, was broken, and yet the Guardian may not prove to be the Kurds’ Bastille as they seek a consistent and nuanced voice in the media. News media offices shouldn’t need to be stormed before reporting on a cross-border war against an entire people in the name of violently eliminating one radical element.

Whether there will be some continued attention to the Kurdistan region remains to be seen, but the important issue isn’t whether news media simply talks about Kurdish issues. The recent articles that have come out after the protests are lacking in nuance and detail, and centralize either Turkish actions or the PKK. There is little to no representation of other Kurdish stories, of Kurds not involved in the PKK or even those who oppose the actions of the PKK. There are no stories of the centuries-long oppression against the Kurds that continues to push youth into the PKK, nor of the obstinacy of Turkish diplomacy in finding another answer to the Kurdish question.

Turkish and Iranian assaults in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan affect PKK supporters and non supporters alike, and yet the mainstream narrative about Kurds continues to focus on the PKK. An explosion in Ankara, Turkey that killed several civilians was allegedly carried out by the PKK, according to the Turkish government, which then used the explosion as justification for a swift and intense bombing campaign in the mountains of Qandil. Reports of sustained bombing for the last week have continued to emerge with unknown repercussions on either PKK rebels or civilians. A funeral for a guerrilla fighter from the People’s Defense Forces (HPG, an offshoot of the PKK) turned chaotic when Turkish police launched tear gas into the crowds and arrested over 120 people who attended the ceremony, adding to the 771 Kurds detained throughout the month of September.

Amid these new affronts, diplomatic efforts between Kurds and Turks are being renewed. Kurdish politicians end a months long boycott of the Turkish parliament, with a statement from the co-leader of the Peace and Democracy Party. “The boycott was a correct, justifiable and dignified decision,” he says, “but we ended it to defend peace and fight against war more powerfully.”

The media’s silence towards the Kurdistan region suffocates nuanced Kurdish debate and gives Turkey a distinct advantage in its war against the Kurds. It remains to be seen whether diplomatic and peaceful efforts by the Kurds will be highlighted alongside the usual focus on the PKK. Kurds shouldn’t have to storm the Guardian to merit a headline, but whether the media in the UK and elsewhere will pick up on that remains to be seen.