Turkish brutality towards Kurdish children – The Final Frontier
It was the summer of 2005; I was 13 when I returned to Kurdistan for the second time. Before that my only sighting of it had been in 1993, a visit where I would have been only 2 years old, so the only knowledge I had of the land was through stories from my parents and their friends. In my mind I had painted a picturesque land which bred a resisting and valiant people.
At that time the easiest and most popular route to return to Iraqi-occupied Kurdistan, it seemed, was to book a plane journey from London to Diyarbakir with a changeover in either Istanbul or Ankara. After reaching Diyarbakir you would secure a ride in the form of the sweaty cab-drivers baked by the summer sun waiting for passengers to take to the infamous Ibrahim Khalil border (Habur Gate). From there you would hire another ride into Southern Kurdistan, where we embarked on a journey towards the town of Erbil visiting my uncle, and after several days move onto reach my parents’ hometown of Sulaymaniyah. This journey took several hours in total.
When we reached Diyarbakir, a large Kurdish city in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan, we were greeted by the sweltering heat and proceeded to the tiny terminal to retrieve our luggage from the conveyer belt. Outside countless taxis were waiting to take people to their destinations with many bound for the border. My little brother kept repeatedly asking my mum when we would reach Kurdistan, it wasn’t Kurdistan for him; he didn’t feel as comfortable as one should in their country a chief reason being the numerous Gendermie checkpoints dotted along the roads.
We finally reached the border- now a bigger challenge appeared before us. There were various vehicles stretching from the border to far up the road; the taxi driver and we tourists had to exit the cars to follow procedures in the offices situated just before the Turkish border. Upon leaving the car we were hounded by local boys attempting to sell water from the coolers slung over their shoulders- dirty young kids with wise old eyes.
This was the place I’ll never forget.
Anyone who has been to the border in that year will know what it looks like and may even be able to correct my shady recollection. I remember a row of buildings perpendicular to the border pass a couple hundred metres down the road. Opposite these buildings were a similar row of buildings, lying in-between was a dry concrete land of about 50 metres in width, possibly more. It was the peak of summer and the sun was excelling in its function. The taxi drivers along with the travelling husbands, fathers and others who needed to cross the border for reasons of their own were desperately trying to gain access into a tiny room. It was where the bulk of the work was done and the Visas were granted. A lot of women were sitting in a poorly ventilated café, which was rich with the scent of perspiration but bar the café, there were very few seats for people to rest in. Most resigned themselves to standing or leaning against a wall in the coveted shade. I sat on the curb, feet on the concrete, facing the opposite row of buildings and the empty passage in front of us.
There were about a dozen and a half local kids attempting to sell water bottles to the tourists, their ages seemed to range from 10-17. They carried coolers containing their goods of God’s gift bottled in plastic. They were repeatedly shouted at and chased away by men in green uniforms for reasons I still don’t understand although it was clear that these Turkish soldiers were under strict orders regarding who had the monopoly on providing water (the Café).
An hour or so had passed while we grew agitated in the scorching weather, still waiting for the stamp; I was entertained by the cat and mouse game between the young boys and the soldiers. The boys would skilfully emerge from gaps between the buildings gliding down into the densely populated areas exchanging bottles for money where they could- then according to demand would patrol up and down the crowd, darting away once their cover was blown to escape the violence that would be inflicted upon them by the Turkish soldiers. A young boy was too slow and subsequently received a bitter boot from the left foot of a soldier as he shouted what I can only guess were profanities in Turkish, another was hit across the face and pushed away with great force. These skirmishes happened often in the hour and started becoming more regular as the sun increased its intensity, each time the young boys approached to sell water they were at risk at catching a slap or two sprinkled with insults, before retreating to the maze of cars disappearing from sight. These kids were young Kurdish boys from the impoverished and neglected South-East of Turkey attempting to make some money for their families selling water to the parents of thirsty kids like me. I really couldn’t fathom the harm they were doing and still can’t, I was shocked to see them being hit by grown adults in that way and admired their enthusiasm and guts. We wanted water- they were providing it- there was water to purchase in the café of the same brand and the same temperature as the sort that these young boys were providing, the only difference lay in the cheaper price these young boys provided it at.
Bored; I remained waiting for my dad and the taxi driver to call us over as I sat on the dull grey curb. I was a few metres from my mother as I saw two of the young local water-sellers foolishly wander into the barren no-man’s-land between the two parallel rows of buildings. Seemingly blinded by the sun’s rays of opportunity they had strolled into the clear sight of many soldiers, further from the buildings than the others had travelled, making escape near impossible. Standing in their worn-out muddy cotton with the makeshift straps of their coolers wrapped around them they awaited buyers.
A rumbling was heard in the distance, it grew in volume as a beige four door saloon car sped towards the two young boys braking intensely alongside them. Similar to the scene of a film, the screech of the tyres averted the gazes of the hundred or so Kurdish men, women and children towards the concrete stage where our eyes widened as we awaited what was to happen next.
The car vomited out three or four fierce looking Turkish soldiers clad in dark green-these two boys froze as they realised they had fallen right into an ambush. An older officer, clearly the superior of the three, took lead with a radio in one hand grabbing the collar of one of the boys then proceeding to repeatedly pound him across the face until the boy’s face was imprinted with the ridges of the officer’s fingerprints. Everyone watched while he boomed over aggressively at these young boys, no older than 14, slapping and kicking them as his colleagues got involved in roughing them up. He took one of the thermal coolers, raised it high above his head and let it crash to the ground- spewing shards of plastic which pierced the air. He began to collect the bottles of water from the floor and unscrewed them as his colleagues followed suit and emptied them onto the impermeable ground. The same happened to the other young Kurdish boy as they stood before these Turkish soldiers losing their means of providing money for their families and being physically beaten; all the while this Kurdish crowd watched.
Not one voice was raised, not one person attempted to stop it, all that could be heard was the barking of the Turkish officer, and the sniffling of one of the Kurdish boys with the backing track of cars driving up and down the road.
Not heroin nor whisky nor vodka nor cigarettes nor condoms, they were selling water, simply water.
After filling the back of the saloon with some remaining water bottles, the soldiers entered their car and drove on into the nothingness from whence they appeared, leaving on the stage the kids with an audience staring at them intensely.
All I could think about at the time was how lonely those kids must’ve felt and how angry I felt, they looked lost and embarrassed but still managed to compose themselves enough to exit the area with the local boys. Before doing so they looked around at the bottles on the floor to see if there was anything to scavenge, there wasn’t. That was the last I saw of any of the boys.
The silence of the Kurds. It was then I realised how powerless we were, we may have been the majority and there may have been Kurdish guns a few hundred metres away nonetheless not one person seemed to dare to raise an eyebrow. The Turkish officers left quite smug with themselves, I felt as though the demonstration we had seen was as much for the Kurdish people present as it was for the poor water sellers.
Everyone forgot the incident a minute or two later and carried on with conversations that had paused. I went on to have a holiday and returned to the border a month later. After having to let the Turkish officers rummage through our luggage at the border, in search of contraband in the form of anything Kurdish, we were eventually waved through. As we passed we drove alongside the row of buildings, I turned my head and gazed, smiling as I saw young Kurdish boys with bright blue water coolers.
That was resistance. This was Kurdistan.