What peace process, Erdogan and Barzanî?


On November 16, Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, uttered the word “Kurdistan” in public when he was giving a speech in the Kurdish city of Amed, its official name being Diyarbakir after order from Atatürk in 1937, the first president of Turkey and a man who fiercely denied the existence of Kurds. November 16 has been deemed a historical day for two reasons. First, because Erdogan delivered his speech at a meeting where Mêsud Barzanî, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, was present and second, because Erdogan as the first Prime Minister in the history of Turkey dared to say “Kurdistan” that seems to have the same effect on some Turkish politicians as the name “Voldemort”.

The meeting was a festive event. PM Erdogan and President Barzanî attended a collective wedding ceremony of 400 couples where famous singers Şiwan Perwer and Ibrahim Tatlises entertained the crowd by singing “Daye megri, aşiti wa de” (Mother, don’t cry, peace is coming). Considering the Roboski Massacre in December 2011 that emphasized of how little value a Kurdish life in Turkey is, it was a bitter experience to see a Kurdish leader endorse PM Erdogan. It was surreal to watch Perwer and Tatlises sing to the joy of PM Erdogan “Mother, don’t cry, peace is coming” when the Saturday Mothers regularly gather in public spaces with pictures of their children, asking every time: When will peace come? When will we see our children so we can stop crying?

During his speech, Erdogan asked, “What could be more painful than a mother being unable to speak to her child in her mother tongue?”

That is a good question and it leads to another question: Why is Kurdish not recognized as a mother tongue in the Turkish constitution? The Kurdish people in Turkey make up at least 15 million of the population and ought to be allowed to be taught their mother tongue in public schools and not just in private schools that are too expensive for Kurdish children to attend.

PM Erdogan continued on to saying

In Diyarbakır in 2005, we said ‘Your issue is our issue,’ and we stand behind that promise. We received threats and obstacles that we have overcome. We promised to put an end to the deaths of the youth and the tears shed by their mothers and fathers. We are now building a new Turkey all together. This Republic is yours. This is your state just as much as it is for those in Izmir, Ankara and Istanbul. No one can give anyone else second-class citizen treatment. In this new Turkey there will be no denial, no rejection and no assimilation.

One does not have to go as far back as 2005 to find examples of violations of human rights against Kurds in Turkey. Here is a list of recent examples of ill treatment of Kurds as documented on Alliance for Kurdish Rights:

On December 28, 2011, Turkish F16 jets killed 34 civilian Kurds because they were mistaken for PKK fighters. 17 of them were children. The case has since been handed over to a military court whose neutrality is questionable.

Sevcan Dönmez, a Kurdish prisoner, was allegedly tortured and persecuted by warders and prisoners in Kocaeli T Type Prison.

Seventeen-year-old Sinan Saltıkalp lost his life in August after being run over by a police car during a protest in a Kurdish town.

A Kurdish boy was sentenced to two life imprisonments in 2012 despite contradictory age reports and his insistence upon his innocence.

There have been reports about sexual violence in prisons but also in boarding schools.

A Kurdish journalist was arrested for revealing torture of a 14-year-old boy in 2008.

Turkish prison authorities beat a Kurdish political prisoner suffering from cancer.

Kurdish political prisoners at Silivri’s Number 2 L Type Prison were in May punished with isolation after they participated in a hunger strike.

There are countless more cases of Kurds being arrested on charges based on vague definitions in the Turkish Anti-Terror Law with lack of credible evidence, of police brutality and excessive use of force at protests and ill treatment of prisoners, creating an atmosphere of arbitrary arrests that does not resemble PM Erdogan’s words of a Turkey that belongs to all of its inhabitants and is empty of second-class citizens.

We cannot address the lack and violations of rights properly if we are not meticulously aware of them and continue to raise awareness about it on all levels, from activists to human rights organisations to leaders. What effect does it have, what signal does it send if a respected Kurdish leader joins hands with the Turkish Prime Minister and says that the Kurdish people should support the peace process when there has been no real, genuine implementation of it? It has to be emphasized that intentions and words count for nothing in a matter of human rights, a right delayed is truly a right denied.

At the meeting, President Barzani said:

The blood of a Kurdish youth should not be shed by a Turkish youngster and the blood of a Turkish youth should not be shed by a Kurdish youngster.

He is naturally referring to the decades long armed conflict between PKK and Turkey but blood has also been spilled in situations where the opposing sides were not equal in size or power. I will not shy away from using the example of the Roboski Massacre again because the fact that 1) it happened, 2) it was described as a “mistake” by government officials, 3) officials refused to take responsibility, 4) the case has been handed over to a military court whose objectivity can be questioned since the military was behind the attack, 5) the families of the victims have suffered greatly from not getting any closure or answers but has instead been given fines when commemorating the anniversary of their deaths, 6) the massacre was not covered in international media and 7) the international community has not put enough pressure on Turkey regarding the massacre, they have not rebuked Turkey, all these facts justify the constant reminding.

The Roboski massacre was not a struggle in which a Turkish youth killed a Kurdish youngster. It was a massacre that was carried out by Turkish military against Kurdish children and men after receiving information from a US drone that could not exactly say if the movements by the Turkish-Iraqi border were civilians or PKK fighters.

In 2010, Amnesty International released a report. The introduction reads:

Since 2006, thousands of children in Turkey, some as young as 12, have been prosecuted under anti-terrorism legislation solely for their alleged participation in demonstrations focused on issues of concern to members of the Kurdish community.

While Amnesty International recognizes the obligation of the Turkish authorities to maintain order and to prevent damage to property during the sometimes violent demonstrations, Amnesty International is gravely concerned at the systematic violation of the rights of the child committed during the arrest, detention and trial of these children.

The report features several examples of cases where Kurdish children have been wrongly accused of having ties to PKK and consequently either been imprisoned or beaten.

I was on my way home from school, with another child from school. By the time we had arrived back to our neighbourhood from the school we were sweaty. A police officer came up to me and grabbed me. He felt my stomach and  he said that I was sweaty and that I had come from the demonstration. I had a notebook in my hands, they ripped it up. I showed them my school identity card and they ripped this up  too. I didn’t know what to say, I couldn’t speak. I said that I hadn’t done anything. They hit me without showing any mercy.

Is this a Turkish youth beating a Kurdish youngster? No. It is an unequal struggle fought in the streets of the Kurdish cities between police forces and children. No real effort has been made from the government’s side to eliminate this persecution.

A leader should dare to say what his people cannot say. In Turkey, journalists, lawyers, activists, protestors and students are imprisoned and charged with various crimes if they criticize the government or in any way “offend” the state of Turkey. Barzanî had a golden chance. He was sitting next to Erdogan. He could have spoken on behalf of all Kurds and said: “We want a real peace process.”

Readers might want to interrupt me now and say that the meeting was a political show meant to consolidate the relationship between Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government. And I agree, the meeting was a political show. But it is very unfortunate that a Kurdish leader at least at the same time could not stand firm for the sake of his people and repeat the words “We want a real peace process.”

Furthermore, President Barzanî said:

The foundation of the peace process has been started, thanks to Mr. Erdogan for initiating the peace process, and so my call for all my Kurdish and Turkish brothers is to support this peace process. The struggle for peace is indeed challenging and that struggle can only be pursued by brave men.

So I hereby announce that we, both Kurds and Turks, are with this peace process and we support it.

I for one will not support the peace process until it has become more than a political show, until the reports of violations of Kurdish rights cease, until Kurdish civilians join protests without fearing for their lifes or being arrested, until journalists can write critical and revealing pieces about the situation in Turkey without risking being caught in the judicial system for years, if not life. This is one thing President Barzanî cannot say on my behalf: “So I hereby announce that we, both Kurds and Turks, are with this peace process and we support it.”

The only thing that would make the visit historical is a true, genuine implementation of peace that benefits the people. The best position we can take as Kurds and non-Kurds who advocate equal rights is to stand firm in our demand for a rapid improvement of not just Kurdish rights but human rights in Turkey. Political shows, no matter the participants, and poetic speeches, no matter the orator, should not divert the attention from the real problem: When will Kurdish rights be written into the constitution, when will the massacres of the both distant and near past be taken responsibility for, when will there be equality between all citizens within Turkish borders?

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