May 2014 not begin with yet another funeral
The Kurdish people were still in mourning, commemorating the one-year-anniversary of the Roboskî Massacre that claimed the lives of 34 civilian Kurdish boys and men. Then news came in the second week of January that three Kurdish women had been assassinated in Paris. The year 2013 began with yet another funeral march, just like the year before.
The three women were Sakine Cansız, Fidan Doğan and Leyla Şaylemez who dedicated their lives to raise awareness about Kurdish rights in France and rest of Europe. Their deaths came as a shock: they were killed in an office on Rue Lafayette. Who did it? An article in the French magazine Express recently stated that “rapid progress” had been made in the investigation into their murders and that “suspicions regarding Ömer Güney have been strengthened by the latest findings”. Ömer Güney, a Turkish immigrant, has been the prime suspect in the case from the beginning. But why did he do it and was he the only one behind?
Turkey – world’s largest jail for journalists
On the nineteenth of August, it became official. The most watched Kurdish channel, Roj TV, closed its doors due to a request by Danish courts, which rejected the TV-station’s appeals. The Roj TV trials were heavily influenced by American think tanks’ definition of the term “terrorism” (funded by the US government) and by Turkish authorities, including Turkey’s ambassador to Denmark who admitted that the closure of Roj TV was a “political decision.” Indeed, it had nothing to do with “terrorism” charges. Turkey is widely known to have misused their “terrorism laws” to include lawyers, journalists, teachers, and children – many of who languish in Turkish prisons today under despicable conditions.
It therefore makes perfect sense that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) for the second year in a row has found Turkey to be the world’s largest jail for journalists. Turkey has imprisoned more journalists than Iran and China.
It was an eventful year in Turkey. The world-famous Gezi protests erupted in Istanbul in May, then quickly spread to other Turkish cities. It was at first a protest against the demolition of a park but became a protest against the authoritarian leadership of Prime Minister Erdogan. Protesters were met with police brutality, pepper spray and water cannons, thousands were injured and five people were killed. The world media reported from the protests and European politicians took part in the demonstrations and experienced first-hand Turkish police brutality because here was something they were unfamiliar with in Turkey, the “democratic role model for the Middle East” and a top 10 holiday destination. For who knew police brutality was a regular occurrence in the south-eastern parts of Turkey (the Kurdish cities of Northern Kurdistan)?
Did the Gezi Protests make the Turkish people aware of the unjust, brutal treatment and arbitrary arrests of Kurds? Will the Turkish people stand together with Kurdish people in their demands for equal rights? 2014 will show.
2013 was the year of the so-called peace process between the Turkish state and Kurdish representatives. I remember the media being hyped up, saying this was historical progress. We ought to let the next generations decide whether or not this “peace process” is historical and restrict ourselves to look at the present situation. Yes, the PKK withdrew from Turkey to create the conditions for a political settlement and in return, Erdogan presented his reform package this fall with the following words:
Cowards cannot erect victory monuments. Those who are afraid of change, reforms and advanced standards cannot proceed even one step forward.
Erdogan and the government must be afraid of change seeing as the reform package lacked real, progressive content. They must be cowards yet they portray themselves as the greatest reformists and Turkey as a democratic state where Kurds are equal with Turks. If that is the case why has the perpetrator of the Roboskî Massacre not been found and put on trial? Why are Kurdish political prisoners tortured in Turkish prisons? Why are there continued reports of sexual violence against children in prisons and boarding schools? Why is the Kurdish language not acknowledged as a mother tongue in the constitution? Does the government really believe it is a step towards peace and brotherhood among Kurds and Turks if it lifts a ban on three letters in the alphabet?
Are these new times or eerie repetitions of the past? Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan met with President Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government in November at a joyous, celebratory event. Erdogan uttered the word “Kurdistan” for the first time and Kurdish singer, Şivan Perwer, came back from exile to sing “Mother, don’t cry, peace will come” in the country where the Saturday Mothers to this day gather in public squares to mourn their long-lost or killed sons and daughters, in the city of Amed where Kurdish mothers cry when their children, some as young as 12, are prosecuted under anti-terrorism, their only crime being participation in protests calling for respect of human rights.
I was greatly disturbed when I saw Mahmoud Abbas, a Palestinian leader, in a close embrace with Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs at the UN in November, 2012 because surely, an oppressed nation like Palestine could not be close with Turkey, the oppressor of the Kurdish people? I know there are political agendas behind their actions but what did this mean for the solidarity between oppressed people? What signal did it send?
Exactly a year later I was shamed to silence because I witnessed a Kurdish leader, President Barzani, endorse Erdogan’s insincere peace process.
This year saw the loss of another young Kurdish investigative journalist who was murdered in his own home for exposing corruption linked to Kurdish politicians. This sparked protests across Southern Kurdistan (Kurdistan Regional Government) that brought together hundreds of journalists, activists, and supporters marching for justice for Kawa Garmyani and greater press freedom. His brother issued a statement demanding justice and refused any financial assistance to keep silent. International organizations supporting journalists and free speech issued various press releases in an attempt to push the Kurdish Regional Government to launch a thorough investigation on the murder and demanding the protection of local journalists.
Strange fruit hanging
2013 was the year of the strange fruit in Iran, the strange fruit that were Kurdish political prisoners executed by hanging on orders from Iranian courts. The poet Abel Meeropol originally wrote the poem about the lynching of African-Americans but today it is still a common practice in Iran. People gather to see the public executions, to see the victims of a brutal regime hanging by a noose, dangling in the air with cheap slippers on their feet, their chins resting on their chest:
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
At one point it seemed like news about yet another hanging of a Kurdish political prisoner was breaking every day. One day it was Çengiz Salih Zadê. He was executed together with İrac Nesiri and Qadir Nik Endis. Another day it was Habibollah Golparipour. The death sentence of Mansur Azvand was confirmed. Zanyar and Loghman Moradi are on death row. Saber Mokhlad Mavane is on death row. Many more are sick and denied medical treatment or have been transferred to unknown locations. Their blood is a strange and bitter crop harvested by the Iranian regime.
One day in the summer of 2012 my family and I were getting ready for a wedding on a farm outside Qamişlo (Rojava/north-eastern Syria) when news came that Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law and the defence minister had been killed by Syrian opposition fighters. “This is it,” we all thought. “It’s done with Assad, it’s done with the regime.” It was a few chilling moments when we felt certain we would witness the end of a nightmare and the beginning of a free life. Then reality hit us, I felt an eerie darkness spread through what was not my body but a hollow case. Of course it was not that easy. The war continued. Today, more than a year later, the war is still continuing.
There have been many accusations against the Kurds and where their loyalty lies, one resilient accusation has been with the Assad regime but those are merely the words of someone with a political agenda. Speak with the people and the Kurdish fighters and it is clear that their loyalty lies only with those who seek to achieve the same goal as them: a land of freedom where no one is persecuted based on ethnicity, gender and religion. The Kurdish forces have fought the Syrian regime’s army and Al Qaeda-linked fighters who have attacked and killed Kurdish civilians.
Reading articles and interviews about and with the Syrian opposition and activists and following the writings on social media, it seems to me that there is an almost childish perception among some of them that Kurds do not have the right to independently fight an armed battle, that “their problem is not with the Kurds, but with the PKK” which they have so befitting to their propaganda dubbed the entire Kurdish armed resistance within the borders of Syria. To this day neither the political opposition nor the Syrian opposition fighters have shown any real efforts to include Kurds in a future Syria.
The excuse has been that they will “deal with those formalities when the war is over.” But this is not a game. It is a matter of life and the Kurds are dealing with the formalities now.
The struggle of the people of Rojava is not merely characterized by its armed resistance against the Syrian army or Al Qaeda-affiliated groups. It is unique in that Kurdish civilians early in the uprising opened Kurdish language schools, women’s rights organizations and most recently established the Rojava Law Committee, focusing on creating stability in the time of war but also laying the foundation for a future, perhaps self-governing Rojava.
Here is to the Kurds continuing to fight for their rights, be it on the battle grounds, in prisons, in schools, in courts, in newspapers or on social media.
Here is to 2014. May it not begin with yet another funeral march.
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