In Turkey, a Child is a Terrorist


Photo: Firat News Agency

First a picture of a boy. Then a black flood overlaid with meter upon meter of red, yellow and green fabric, moving in waves on the shoulders of those beneath it. Finally pale hands, dark hands, wrinkled, callused, steady hands performing a wonted act, the tendons pressing against the worn skin carrying the coffin.

On the sixth of December, 2013 Kurds in the Gever district of Colemêrg (Yüksekova in Hakkari, Turkey) gathered to demonstrate against continuing attacks on the graves of PKK guerillas. Being a permanent component of any Kurdish assembly, the Turkish police was present and armed with the standard kit for rallies: tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. Clashes erupted between the police and protesters, leaving two to die at the hands of the Turkish police: Veysel İşbilir and Mehmet Reşat İşbilir. An autopsy report stated that Veysel had been killed by two bullets and Mehmet Reşat by six.
On the seventh of December, 2013 the two men were laid to rest by mourners who subsequently took to the streets to protest their deaths. They were once again met by police brutality to which the youth responded with throwing stones. Bemal Tokçu, a 25-year-old Kurdish man, was injured by a bullet and passed away four days later.

On the sixth of December, 2014 Kurds in the Gever district of Colemêrg gathered and Kurdish history repeated itself as it does every week or month; the present looking like the past suggesting the future. Thousands of Kurds were in the streets to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Tokçu and the İşbilir men. Rojhat Özdel was one of them.

Rojhat, an 18-year-old member of the Youth Assembly of DBP (Party of Democratic Regions, previously BDP), was according to eyewitnesses who spoke to DIHA news throwing stones at the police who was shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters. Witnesses say Rojhat was holding a Molotov cocktail but the story does not mention if he threw it at the police. The police allegedly chased Rojhat and fired at him with a rifle, killing him. Rojhat was followed to his grave by tens of thousands of people and laid to rest near the İşbilir men; steady hands performing a wonted act.

In some countries, the police protect citizens. In Turkey, they kill Kurds. Their response to stone-throwing protesters is water cannons and tear gas, sometimes injuring and killing children with empty tear gas canisters, other times simply killing protesters with live bullets.
The killing of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in the USA reignited great, nationwide protests against gross exaggeration of violence and discrimination carried out by members of the police force, a situation that Kurds can easily relate to. Police violence against Kurds is a habitual part of everyday life, a crime that has become normalised through decades of repressive regimes.

President Erdogan whose leadership has perpetuated the normalisation of violence and killings of Kurdish civilians recently said, “If you dare, try to throw a stone at police in America. You cannot.” This was said in response to the Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), who had raised concerns regarding the use of police force.
Erdogan was thereby implying that the US police forces’ response to stone-throwing protesters is harsher than the Turkish police force. That is a dangerously dismissive comment seeing as pro-Kurdish, anti-ISIS protests in October resulted in clashes between police and demonstrators that led to the death of at least 18 people.

The protests prompted Turkish lawmakers to adopt a new bill that Human Rights Watch says increases the power of the police force and could lead to a further deterioration of human rights. Instead of examining the police’s excessive use of force, the bill grants the police expanded authorization to target protesters.

Human Rights Watch mentions five items that will further aggravate the rights of a protester:
1) expansion of the power of police to carry out searches based on “reasonable suspicion.”
2) extension of court’s power to seize assets
3) extension of the range of crimes for which the courts could authorize wiretaps
4) restriction of lawyers’ access to evidence against their clients
5) creation of a new criminal offense of “making threats” against public officials

Furthermore, new drafts have been put forward by the Turkish government to augment police authorization which include proposals to allow police to search an individual with no prior warrant granted by a court, use firearms against individuals in possession of molotov cocktails or “similar weapons”, detain individuals for up to 48 hours without a prosecutor’s permission and increasing punishment of individuals who take part in “propaganda protests”.

Things are backward in Turkey: citizens protest police, police kill citizens, parliament grants police greater rights. The Turkish government can expand the rights of their extended arm in society within two months but when it comes to equal rights for the Kurdish people mere promises can hardly be made after years of armed struggle, political resistance and civil disobedience.

Turkey’s rhetoric against Kurdish protesters, labeling them “members of a terrorist organisation” or “promoters of terrorism” allows for the Turkish police to continue its brutal crackdown with unchallenged legitimacy. While the Gezi protests exposed police brutality to the international community due to massive media coverage and observation conducted by politicians from all over the world, the Kurdish protests are left to be endured by Kurdish civilians with no sufficient outside pressure that can force the Turkish government to change its ways. It ought to be simple: Allow Kurds to assemble and protest the condition of their rights without provocation from heavily armored Turkish police present at every Kurdish gathering, even the Saturday Mothers’ weekly meeting.

But the terrorism label branded upon PKK and consequently on Kurdish protesters (I have often read articles both in Turkish and international media that uses “PKK protests” and “Kurdish protests” interchangeably) diverges attention away from the fundamental problem in Turkey: that the PKK was a reaction to Turkey’s decade-long oppression of the Kurdish people and that the Kurdish people in 2014 are still demanding the right to mother tongue education and, in general, greater rights.

The current so-called peace process between the Turkish state and the Kurdish people and the time it takes for the process to strike root is no excuse to slow down and curb concessions to the Kurdish community. Efforts initiated by the imprisoned founder of PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, Kurdish lawmakers, NGOs and activists have been used in the Turkish government’s political game to garner votes and improve Turkey’s image to the world, resulting in international politicians complimenting Erdogan for brave steps in an unprecedented effort to initiate peace.

A recent report prepared by members of a fact-finding mission to Turkey to evaluate the peace process consisting of Essa Moosa, judge of the High Court of South Africa of Cape Town, Francis Wurtz, ex-member of the European Parliament of Strasbourg and Osman Kavala, chair of the Anadolu Kultur in Istanbul concluded that:

[…] a strong appeal is made for the repeal of the anti-terror legislation or the amendment thereof consistent with democratic values and principles and international law and protocol. It is common cause that the anti-terror legislation has abrogated certain fundamental democratic and human rights principles and values and the rule of law. They are right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty; the audi alteram partem rule, that is, the right to be heard; freedom of expression and association; detention without trial; and other rights which have been developed over many decades, if not centuries in order to prevent miscarriage of justice.

The peace process has become irreversible. It is unlikely that the armed struggle will be resumed. It is in the interest of durable and lasting peace in Turkey that the peace process, once legalized be open and transparent and comprehensive and inclusive […] This will ensure that there is a paradigm shift in the mind-set of Turkish people, who will not only buy into but will also own the end-result of the process and give the outcome the necessary credibility and confidence that it deserves. We need to bear in mind that for decades the official policy was imbued with Turkish nationalism and the educational system was geared to indoctrinate the Turkish population with a sense of nationalism and loyalty to the Turkish state.

What is most palpable to the Kurdish people in Turkey: the removal of the ban on three Kurdish letters and other superficial reforms or the Turkish police’s live bullets and empty tear gas canisters aimed at children and civilians? Education in Kurdish language in private schools or arresting Kurdish children for terrorism?

George Orwell said language corrupts thought. In Turkey it has corrupted an entire system. Where else can you speak of peace while arresting two minors for terrorism?

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