My as yet largely notional readers are no doubt very upset about the hiatus in posting. Unfortunately I have no good excuse, other than being busy, which really isn’t much of an excuse at all.
I’m currently in Diyarbakir doing a couple of assignments related to the upsurge in violence in Southeastern Turkey. Since the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) cancelled its ceasefire on June 1, there have been a number of bloody clashes between the militants and the Turkish army.
Diyarbakir is the beating heart of Kurdish nationalism, and an extraordinary place to come to as a first time visitor. Military installations with bunkers and razor wire riddle the city, and symbols of the Turkish state sit high atop walls and buildings where they cannot be defaced, as seen in the picture above, in which an image of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, perches on the old battlements of the city.
There is intense frustration and anger here at the perceived failure of the AK Party government’s ‘Kurdish Opening’, the much-vaunted initiative to resolve the 26-year civil war. It seems people are even more angry given how high their hopes were when the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan first vowed address the problems of the long-oppressed Kurds.
The reasons for the breakdown of the peace initiative lie largely in the hostility of the Turkish public, who see it as ‘giving in to terrorism’, as well as opposition within the state apparatus, the army and the judiciary.
Two of the things I’m writing about here are the draconian anti-terror laws which have allowed civilian demonstrators to be tried as terrorists, and and a current trial in which hundreds of Kurdish politicians and activists have been arrested and stand accused of affiliation with the PKK. Both of these issues appear to ordinary Kurds to have made a mockery of the olive branch offered by the government.
Most people I have spoken to say they are at some kind of breaking point. The local head of the Peace and Democracy Party, the main civilian Kurdish political grouping, said this is a moment of ‘solution or catastrophe’.
In Turkey you can be convicted on terrorism charges and handed a 15 year jail term just for attending a demonstration sanctioned by the PKK, and so I’ve been surprised by how candid people have been in their support for the banned organisation.
The picture below shows the grieving mother of a PKK fighter killed two weeks ago. Pinned to her chest is a photo of her son, and around her head are the green, red, and yellow of the banned Kurdish flag. We visited his family at a community centre where they were receiving condolences: the stream of mourners was too great to be accommodated in their home.
I’m here until Friday and will update later in the week.