Monthly Archives: August 2010

Gay Kurds find their voice

I have a new story out on Eurasianet about ‘Hevjin’ – a magazine started by a group of gay Kurdish activists in Diyarbakir.

It’s creation in this socially and religiously conservative city in southeast Turkey has surprised many people. The founders of the magazine said how they often felt doubly stigmatized- as both gays within the Kurdish community, but also as Kurds within Turkey’s gay community.

From the piece:

… when Solin’s and Koya’s group first announced itself on Turkey’s gay activism scene, its Kurdish orientation became a source of difficulty. “Many organizations in the West of Turkey resisted us at first because we identified ourselves as Kurds,” said Koya. “Even within this community we’re a minority.”

Many Turks holding liberal personal views these days can be staunchly conservative in their approach to politics – something that Oztop [Nevin Oztop, editor of Turkey’s Kaos LG gay magazine] contends is a legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, who blended liberal and secular social ideas with a decidedly authoritarian and nationalist approach to statecraft. “In the gay movement in this country, there are ‘Kemalist’ people who are not tolerant of minority ethnic identities,” said Oztop. “They say the only politics we can do is for the rights of gay people – but they don’t see the country as a whole.”

“I don’t want to create a hierarchy in discrimination, but I would say that they [the Kurdish LGBT activists] are doubly discriminated against,” Oztop added.

You can read the whole article here.

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Istanbul’s Africa Cup

As the Basketball World Cup got underway in Istanbul yesterday, a less well-known contest kicked off: Turkey’s own African Cup of Nations football (soccer) tournament.

The competition, now in its sixth year, brings together the city’s sizeable African community, a significant proportion of whom have come to Istanbul with the dream of making their names as professional footballers.
Even for those with the talent to make it, this is a difficult dream to realise. Some of the Turkish leagues do not allow foreign players, and the permits that foreigners need to do any work at all can be prohibitively expensive.
The cup holds real importance to those taking part, as it’s a scouting ground for agents looking to sign players.
However it also brings together a community struggling to make its way in what is sometimes an inhospitable country. Foreigners without plenty of cash or company backing find it difficult to get the necessary documentation to live and work legally here, and black people in particular are often the targets of racism.
This year, the six competing teams are representing Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, Ghana, South Africa, and Ethiopia. 
Nigeria and Cameroon, widely regarded as the favourites, drew yesterday’s opening game 1-1.

The Kurdish Paradox

I have an extended article out today in The Middle East Report Online examining the failure of the so-called ‘Kurdish Opening’, and looking in particular at the relationship between the PKK and the wider Kurdish activist movement, and the trial and ongoing detention of hundreds of Kurdish activists and politicians.

Above is a picture of the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan over a shrine to Ozgur Daghan, who I mention in the story, and who is one of many PKK fighters and Turkish soldiers to have died during the latest upsurge in violence. Despite his incarceration, Ocalan still has a powerful hold over Kurdish society.
I argue in my piece that as long as the Turkish government attacks and rejects the influence of the PKK over Kurdish politics, the more that influence is strengthened.
From the article: 

…the more the government stymies peaceful manifestations of the Kurdish activist movement, the more Kurds regard the guerrillas in the mountains as the only force capable of championing their cause. This dynamic, in turn, feeds the power the PKK holds over the Kurdish people and the political scene… Equally, the PKK finds itself in a bind: By pulling back from the political process, and allowing the Kurdish politicians the independence they need to negotiate meaningfully with the Turkish state, it risks augmenting their power and so losing the position as the voice of the Kurds it believes it has earned through armed struggle.

You can read the whole article here.