Monthly Archives: April 2011

Anger among Kurdish youth… and some depressing news

Abdullah Demirbas, the Kurdish mayor of Sur Municipality in Diyarbakir. On his desk is a picture of his son who ran away to join the PKK guerrillas. I have a story up on Eurasianet about the dangers of growing radicalism within Kurdish youth.

Although prompt comment on current news events isn’t exactly this blog’s forte, two depressing developments have come to my attention that are worth highlighting.

The first is the decision of Turkey’s electoral board to bar 12 candidates, including the veteran Kurdish politician Leyla Zana and five other Kurdish candidates, from running for parliament in the upcoming election. You can read a good piece in the Economist about Zana’s past and current election bid here.
The court ruling has seriously harmed the electoral prospects of the main Kurdish party, the BDP. It has now threatened to boycott the elections, which I think could be a serious blow to the democratic integrity of Turkey’s political system. The BDP (not for the first time) would also be shooting itself in the foot.
It is not dissimilar to Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland in terms of its close links to the PKK; there’s no point pretending otherwise. This partly explains why the courts have pursued its politicians so ruthlessly. 
But the BDP is committed to a peaceful political solution to Kurdish grievances, and are the most legitimate democratic voice of the Kurds in Turkey. They need to be accepted in mainstream politics  rather than imprisoned.
Which brings me to the second depressing development (more a comment than a development, really).
PM Erdogan has uttered yet more words destined to be endlessly quoted against him by anyone with an axe to grind, and of course by journalists such as myself. During a speech yesterday he declared that ‘there is no Kurdish problem anymore’. 
Maybe this was a reference to the decision by the electoral board to strike out the Kurdish candidates who would have competed with his own party? I’m guessing not. Erdogan is obviously posturing for the Turkish nationalist vote ahead of the election. 
Having spent a lot of time in Diyarbakir over the past few weeks, I can emphatically say that there is a Kurdish problem. 
The piece I did for Eurasianet that went up yesterday (link at top of post) shows the potential seriousness of this problem at the current moment.
Kurdish kids at a recent protest in Diyarbakir.

Turkey’s gender war

I have a piece up on the Christian Science Monitor focusing on the extraordinary statistics released by Turkey’s Justice Ministry suggesting that murders of women have increased by 1,400 percent over seven years, from 66 killings in 2002, to 953 in the first seven months of 2009.

Honour killings and domestic violence seem to have almost reached epidemic proportions, judging by the almost daily cases reported in the Turkish press.

Despite talking to a wide range of people, I could not get a convincing explanation of why and how such an extraordinary rise could be possible.

Not many people I spoke questioned the accuracy of the data, or suggested that improved recording methods could account for it (though the year-on-year figures show pretty regular increases, not a sudden jump, as you’d expect if recording criteria had changed).

The vast majority of women’s groups believe society is becoming more conservative, and see the government as the prime culprit. However they were generally unable to cite much evidence to support this beyond a couple of quotes from PM Erdogan. I was left with the feeling that although the government has (as in so many other areas) been more concerned with appearing to do something about this problem than actually doing it, it is not quite the pervasive malignant influence that some claim.

I simply cannot believe that men are running around en masse killing their wives, daughters, sisters etc, simply because the governing politicians have some unsavoury prejudices regarding women’s rights.

My personal view is that this rise is at least partially down to better policing. Meanwhile, demographic changes, globalizaiton, and particularly the growth of active civil society movements and rising living standards mean more women want to live lives outside of what men view as their proper boundaries.

At the same time, Turkey is totally unequipped to give these women any way of escaping the violent men who threaten them. The government is probably genuine in its wish to stop the violence, but has little interest in helping women escape their traditional roles.

This cocktail of factors is giving rise to many, many awful crimes.

Recent work…

Apologies for not posting for a while. I can only partly claim the excuse of the intermittent ban on Blogger in Turkey, which went away, but now appears to be back.

I went to the traditional Kurdish spring festival of Newroz (‘Nevruz’ in Turkish) recently in Diyarbakir, which was a fairly extraordinary experience. We were told there were a million people there, which I could believe.

The way in which Kurdish traditions have fused with the symbolism of the PKK is extraordinary. The crowd was a sea of Ocalan flags, with many men (and little boys as young as three) wearing the dark green fatigues of the rebels.

Just as extraordinary were the heights to which some people climbed in order to get a better look and wave banners:

I did a photoessay that appeared on SETimes, and you can see it here.

It was an odd hybrid of angry demonstration and family day out. There was a striking contrast between the many families who had apparently just come along for a quiet picnic, and the youths with covered faces brandishing Ocalan banners and chanting slogans.

At a gathering the following day in one of Diyarbakir’s main parks, kids throwing stones at riot police were being exhorted to show restraint by their elders. I’m returning to Diyarbakir on Tuesday to write more about this disconnect between an older generation keen on peace and dialogue as a means to solve the Kurdish problem, and the youngsters who are disillusioned or impatient with this approach.

Turkey’s leaders need to take solid steps towards some kind of resolution with the current generation of Kurds, because they may find the next generation far harder to deal with.


I’ve had a couple more pieces out about Turkey’s hydro-engineering programme. One piece for the Christian Science Monitor looks at the issue in the national context and in terms of Turkey’s surging energy needs. The other, for Eurasianet, is taking a closer look at the Allianoi situation specifically.


A few months ago I wrote about an Iranian couple who fled to Turkey after suffering terrible persecution in Iran (see previous post). The good news is that they have both gained refugee status now, and have been provisionally approved to move to the United States. I did an audio report for SETimes on the difficulties of their lives in Turkey, and their hopes and fears for the future.


Finally, I’ve also written about the Libya crisis recently, visiting some wounded Benghazi fighters and demonstrators who are in hospital in Istanbul. You can read my report for SETimes here.