Occupied Kurdistan – Report from an election observer
Some anarchists say: „I don’t understand these national movements. What are they fighting for? To have their own police.” But worse than having your own police is being occupied by foreign forces.
In Kurdistan you see army stations on every hilltop, the gated communities of the gendarmes next to containers housing earthquake victims. From the central square of Wan, you see the Turkish flag on the mountain above the city, underneath, a slogan by Atatürk painted on the mountain: “How happy is he, who calls himself a Turk.”
And how is life below this master race?
Cops and soldiers are sent in from opposite sides of the country. They have their own fenced-off districts, their own schools and their own parks. It looks like half the buildings in the city (and all the livable ones) house Turkish troops. When they’re on duty, many cover their faces, so the people of Van don’t recognize them on the street.
Armored cars and tanks roll around like taxis. The office of the governor, who is not elected, but set up by the Turkish government, is a fortress. On election day, every school is surrounded by gunmen with German and Russian MGs. It’s hard to tell if these insecurity forces are soldiers, cops or Korucus.
In the 1990s, the Turkish army razed Kurdish villages 50 kilometers around Van and deported the people to more “controllable” environments. The 2011 earthquake destroyed what remained. Quarries and cement factories replaced homes. In the months before the election, 9 HDP officials from the Van province alone were either randomly arrested or had to go into hiding. More than 500 HDP members throughout Turkey were arrested, at least 250 supporters killed in bomb attacks by “unknown” assailants. So it felt a little silly to observe the formal correctness of the elections, when the preceding months were one big massacre.
I visited the Muradiye district, a Kurdish region about 1 hour from Van. Farmhouses are rebuilt in the cheapest fashion. Children run around without jackets in November. A former middle school is a pile of rabble. Now 1000 kids have to share an elementary school with 5 or 6 rooms. In summer they learn outside, in winter they don’t come at all. The residents blame the AKP governor of Van for neglecting Kurdish districts.
A graffiti on a private house jokes: “Turkish Republic don’t come here.” It’s both a fact and a warning. Germans might not see nagging as resistance, but in Turkey, both can get you shot.
Atatürk stares down Kurdish kids from atop every blackboard, framed by his “Address to the Youth” and the “Istiklal March”. Instead of butterflies, children are told to draw pictures of young Kemal’s bloody battles against the enemies of the nation – against their forefathers. The schoolyards are barren lots, the rooms heated with coal.
It’s a very shameless copy of the 1930s in Europe. While downtown Van is growing way too fast, the hills are slums, where “11 months are winter and 1 month Ramadan.”
I wonder why in Europe I often hear that Kurds are mad because they aren’t allowed to speak their own language and dance traditional jigs. It sounds like they have CSD issues.
In reality, they are hardly allowed to eat their own food, and they have no reason to dance. That’s what they’re fighting for and what the “Peoples’ Democratic Party” aims to promote, not just for one minority. Around 60% of their members are not Kurdish, their female leader, Figen Yüksekdag, comes from a family of MHP-supporting Turks.
But many Kurds also support Erdogan. They expect him to put food on the table and strengthen the provinces. (Because when he speaks of raising traditional values, he means property values in traditional areas.)
So although the majority in Van, like the rest of Kurdistan, voted for the HDP in the parliamentary elections of 1 November 2015, it was no easy victory.
In the Kurdish village of Acikyol, Muradiye district, we saw a local AKP leader (bright jacket) beating voters and a journalist outside of the polling station. He also physically intimidated the female HDP deputy, who arrived to resolve the conflict.
Why was I surprised that Kurdistan is under military rule? No water for the natives, swimming pools for the occupiers. It would take 20 minutes to bomb any village to pebbles. Politicians are imprisoned, angry teenagers shot on the spot, teachers and preachers are government leechers, there’s no food, no heat, no electricity for many, but lots of power for a few. This is Kurdistan, this is Ferguson, this is Palestine, and it this is not a single issue.