by Gordon Taylor | 11/04/2007 08:30:00 PM

The above title is bracketed in quotation marks because it is, a) anything but original and, b) too perfect not to be used again. Think of it as an 18th-century melody: good enough, if coined by a Mozart, to be stolen by as many Salieris as possible--or vice versa. The original article, by Andrew Lee Butters, can be found here, and would make excellent reading even if I hadn't stolen its title. Butters does what I cannot do: he goes directly to Kandil Mountain in Iraq and finds that the women of the PKK are in fact human beings, engrossed in radical feminist and socialist ideology, distracted and sometimes annoyed by their relations with men, and dedicated to fighting--and killing--for a dream which may prove both impossible and fatal.

The above photograph shows Aynur ("moonlight"), or Devrim Siirt, to use her code name, on the right, accompanied by two colleagues, somewhere in the Kurdish mountains. Aynur is the female PKK soldier with whose photo I began this series. I'll post more pictures of Aynur's comrades later, but first I should take note of today's events in the foothills of Kandil Mountain, in Iraq.

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On Saturday afternoon, 11/3/07, Ozgur Gundem, the pro-Kurdish and often-banned Istanbul newspaper, posted on its website the news that three members of Parliament, all members of the minority Democratic Society Party (DTP), had passed through the Khabur Border Gate from Turkey into Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. A few minutes later the paper posted another item predicting that on Sunday, 11/4, the eight Turkish soldiers taken captive on October 21 near Oramar [see my previous post] would be released by the PKK. Today [I started this Sunday night], as predicted (and as reported by the Voice of America, among others), the men were released into the hands of the parliamentary delegation, two of whom were women (as shown above). From the release point the soldiers were taken to Erbil [Arbela, btw, to those familiar with the career of Alexander the Great] and put on a private plane back to Diyarbakir, in Turkey.

In other news from Turkey, which also bears upon the November 5 meeting between Pres. Bush and the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayip Erdogan, demonstrations in Turkish cities opposed the expected cross-border operation by the Turkish Army. In Silopi, a town close to the Iraqi border, a crowd estimated at "tens of thousands" gathered to protest the attack:

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These people are virtually all Turkish-born Kurds. The slogan "Yasa ve Yasat" refers, I believe, to Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader serving a life sentence on Imrali island in the Sea of Marmara. It means, "Long Live [Ocalan] and Keep [him] Alive." This, at least, is my amateurish translation. It probably refers to the widely-held belief, allegedly substantiated by forensic tests, that Ocalan is being slowly poisoned by prison authorities. Other pictures of the same event show scores of Ocalan pictures in the hands of demonstrators. This cannot be a good sign for those who hope to keep order in Kurd-dominated towns once a cross-border attack is launched. And keep in mind that Istanbul, with a population of 2 million Kurds, is the largest Kurdish city in the world.

Meanwhile, in Ankara, a crowd estimated at 40,000 (by also marched in opposition to the proposed cross-border attack. These people, however, were not Kurds. Chief organizers were the Association of Trade Unions, the Association of Architects and Engineers, and the Turkish Union of Physicians. Clearly large and highly respectable segments of the country oppose the ultra-nationalists who are demanding revenge for last month's attacks. A similar meeting took place in Istanbul.

But in the mountains, of course, we have these people:

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Amazing, no? Don't forget to notice what their right hands are resting on, or the magazines of the Kalashnikovs curving upward. And should you think that, Hey, they can't be serious, you'd best think again. I urge those who are interested to find a copy of Voices from the Front, by Nadire Mater, an English translation of what was called "Mehmet's Book" in Turkish (Mehmet being the generic name given to a common soldier in Turkey). In the late 1990s Nadire Mater, a journalist, knew very little about what was going on in the East. She found out by interviewing draftees who had finished their service and returned to civilian life. The resulting book, with its pseudonymous interviewees' accounts of Army brutality--toward both captured guerrillas and the soldiers themselves--caused a sensation. In one memorable account, one man told of a night encounter with the PKK, and of hand-to-hand combat with PKK women whose terrifying image he could not put out of his mind. On the website, of course, the images are a lot friendlier:

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You can't fake a picture like this. You can't put an official government-required Terrorist label on these women and expect the Kurds of Turkey to hate them as traitors and criminals. It just won't work. And of course, it hasn't. The PKK, which began in the 1980s with a Stalinist/Maoist agenda that virtually no Kurds had the least interest in adopting, has now become--thanks to the brutality and intransigence of the Turkish State, plus a moderation of its political goals--a highly popular group among the Kurds of Turkey. They seem to have no trouble attracting recruits, and of course these recruits regularly become "sehitlerimiz" -- "our martyrs." Among whom are people like this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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Yes, all three of the young people pictured above (Yuksel, Nebiha, and Halit) are dead. But lest I be accused of offering only guerrillas who could qualify as movie idols, we should consider these men, weary and dirty, ground down by long months of God-knows-what:

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This is another picture that you can't fake. These guys, obviously, are in no mood to fake anything. They are the kind of toughness that keeps this thing going.

The next couple of posts we'll look at pictures of individual PKK fighters who have died and try, from the bare statistics offered, to get a more complete picture of who these people are. Also, a look at the real "Noah's Ark."




Blogger Bastoche on 11/05/2007 4:50 PM:

Thanks for the link to the Butters essay. It is excellent, and he asks the right questions. For example, was Ocalan, the PKK leader, sincere when from his jail cell he renounced terrorism or was this renunciation “merely a rebranding campaign?” As Butters wryly observes, “the Middle East is full of leaders who have taken up democracy as the flavor of the month but whose real appetite is for power.”

Tekosin, whom Butters calls “the real intellectual force of the [PAJK] group”, was perhaps a leader who took up democracy not to gain power but to remedy injustice. As he does about Ocalan, though, Butters asks a necessary question about this idealistic woman: “How sincere was Tekosin in her embrace of peace and democracy?” Even the most sincere idealist can succumb to the temptation of power. And at what point does a sincere idealism that seeks justice tip over into a distorted idealism that—intellectually rigid, morally self-righteous, and politically inflexible—seeks power and violence and death?

And Aynur? This is a remarkably interesting series, Gordon. I’m very much looking forward to its continuation.


Blogger Gordon Taylor on 11/07/2007 1:37 AM:

Hi, sorry for the delay in responding to your comments. Your questions:

1. "And Aynur?" Ouch. Obviously I never quite get around to saying more about her. But that will be in the context of a longer post, about her and her comrades as well. I'll get there! All this other stuff keeps getting in the way.

2. Are Apo and Tekosin sincere about democracy? Well, who knows? I guess the way to find out is to deal with these people and NEGOTIATE, not stick a "terrorist" label on them and repeat the "We don't negotiate with terrorists" mantra. Remember, it is AGAINST THE LAW in Turkey to refer to the PKK as anything but terrorists. The PKK says they don't target civilians, and they deny that the latest atrocity, the machine-gunning of a minibus in mid-October, was their doing. (The people who lived near the massacre site, by the way, corroborated that. And with the ubiquity of Ak-47s in the area, anybody with a grudge against another clan could easily have done it.) But the Turkish govt. and media immediately labeled it an atrocity by the terrorist PKK, and Western media unquestioningly go along. Anyway, my point is this: the PKK, whatever its past, is taking a line that is a REASONABLE BASIS FOR NEGOTIATION. So, to go back to your question, I don't know who is sincere about peace and democracy. But it definitely is not the Turkish Army, who are really running things.


Blogger Gordon Taylor on 11/07/2007 1:42 AM:

Addendum to the above:

I forgot to include the URL for another essay by Butters, this one at the Time magazine Middle East blog. It's called "The Fog of War in Northern Iraq." Read it at:


Blogger Unknown on 11/07/2007 10:36 AM:

I have to say I agree with Ralph: while the whole series is fabulous, I confess I'm still waiting for more about Aynur. Though you are succeeding in making me read every one of your posts very carefully to see if you've mentioned her again...


Blogger Unknown on 11/07/2007 10:37 AM:

And by "Ralph," I mean "Bastoche" (whose name, as far as I know, is not Ralph). Geez!


Blogger Ahistoricality on 11/07/2007 10:14 PM:

Gordon: I think Bastoche and Jeremy are not getting it. I don't know what you know about the woman, but everything you've posted tells us something important about the environment, culture she lived in and the struggle she joined.

I'm not in a rush this time.


Blogger Bastoche on 11/07/2007 11:25 PM:

Are Apo and Tekosin sincere about democracy? Well, who knows? I guess the way to find out is to deal with these people and NEGOTIATE, not stick a "terrorist" label on them and repeat the "We don't negotiate with terrorists" mantra.

Gordon: I very much agree. Butters, though, brings up a good point, namely that it is possible that “hard-liners within the PKK are determined to goad the Turkish military into invading northern Iraq.” But it is also possible, Butters points out, that “hard-line elements in the Turkish military are trying to provoke clashes with the PKK and use that as an excuse to threaten the Kurds of northern Iraq, and gain leverage over its civilian adversaries in the Turkish government.”

I think it’s more than possible. The Turkish army, as of course you know, considers itself the protector of the great Kemalist ideal of secular government. Their “civilian adversaries,” including Erdogan and Gul, belong to the AKP, the Islamist party that currently holds a majority in the Turkish parliament. What better way for the military to rouse public support for the nationalist ideal—and to keep the AKP in check—than to manufacture clashes with a terrorist group that, so the military maintains, threatens the integrity of the Turkish nation? And for Buyukanit and the military, there’s only one way to deal with such a group—or with any group that subverts the Kemalist ideal—and negotiation isn’t it. I’m sure Erdogan, Gul, and the AKP get the point: the military will act, and not just against guerilla groups, to protect the integrity of its ideal, the secular Kemalist state.

I suppose, too, that Buyukanit and the military are also responding to pressure from the EU to minimize their involvement in civilian government. It seems that they would rather scuttle Turkey’s chance to join the EU as a full member than renounce their traditional right (as they see it) to intervene in both foreign and domestic policy. All for the sake of the Kemalist ideal, of course. None of this has anything to do with maintaining themselves and other members of the secular elite in a position of power.

And by all means, Gordon, get back to Aynur when time and unfolding circumstances allow. I’m a patient guy, and these reports are terrific.

Ahist: Sure I’m getting it! Aynur might be the focal point, but the context enriches the significance of that focal point. And when Gordon circles back to the beginning, Aynur’s story will be that much more compelling because of the details he has provided in the intervening posts. Even if, at the outset, he didn’t plan on telling her story this way, it is, I agree, proving to be effective.


Blogger Gordon Taylor on 11/08/2007 10:48 PM:


1. Aynur. Yikes. I hope I can deliver something that is up to your expectations (without descending into fiction).

2. The Turkish Army, aka the Turk Horde. (Army=ordu in Turkish, from which we get the word horde.) All of Bastoche's speculations are perfectly legitimate. It's just an incredibly complicated and interesting situation. I could--and I might--spend an entire series looking into the officers of the Turkish Army. But there is plenty of info already available online. Yes, they are the high priests of the Ataturk cult, a special group of men who were taken in hand as adolescents, rigorously indoctrinated, and given special privileges--housing, stores, cars--all of their lives. As just a small example let's take Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, the current commander.

Look at Buyukanit's last name. I doubt that he was born with it; probably he adopted it later. It's merely the phrase Anit Kabir reworded in "purer" Turkish. Anit Kabir is the name of Ataturk's mausoleum in Ankara, but the word 'kabir', from 'great' or big, has an Arabic root. Buyukanit uses the Turkish word 'buyuk' (great, big, large) instead. Essentially, the guy has named himself after Ataturk's tomb! You can't get any more blatant than that!

Remember that Buyukanit is just the general currently in charge. According to law (and the Army strictly follows the law in these matters), Buyukanit will serve his term and then retire. Turkish generals are nothing like the caudillos of the Hispanic world.

The EU accession is a whole new complication in this. Yes, certainly it threatens the generals' position and power. But it also possibly affects them in an economic way. What the American MSM media never point out about the Turkish Armed Forces is that they are the third largest capitalist enterprise in Turkey. Their two pension funds, the OYAK and TSKGV, control vast investments. To take only one example of hundreds, they own 51% of the Renault auto factory in Turkey. The TSKGV owns all of Turkey's armaments factories: in other words, they sell arms to the Turkish government, reap the profits for themselves, and use the money to make other investments. With Turkey in the EU, they stand to make huge amounts of money. They probably also are invested in Iraq, investments which would be threatened by an invasion.

I have no idea how all of this is going to play out. But while Turkish society moves forward by leaps and bounds--and it really is incredible the progress Turkey is making--its political and military leaders remain frozen in the same old formulas and rituals.


Blogger Hevallo on 11/09/2007 10:52 AM:

I am also really enjoying this series and will advertise it on my own blog. On second thoughts perhaps I won't as you probably don't want the fanatical Turkish nationalists attacking you as they do me.

I agree with everything that has so far, been said about the Turkish Generals. I quite like the Human Rights Lawyer, Eren Keskin's quote,

"The Kurds are one of the "domestic enemies" that this system, controlled by the military, needs to create in order to sustain its domination. a policy of `non-solution' still dominates the government's approach to the Kurdish issue in Turkey." Eren Keskin, Human rights lawyer, Turkey. April 2006

Here's a little 'Aynur' gem while we are 'waiting for Aynur'. Another Aynur, Aynur Dogan is her name and she is a Kurdish singer in Turkey.

Get your hankies ready, its a sad Kurdish lament.


Blogger Unknown on 11/09/2007 11:21 AM:

Hevallo, we can handle the Turkish Nationalists over here. That's why we have an editor (me) -- so I can chase those folks off Gordon's excellent posts. :)

"The Kurds are one of the "domestic enemies" that this system, controlled by the military, needs to create in order to sustain its domination."

Why does that sound"the turrurists?" Heh.