by Gordon Taylor | 4/13/2008 10:53:00 PM
There's always news from Turkey, where repression bears down, emotions run hot, and something is always boiling over. (Rather like the rest of Planet Earth, but at a greater concentration.)

First, there is information about Cuneyt Ertus, the 15-year-old boy whose arm was mangled on-camera by a security agent during recent Newroz demonstrations. After his arrest in Hakkari, the boy was taken to prison in Bitlis, many miles away and a long day's drive for his parents and lawyers, at the west end of Lake Van. His case has only recently been adopted by Amnesty International, who urged members to write Turkish officials about him. Today Cuneyt was released, and after inspection at the State Hospital in Van he was allowed to go home to Hakkari. It remains to be seen what long-term injuries, if any, he sustained. We'll come back to this story if new information is posted.

Next there is pleasant news: not exciting, not troubling, just--nice. In the southeast, on the Iraqi border, the town of Silopi sits amid a triangle of land bounded by the Tigris on the west, the Khabur and Hezil rivers on the south and east, and to the north the mass of Cudi Dağı (pron. Judi Daah), a mountain about which I have written before. The Khabur River provides the town's biggest source of income, for on the north side of that stream sits the only border gate between Turkey and the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Here the Turkish Army is massed in a threatening (and useless) array, and here the Iraq-bound trucks sit baking in the sun for days and weeks, in a line ten miles long. Between the trucks on one hand and Turkish tanks on the other, Silopi's people eke out a living.

This weekend Silopi is celebrating neither trucks nor rivers but their mountain. These people know the "genuine" landing-place of Noah's Ark, after all; it has been part of local tradition for thousands of years, long before a European traveler tagged the other, Armenian, mountain as the Biblical Ararat. And since they know the story, they are using this springtime of rising water in the Tigris to celebrate the second annual "Silopi Cudi Noah Culture and Arts Festival." Sporting the slogan, "Art Comes Alive with Cudi," the festival features visiting musicians, folk dancers, and art exhibits (including one at the local prison entitled "Freedom Behind Walls"), as well as plenty of mayors from nearby towns to shake hands, make speeches, and give it an official air. (Most of these politicians and artists, by the way, had to pass through military check-points in order to get there.) Give these people credit, folks. In the least likely of places, they are celebrating the life they have.

For other news, I'll first put in a link to Mizgin, who has her own post about America's "model democracy" for the Middle East. Of war and repression there is always news aplenty, and Cuneyt was not the only victim of Newroz violence. Yuksekova, another mountain town near the Iranian border, was rocked by the Newroz events. Two people were shot to death by police during the week of demonstrations, and now a third, Fahrettin Sedar, 37, has died of bullet wounds in the hospital at Van. According to reports, over 600 vehicles accompanied his body on its return journey to Yuksekova, and 10,000 people walked with his family to the cemetery. The crowd shouted pro-PKK slogans and made repeated calls for revenge. One of the slogans, "Youth to Botan, Freedom to the Country" made reference to the mountain district where the PKK makes camp and fights a lot of its battles. (Bohtan [or Botan], a geographical area shared by Turkey and Iraq, was the emirate ruled by the Bedr Khan family, prominent figures in Kurdish nationalist history.)

Given this kind of anger, we can perhaps believe a PKK spokesman named Bozan Tekin, who, during a recent interview with Agence France-Presse, claimed that guerrilla ranks have now swollen to between eight and ten thousand fighters. [Same thing posted at Rasti.] Obviously there is no way to confirm this figure; however, I think it's significant that he made the boast at all. Previously the guerrillas have claimed about 5,000 soldiers. Even if we cut his estimate considerably we have to say that it jibes with recent PKK announcements which told of new graduating classes at their "military academy" in the mountains. This shows that the war is likely to get worse, not better. When PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in the late 1990s, an anonymous American diplomat was quoted as saying that, with his capture, "ninety percent of Turkey's excuses for not solving the Kurdish problem are now gone." That was almost ten years ago, and the PKK was on the ropes. Now the Turks have managed to build up the PKK's strength from nearly nothing to a reputed 10,000. Tebrik ederim, beyler. Many congratulations indeed.

The Turks' big offensive of late February to March had scarcely ended before new clashes were reported by both the Turkish Army and the PKK's website, and they have continued into April. I have no intention of rehashing press releases by either side, but what is remarkable is the geographical scope of the clashes: not only their number, but the widely separated places in which they have occurred. The PKK has claimed attacks in a swath of territory stretching from Hatay (formerly the Sanjak of Alexandretta), on the Mediterranean, to Mt. Ararat, on the Armenian and Iranian borders. The Besta Mts. clash (in Sirnak, just north of the Iraq border) seems to have been the biggest, with (says the PKK) twenty Turkish soldiers killed, one Cobra helicopter downed, and four PKK guerrillas (including photographer/filmmaker Halil Uysal) dead. Further north, in Tunceli (Dersim) province, the PKK reported an attack by one of their YJA-STAR units: in other words, girls in pony tails carrying Kalashnikovs and looking to blow your head off. (They will do it, too; but they will also die, as several have done already in 2008.) All this, as I've said, will get worse. One pro-PKK newspaper, Ozgur Gundem, is already reporting that a joint operation is being planned by the Turkish Army and Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Their aim: probably PKK and PAJK (anti-Iranian Kurds) installations in the region of Qandil Mountain. Such an operation, of course, will not succeed; it will, if anything, only succeed in killing more sheep and goats.

I'll close with links to three stories.

First, the horrific. The nude body of a young Italian artist, Pippa Bacca, was found this weekend in bushes near the town of Gebze, on the Sea of Marmara south of Istanbul. The details are too painful to recount. The mass-market daily Hurriyet proclaimed in a headline, We Are Ashamed! This BBC link tells her story. I will only say this: DO NOT HITCH-HIKE IN TURKEY. Do not do it. Turkish peasants are the kindest of people. Any village will take in a traveler and treat him as an honored guest. The Turkish transportation system has been designed to accomodate every class of passenger. It is easy to find cheap transport. Ordinary Turkish workers and peasants simply do not understand it when middle-class kids from rich western nations come to Turkey and beg for rides. Especially this would be true if they were girls dressed up in bridal gowns as a stunt. DO NOT HITCH-HIKE IN TURKEY. PAY THE FARE AND RIDE A BUS.

Next, from the Times of London, the story of Yakup Satar, a Crimean Tatar, aged 110, who was Turkey's last living soldier from the Great War. Now they are virtually all gone. Highly recommended.

And last, in a week which saw the death of that phoniest of heroes, Charlton Heston, we get the story of Ragip Zarakolu [also at Rasti], a Turkish publisher who has spent a lifetime making books and going to jail for having made them. I've said in past posts that if the Nobel Committee wanted to find qualified recipients for the Peace Prize, they could come to Turkey and find a dozen more qualified than Al Gore in less than a day. Ragip Bey is one of those people.

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Anonymous Anonymous on 4/15/2008 10:16 PM:

Thanks for passing on the information about Cuneyt Ertus. If his arm isn't broken then he must be double-jointed or otherwise bizarrely flexible. Regardless I hope he is doing well and wasn't terrorized while in police custody. What was certainly broken that day was anyone's heart--when they looked at the close-up of his crying eyes.
So he was held on what charges...
Why did they take him to prison at all...
I wonder if his family wants to take his case to the EU court of human rights, if so I'd like to make a website to support their case.
Also, the PKK already won...they are fighting for autonomous Kurdish regions in each of the four parts and there is already one now. The only problem is Turkish Kurds snobbishly look down on the southern Kurds; every Kurd from Turkey I talk to has some excuse or another for not moving to southern Kurdistan. I think the problem is Turkish propaganda, I told a Turkish friend of mine about the new university in Hawler, and I sent the link to the website so they could look at it, but the link didn't work--in Turkey that is! Yes, the website was blocked, WTF!
If you are not in Turkey, you can check it out here


Blogger Gordon Taylor on 4/17/2008 12:54 AM:


I'm grateful for the comment. There already are a couple of interviews with C.E. which have been published on the Internet. I'm trying to translate them into English, but I'm very slow. Probably Mizgin at Rasti will publish them about the time that I've finished. I'll try to get them out tonight, but there's no guarantee. Cuneyt was definitely beaten and abused further while in police custody; he says as much in the articles. The photos which have been published do not show his arm in a sling, even though he still cannot use it, a definite indication (to me at least) that he really has not had proper medical attention.

Your other point, about the "snobbishness" of Turkish Kurds, is really not relevant, in my opinion. One could write about this at length--book length, to be sure. Google articles by Martin van Bruinessen and Paul White for more info. Keep in mind that the Kurds are not unified linguistically. Most of Turkish Kurds speak the Kermanji dialect, but the Kurds of Dersim (Tunceli) speak Zaza, a much different tongue. In northern Iraq (the KDP/Barzani area), they speak Kermanji (aka Behdinani), but in the PUK(Talabani) areas and in Iran there are other dialects, e.g., Sorani and Gorani. It is a very complicated subject, one about which I am not really qualified to speak at length. But I do know that "snobbishness" is really the wrong word to describe all the divisions that exist. Remember that Turkey has more Kurds than all the rest of the countries put together, and it is for those people that the PKK is supposed to be fighting. I don't believe they claim any pan-Kurdish ambitions; not now, at least.