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<nettime> Sharpeville, Cizre and Pristina
ertmil on Tue, 13 Apr 1999 15:24:29 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Sharpeville, Cizre and Pristina


Robert Miller

Sharpeville, Cizre and Pristina.

I would suspect that most middle aged liberals with a social conscience
and politically aware younger folk would be able to react in some way if
they were challenged to explain what they knew about the Sharpeville
massacre or the bombing of Pristina. One a poignant historical moment in
the quest for democracy in South Africa, the latter a present day human
catastrophe which seems to me at the time of writing this piece a major
humanitarian blunder on the part of the NATO strategists. After forty
years the horror of Sharpeville is still ingrained in the psyche of a
generation as a turning point in the freedom struggle of the black
majority in South Africa at the height of the apartheid regime. Pristina
is currently the centre of the struggle for self-determination by the
ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo; events in Kosovo packaged for us
within the sanitised rhetoric of CNN sound bites. The purpose of this
article is to highlight another recent set of events involving thousands
of Kurds who chose to demonstrate across Europe and around the world in
recent weeks. Cizre (pronounced "Jizeereh") is a Kurdish town. What can
the average man or woman in the street tell me about this dusty town close
to the border between south east Turkey and Syria, an area referred to on
many maps as North Kurdistan.

Unfortunately for the Kurdish people, the world does not know of what
happened in Cizre on March 21, 1992, coincidentally the anniversary of the
horrendous massacre of March 21, 1960 in Sharpeville. I came across a
videotape of the Cizre massacre, filmed by a German documentary team,
whilst I searched for the reason for such a well organised and spontaneous
wave of demonstrations by Kurds around the world in the wake of the recent
abduction of Guerrilla leader Abdullah calan in Kenya. My investigations
designed to get to the root of the anguish and draw conclusions in an
attempt to explain the tremendous outpouring of despair by Kurds of all
political persuasions throughout the Kurdish Diaspora, following the
arrest of calan. The most shocking manifestation and most difficult aspect
for many westerners to understand were the many cases of self-immolation
in protest at the abduction of calan. What could drive so many human
beings to such despair and frustration as to commit this ultimate act?  I
directed my investigations into the Kurdish psyche in an attempt to
understand what could drive so many people to articulate their inner pain
in inflicting upon themselves such agony.

I intended to visit the south east of Turkey during the recent Kurdish New
Year "Newroz" celebrations. However, due to a complete media clampdown
journalists were strictly forbidden from entering the region. An action
which brought no outcry from Turkey's NATO allies even though similar
tactics in Kosovo by the Serbian authorities of course drew international
condemnation about the suppression of press freedom. So given the
restrictions in Turkey I began to carry out research to try and get close
to the problem at hand. I started by carefully reading the Turkish
constitution. Having visited Turkey as a journalist in the past I know the
beauty of Turkey. A country with so much to offer the world and
strategically so important to western interests in the Middle East.
However, I did find the constitution a little draconian to say the least.
The constitution can be found on the website of the Turkish Embassy in
Washington. This constitutional document drawn up following the military
coup of September 12th 1980 is very much the legacy of a man who in the
words of the document is described as Turkey's "Immortal leader and
unrivalled hero" Mustafa Kemal, known to the Turkish people as "Ataturk" -
father of the Turks.

As a member of NATO with the second largest armed forces in the alliance
one may be forgiven for believing that the current excursions into Serbian
airspace and the threat of ground troops being sent into Kosovo is being
fully supported by Turkey. However, the current conflict has led to many
allegations in the western press and television phone in programmes on CNN
of double standards.  Turkey's position in NATO and the treatment of the
estimated 12 million Kurds within Turkey's borders being analogous to the
attitude of the Serbs to the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The Turkish
attitude to the ethnic Kurds who make up an estimated one quarter of the
Turkish population minorities being curiously similar if somewhat larger
in scale to the situation in Yugoslavia. In Turkey it is claimed that all
people are equal under the constitution and it is a fact that Kurds can
play a role in Turkish life at all levels as long as they agree to one
precept. This precept is written in the constitution and as an ideology
seen by many Kurds and western observers to be equally as abhorrent as
apartheid. Namely, the Turkish policy of enforced assimilation and
attempted extermination of the existence of the Kurdish identity. During a
press briefing on CNN (second of April 99)  Emma Bonino, European Union
spokesperson on Humanitarian Affairs stated that it is equally as much an
act of genocide to strip a people of their homes, identities and culture
as the total extermination of the people themselves. Of course she was
talking of the stripping of identity from the Kosovo ethnic Albanians
fleeing the carnage in Pristina and throughout Kosovo, not the Kurds.

Article three of the Turkish constitution states that "The Turkish state,
with its territory and nation, in an indivisible entity. Its language is
Turkish". In some ways I can understand the simplicity of this aspiration
When the Turkish state was formed following the collapse of the Ottoman
Empire and the trauma of the first world war, Ataturk must have felt the
need as a leader for consolidation. The many ethnic peoples would have to
give up their identity in the interests of a strong Turkish nation. Social
engineering was not a new concept in the region; recognition by the French
government recently of the genocide in Armenia is ample evidence of the
Turkish policy of ethnic cleansing in the first quarter of this century.
The Turkish constitution states that although all citizens have rights,
the constitution states that these rights are withdrawn once a Turkish
citizen expresses the need to exhibit the culture and language of their
specific subculture within Turkish territorial boundaries. These acts are
deemed by the constitution to be separatist and therefore terrorist in
nature. The message is clear, direct and rigorously enforced. This means
that the Kurds in the south east of the country have since 1922 been
forced to submit to a policy of assimilation to the prescribed identity of
the Turkish constitution. If Turkey's NATO ally the United Kingdom
enforced a similar policy as lain down by the Turkish State authorities.
It would mean that the Welsh language would be banned. Tanks could be
deployed on the streets of Welsh villages, if in defiance of the
constitution. Welsh people gathering to sing using the Welsh language,
dance and dress in accordance with Welsh culture, be at risk of death,
incarceration and torture; celebrating St David's day would be seen as a
separatist act, all participants would immediately be stripped of their
rights under the constitution.

In 1992, the Kurdish New Year celebrations in Cizre witnessed, as every
year, undaunted by savage repression, a gathering of thousands of Kurds.
They come together has they have for centuries to celebrate their culture
in defiance of the ban. Watching the documentary about Cizre reminded me
so much of the Sharpeville massacre I was transported back in time to the
evening I first watched the scenes of that grim day in the Townships of
the Apartheid regime. I recalled the discussions around me, the measures
that should be taken against such a regime, and the expressions of disgust
and indignation at the act perpetrated on people protesting with dignity
in peaceful defiance of an ideology both repugnant and indefensible.
However, that was the sixties and now due to world pressure the people in
the Townships have their President released and the truth and
reconciliation commission tries to smooth the path toward the "Rainbow"
nation. The world took action in the case of South Africa and the
apartheid regime was dismantled as the South African government was forced
to come into line with world opinion.

I interviewed the South African Member of Parliament and spokesperson on
Justice and Foreign Affairs, Mr Imam Gassan Soloman in Istanbul some 18
months ago. I was in Turkey on assignment and chose to attend a press
conference called by Mr Soloman and other's who had attempted to visit the
stricken Kurdish areas in vain. Turkish police stormed the press
conference for the meeting was deemed illegal as promoting separatism;
many western journalists were beaten and arrested including my colleague
Julia Clarke, a freelance photographer from London. Mr Soloman, was
convinced that there were indeed great similarities between apartheid and
the assimilationist policies in Turkey, primarily the methods used to
implement both ideologies. "The Kurdish population of Turkey are in
exactly the same position that the black majority in South Africa found
themselves in 1974. The patterns of repression and achievable goals for
the 12 million Kurds in Turkey are those we faced at that time." he told
me in the Istanbul hotel which had its revolving door completely destroyed
by riot police in an attempt to stop him addressing those assembled. Mr
Soloman was a participant on the "Musa Anter Peace Train" initiative. An
initiative within which many leading political figures and human rights
representatives, of all political persuasions, attempted to travel to the
capital of the predominantly Kurdish south east for a cultural festival,
only to be turned back by tanks 40 miles short of their destination. While
an estimated one thousand Kurds were arrested, as immeasurable numbers
gathered in Diyarbakir to greet the delegations who were prevented from
arriving by the Turkish authorities.
    

Like the people of Sharpville in their day, the people of Cizre suffered
greatly during the Newroz celebrations of March 92, so vividly captured by
the German documentary team of Michael Enger and Hans-Peter Weymer. Some
150 people died in the mayhem that day in Cizre including a journalist
accompanying the German duo, as in Sharpeville, many of those who died
were shot in the back. This year's news blackout of the happenings in the
Kurdish areas of Turkey during the Newroz celebrations has raised renewed
cause for concern. Turkish Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit stated in a
recent interview circulated by Reuters that "There is no Kurdish issue in
Turkey just a PKK problem". The PKK being the Kurdistan Worker's Party
whose leader Abdullah calan's arrest sparked the protests within the
Kurdish Diaspora in Europe. The Turkish Prime Minister chose to ignore the
CNN reports of 8000 arrests during the Newroz celebrations.

In an attempt to put things into context I visited the website of the
United States, State Department and looked for documentation on the Human
Rights record in Turkey for the past year. I found a document drawn up by
the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, dated
26th of February 99. The document some 29 pages long, a litany of human
rights abuses against the Kurdish population in Turkey that makes the
footage of Cizre and Sharpeville combined seem feeble evidence in
comparison. No PKK propaganda here just hard facts from the United States,
State Department a document that surely lies in the files of U.S.
Secretary of State Madeline Albright's office.  Six extracts from the
report:

"The (Turkish) constitution does not recognise the Kurds as a national,
racial, or ethnic minority."

"Extrajudicial killings, including deaths in detention from the excessive
use of force "mystery killings" and disappearances continue.  Torture
remains widespread."

"The government continued to use the 1991 Anti-Terror Law, with its broad
and ambiguous definition of terrorism, to detain both alleged terrorists
and others on the charge that their acts, words, or ideas constituted
dissemination of separatist propaganda."

"In January (of last year) journalists Mehmet Topaloglu, Selahatin Akinci,
and Bulent Dil were killed in a police raid on an alleged militants' house
in Adana. According to Human Rights Foundation, the evidence of witnesses
did not support the police version of events. An autopsy on Topaloglu
found 11 bullets and a broken shoulder. Cigarette burns, drill marks,
multiple fractures and traces of strangulation were noted on Dil's body."

"In April (of last year) the Istanbul Chamber of Doctors certified that
two and a half year old Azat Tokmat showed physical and psychological
signs of torture after detention in at the Istanbul branch of the
anti-terror police. The child was burned with cigarettes and kicked in an
effort to make Azat's imprisoned mother confess to PKK membership."

"The exact number of persons forcibly displaced from villages in the south
east since 1984 is unknown. Most estimates agree that 2,600 to 3,000
villages and hamlets have been depopulated. A few non governmental
organisations (NGO's) put the number forcibly displaced as high as 2
million."

It seems that NATO countries "depopulate" while NATO's enemies "ethnically
cleanse". We are not talking about Serbian attacks on Kosovo here, but
Turkish policy in the Kurdish regions of the south east and throughout
Turkey. So as a westerner I now start to understand what will make a Kurd
living in alienation in the west turn to the action of self-immolation, to
commit an act of premeditated suicide in protest. There can be no more
painful way to die than in a ball of flames followed by agonising hours on
operating tables. To be viewed as so worthless that the world fails to act
when atrocities such as Cizre take place. There have been countless
Cizre's in Kurdistan not to mention the horrors of Saddam Hussein's Anfal
campaign in Northern Iraq, (South Kurdistan) typified by the chemical
weapons attack in Halabja, in which 5000 persons died. The singer, much
loved amongst the Kurds, Shivan Perwer composed a song about Halabja
entitled "Hawar". I spoke to one Kurdish journalist and asked him to
define the word "hawer" to me. "It is difficult he said, wait one minute".
He returned with a picture of Iraqi motorists applauding at the roadside
as Kurds were being lined up and shot during the "Anfal" campaign. He
pointed to the look of terror on the face of one woman, screaming skyward
as the bullets hit her body. "This is "hawar", sheer hopelessness, sorrow,
dejection, with no road to safety, whichever way you run. This is the
plight of the Kurds".

Maybe one day the Kurds may gain the right to live within their own
culture in a greater Turkey, or within the "safe havens" of Northern Iraq.
The average Kurd being offered the same rights as their European minority
counterparts such as the Welsh, Scots, Flemish and Wallonians, or those
within the cantons of Switzerland. Surely, that will be the day Turkey can
become a genuine European partner, and a respected member of the NATO
alliance, not before. Surely, Turkey will firstly have to become a
"Rainbow" nation inclusive of the yellow and green of the one quarter of
the population to add to the red with white crescent of the Turkish
majority. Only when the Kurds feel that the world genuinely sees them as
worthy of cultural identity, human rights and dignity like the black South
African majority and the people of Kosovo. Only when the feeling of being
ignored by the world dissipates, will the protests and self-immolation
stop, the Kurdish issue is not going to go away, freedom is a process not
an event. It is time the United States and Europe acted to ensure that the
process gets under way for the Kurds.

Robert Miller Freelance Journalist


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