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Turkey: Children of the repression

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  • Zafar Khan
    Children of the repression Turkish Kurd teenagers turn to the PKK after enduring years of brutality Ian Traynor in Diyarbakir, Turkey Monday June 5, 2006 The
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2006
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      Children of the repression

      Turkish Kurd teenagers turn to the PKK after enduring
      years of brutality

      Ian Traynor in Diyarbakir, Turkey
      Monday June 5, 2006
      The Guardian


      Sevder is seething. Growing up in poverty and squalor,
      he has seen schoolmates shot dead by Turkish security
      forces and had to put up with the vulgar taunts of
      Turkish policemen towards his mother and sisters. His
      grudges have been nourished by endless tales of family
      and friends burnt out of their villages in the hills
      and decanted into the slums of Diyarbakir.

      "We've had enough," says the 17-year-old Kurd, wearing
      a Ronaldinho Brazil T-shirt and crouching in the heat
      and dirt of the teeming city, a couple of hours from
      the Iraqi and Syrian borders.

      Sevder and his friends are part of a new wave of
      militancy among young Turkish Kurds. "There is a
      different generation now in Diyarbakir," says Sezgin
      Tanrikulu, a lawyer. "These youths are aged 14 to 20.
      They've grown up in this place feeling they don't
      belong. We can't communicate with them."
      Hisyar Ozsoy, an anthropologist and expert on Kurdish
      politics, says: "There is something new here. These
      are the children of serhildan [the Kurdish word for
      intifada or uprising]."

      Turkey's long war with its repressed minority of
      Kurds, who comprise up to 20% of the population of 73
      million, runs in cycles. After dying down seven years
      ago, it is now spiralling into a new and threatening

      Subversive nationalist elements within the Turkish
      security apparatus appear to be exploiting the
      conflict to try to destabilise the country and at the
      same time Kurdish warlords, clan leaders and political
      elites are also stirring up trouble in internal power

      Meanwhile the successes of Kurdish autonomy in
      neighbouring northern Iraq are exerting a magnetic
      attraction on the Kurds of south-eastern Turkey eager
      to share in the freedoms enjoyed across the border.

      For Sevder and his friends Cevat and Sinan, their
      debut as street fighters in a new youth-led intifada
      came two months ago during three days of disaster in
      Diyarbakir that left 10 dead, hundreds injured,
      hundreds more arrested and beaten and plenty of scores
      to be settled.

      The rioting erupted during the funerals of four of 14
      Kurdish guerrillas ambushed and killed by Turkish
      security forces. The guerrillas, from the Kurdistan
      Workers' party (PKK) that is considered a terrorist
      organisation by Turkey, Europe and the US, have a
      tight grip on this city of one million people,
      rewarding loyalty, punishing "traitors" and enforcing

      "Of course, we all support the PKK," says Cevat, 17.
      "Every family here has someone in the PKK. "

      The rioting in March and the brutal response of the
      Turkish security forces have worked as an effective
      recruitment drive for the PKK. "We're fed up of the
      discrimination. It doesn't have to be like this," says
      Cevat. "But every time they do something like this,
      more people go into the mountains."

      "Going into the mountains" is a common phrase in
      Diyarbakir. It means going to join the PKK fighters,
      thought to number around 5,000, in their bases in
      nearby northern Iraq.

      At least 100 local youths have gone into the mountains
      in the past month, says Mr Ozsoy. "Guys I know have
      just disappeared. They're like ghosts. You would see
      them in the cafes and now they're not here."

      Selamettin Ata, a 44-year-old grocer whose
      seven-year-old son, Enes, was shot dead by Turkish
      police on March 30, said at least 90% of the city
      sympathised with the PKK. Enes had told his father he
      was going to visit his aunt 200 metres away. He became
      curious about the protests and went to take a look -
      only to receive a bullet in the heart. Enes was the
      youngest of the 10 civilians to be killed during a
      48-hour period. The oldest was 78. Five of the dead
      were teenagers, one of whom died from a cracked skull.
      Another 500 people were wounded.

      The clashes were the worst experienced here in more
      than a decade. Their consequences and the general
      poverty in a city simmering with pent-up frustration
      help to explain why a youth-led intifada could explode
      with greater force at any time.

      During and after the trouble, 180 under-18s were
      detained. According to a report from the Diyarbakir
      bar association based on witness statements and
      medical reports, all of them were subjected to severe
      abuse in detention.

      "Mistreatment and illegal torture was applied. The
      unlawful behaviour of the police lent a new dimension
      to the situation," the report says.

      The teenagers said they had been repeatedly beaten,
      threatened with death and rape, stripped naked,
      immersed in cold water, subjected to high pressure
      hosing and had cigarettes stubbed out on their bodies.

      Three-quarters of the detainees were originally from
      hill villages surrounding Diyarbakir, their militancy
      a legacy of the dirty war that peaked in the early
      1990s in this region when the Turkish army used a
      scorched earth policy to depopulate thousands of
      Kurdish villages in the mountains.

      As a result 1.5 million Kurds were displaced, pouring
      into cities such as Diyarbakir, which has tripled in
      size in little more than a decade. Unemployment is
      almost 70% and there are estimated to be 28,000
      children spending most of their lives on the streets -
      700 of them scratching a living from combing the
      city's rubbish dumps.

      The Turks emptied the mountain villages partly to try
      to destroy the rural base of the guerrillas. Instead,
      they have created an urban guerrilla movement.

      Faced with this crisis, the Turkish government of
      Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to be at a loss. Mr
      Erdogan has won plaudits for coming to Diyarbakir
      twice during the past year, signalling a policy shift
      towards conciliation and concession. But he has not
      followed up the promises and the Kurdish political
      leadership is disenchanted.

      The Democratic Society party (DTP), the main Kurdish
      nationalist party generally seen as the PKK's
      political wing or the Kurds' Sinn Féin, runs 56 town
      halls across south-eastern Turkey. But the real power
      in the region is wielded by the Turkish military and
      Ankara bureaucrats dispatched as regional governors.

      The Turkish electoral system is structured to keep the
      Kurdish nationalists out of parliament in Ankara. A
      party needs 10% of the national vote to enter
      parliament. The DTP, which gained 45% of the vote
      across much of the south-east in the last election in
      2002, cannot obtain 10% nationally.

      In the absence of political channels, the men of
      violence on both sides hold sway. The children of
      Diyarbakir are growing up to swell the ranks of the

      In the centre of Diyarbakir hangs a red and white
      banner draped across a main road. "Happy is he who is
      a Turk," it reads, a mockery to Selamettin Ata
      mourning the death of his son. "I'm not allowed to say
      I'm a Kurd and be proud of it," he says.


      Kurds, a 20 million-strong mountain and tribal people
      of Sunni Muslims, are divided between northern Iraq,
      Syria, Iran and Turkey, which has the biggest
      community, of up to 15 million - the exact figure is
      not known. After a long history of uprising and brutal
      suppression through the 20th century, the current
      Turkish-Kurdish conflict erupted in 1984, with
      Abdullah Ocalan, the charismatic guerrilla leader of
      the Kurdistan Workers' party, leading the rebellion.

      A long dirty war followed, with Turkish death squads
      and ruthless Kurdish guerrillas sowing terror.
      Thousands of Kurdish villages in the south-east were
      torched and 1.5 million Kurds uprooted before the
      Kurds called a ceasefire in 1999 after Ocalan,
      Turkey's enemy number one, was arrested and
      incarcerated. The war resumed in 2004 when the rebels
      called off their truce. The conflict is currently
      escalating. In 20 years , it has resulted in around
      40,000 deaths

      More about Islam and Muslims in Turkey at:
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