By Yasar Kemal
“Increase your cruelty and thereby hasten your decline.” – Anatolian proverb
Perhaps for the first time in history, a century has acquired a name before it has even begun: the 21st century will be called the “century of human rights”. In our century, we have made no progress in this field. Worse, on the threshold of the 21st century there are many signs that we have turned one hundred and eighty degrees and are running in the opposite direction.
From October 28, 1923, the very first day of its founding, until today, the Turkish Republic has developed into a system of unbearable repression and cruelty. It has tried to hide from the eyes of humanity with the oriental art of feigning and deviousness. The Turkish Republic has established such a tyranny over the Anatolian people that they wish thousandfold the return of the Ottoman autocracy.
Until the introduction of a multiparty system in 1946, there could not have been a single villager be it a young girl, woman, Kurd, Turk or Laz who did not endure the lashes of the gendarmes. Like a hurricane, the republican force blew over Anatolia destroying everything. How is it that the people in Turkey could suffer so much cruelty, torture, poverty, and hunger for over 70 years? This is indeed a miracle.
To establish such a regime of repression in a country on the border of Europe is not an easy venture. The Turkish state has accomplished it. For that, its citizens have paid a high price. They have lost their human honour.
Are our people entirely innocent? No, of course not, but how could the population living under such horrific rules of the republic still have the strength to resist after having been oppressed, trampled on, tormented for thousands of year, and driven into an endless succession of wars? Let us not forget that hundreds of Kuyucu Murat Pasha (Ottoman general, died 1611, who massacred rebels in the Taurus mountains and had their bodies thrown into wells.) have marched through Anatolia and each one of them displayed ten times the destructive potential of Ghengiz Khan.
Turkey changed into a multiparty system in 1946, and in 1950 the Democratic Party took power from the hands of the tyrannical Republican People’s Party. That was a real miracle which an enslaved people, robbed of their rights, had achieved. But the founder of the Democratic Party came from the top bodies of the Republican People’s Party. For them, the word democracy was an impenetrable black curtain behind which they hid. With this democratic subterfuge, Turkey gained entrance to the European Council and the NATO. Has Europe let itself be deceived by this lie? Not at all. But the Western democracies, which were themselves not fully advanced despite their long histories, needed allies against the Soviet Union and so with open eyes they included Turkey. But then something unexpected happened: While the Turkish people, paralysed by decades of oppression, were slumbering, the Kurdish people started to resist, even if this took on a timid and fearful character.
It was the Kurdish people who suffered the most under the oppressive rule; from starvation, poverty, ethnic massacres; its language banned by law, its identity denied and forbidden by virtue of the appellation “Mountain Turks”; and worse still, they were driven to the four parts of the compass in Anatolia.
With the growing resistance of the Kurds, which finally led to an armed conflict, the machinery of repression revealed its true face in all its hideousness. As a precondition for breaking this resistance, it launched an incredible propaganda campaign to deceive the Turkish people.
A campaign of lies began. The Kurds wanted to divide the country and set up an independent state, it was alleged with disarming blandness. And then any violent act by the Kurds and any funeral of slain Turkish soldiers was presented with such hyperbole that any Turk would be induced to kill the first Kurd he or she met. However, the Kurds and Turks knew each other well enough that so far all attempts by the Turkish state to separate the two peoples in bloody clashes have failed, fortunately.
The usual and predictable response of President Demirel and other government representatives is: We won’t give anyone even a single stone, or one handful of earth of our country. But who asked for a stone? And who wanted a handful of earth? As far as I know, there weren’t many Kurds in Turkey who wanted an independent state. But, if they wanted it, would it not be their legitimate right? According to all human rights declarations, every people has the right to determine their own fate.
The most barbarous war one can imagine is presently going on in Turkey. The talent of the best writer would not suffice to describe it.
To suppress the revolts quickly, the Turkish Republic set up a “village guard” system. This type of citizen’s defense force has been used by the U.S. army in Vietnam. So a militia of about 50,000 armed men was established, as well as a special unit of 12,000 men. And in addition, the state moved an army of 300,000 soldiers against the Kurds. Nobody knows what else has been mobilized. But the most horrific creation was the “contra guerrilla” under the command of the Turkish army.
Then a general appeared and said: “Give me the permission and in eastern Anatolia there won’t be one stone standing on another, no head on any body.” The Chief of Staff, General Dogan Gurus, declared: “To catch the fish you have to drain the lake.” And our Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, screamed in Parliament: ” We’ll finish them off!” Nobody, not even the Germans, were shocked, even though they should know better than anyone the meaning of such words.
Then the war was unleashed in all its fury. At first the Turkish army adopted more benign methods to humiliate their Kurdish brothers, such as making the prisoners eat human excrement. The European Council has condemned Turkey for its “torture with excrement” and obliged it to pay the victims 500,000 French francs. Not so bad, this sentence. Turkey has a several billion dollar debt. It only needs to increase this debt and then it can enact its “torture with excrement” policy on the whole Kurdish and Turkish population to its heart’s desire!
Then the Turkish Republic started to press Kurds, from the age of 7 to 70, to become “village guards”. Those who resisted were tortured; the more stubborn Kurds the state threw into prisons and murdered them. Then started the murders committed by the contra guerrillas. Some talk of 1,800, others of 1,200, specially targeted Kurds who were killed. Then the villages of the Kurds were burned down; some 2,000 were set alight.
In this war there were incredible massacres and torture. The Turkish Republic drained the lake as thoroughly as it could. But it did not succeed in catching the fish. By the way, the U.S. army in Vietnam had also “drained” and devastated the fertile land.
There is a rumour that the war has made 2.5 million Kurds into refugees in their own land, some even say 3 million. The population of Diyarbakir, which used to be about 450,000, has risen to 1.5 million. This is the official figure. To this can be added the refugees in other towns; they are homeless and starving. The Turkish Republic follows rigorously the tradition of Kuyucu Murat Pasha!
There is only one thing which the previous vampires had not done: to burn the guerrilla, the “brigands”, the deserters, together with the forests in which they were hiding.
Miraculously, our press reported these cheerful events. But our female government leader insisted, holding the flag of the secular Turkish state in one hand and the Koran in the other, and refusing to answer any questions, that the bearers of weapons of our state never set villages and forests alight. And the helicopters? The PKK got them from Armenia or Afghanistan. And it was they who fired on the cities and villages and started the fire.
Dersim is burning. The forests around Kutuderesi are in flames. Surely, the PKK must be suicidal. Did it not kill 80 Kurds and their whole families during Newroz? And Sirnak and Lice and the other cities and villages, weren’t they all set alight by the PKK? And the 36 artists and writers in Sivas? If you think that, contrary to the proverb, the candle of lies shines even in the dark, then you don’t know anything about this world.
I can’t help but tell the story also of the prefect of Gaziantep. When told that the forests of his district was in flames, he goes there immediately and finds out that the whole forest has been destroyed in the fire, but he is consoled with the cheering news of unexpected side effects: 11 guerrilla fighters burned with it.
According to press reports, in the last decade over 12 million hectares of forests have been burned, of which 10 million alone are in eastern Anatolia. It is absolutely incredible that a state deliberately burns its forests because guerrillas use them for a hide out.
When the guerrillas announced a ceasefire (March 1993) which lasted for several months, Ankara did not respond. Then, somewhere on a country road, 33 unarmed soldiers were killed. Some say it was the PKK, but many doubt it was them. In any case, this was the end of the unilateral ceasefire.
Now the war is continuing with extreme brutality. It is not just a war between the guerrilla and the army, village guards, and special forces. The government has driven hundreds of thousands to flee. Half dead from starvation, they are moving around, homeless, not even a tent over their head. Ankara, by setting in motion a mass exodus, has also declared war on the unarmed Kurdish people.
The people from Anatolia had also founded a party and elected 20 representatives to Parliament. This party was banned. They founded a new party, this too was banned. Eight of their MPs were charged, threatened with death sentences, and finally sentenced to long years of imprisonment. Only now has democratic Europe started to wake up just a little.
This terrible war must not be allowed to continue. Turkey is economically finished, its people impoverished. Turkey’s domestic and foreign debts are growing and growing. If the war is allowed to continue, Turkey will be faced with the greatest catastrophe in its history.
Every war, be it in Rwanda, Bosnia, or Afghanistan, is wearing humanity out; it degenerates more and more, becomes more inhuman with each battle, each massacre, and each famine.
When it was founded, the Turkish Republic should have given the Kurds the same basic rights which it gave to the Turkish people. At the turn to the 21st century, no people, no ethnic group, should be deprived of their basic human rights. Neither Turkey nor any other state has the power to do that. After all, it was the strength of the people which drove the Americans out of Vietnam, the Soviets from Afghanistan, and which perform ed the miracle of South Africa.
The Turkish Republic must not enter the 21st century as an accursed country. The conscience of humanity will help the peoples in Turkey to end this inhumane war. Especially the people of those countries which sell arms to the Turkish state must help to end it. But we in Turkey must always keep in mind that the road to real democracy will only lie in the peaceful solution of the Kurdish question.
It is a crime against humanity that the Turkish leadership, since the foundation of the Republic, has tried to destroy the language of the Kurds and their culture, even if that pressure was slightly loosened recently. In the 21st century, crimes against humanity will be subject to the full glare of publicity and put on trial, one after the other. These won’t be any of the usual cosmetic trials because what will be on trial will be the honour and humanity of a country.