By Kani Xulam
January 28, 1996
Just a few weeks ago, “The European”, a weekly newspaper published in London, England, had a picture with a warning on its front page. It showed a Turkish soldier holding the decapitated heads of two Kurds. The caption read: “Pictures that will shock the world.”
A closer look at the pictures and the story which accompanies them reveals that these photographs depict the triumph of five Turkish soldiers over the dead bodies of four Kurdish rebels. In one picture, two of the naked Kurds are headless, one lying on his back and the other on his stomach. The first has a rope tied to his ankles and the second has a rope tied around his trunk, betraying the not uncommon practice of dragging dead bodies behind armored vehicles in Turkey’s southeast. Historians tell us that the warriors of Ghengis Khan did the same to their victims, only with horses rather than army vehicles.
In another picture, a soldier in his twenties is holding the two severed heads while smiling at the camera and his comrade in the background is smirking. There are other pictures and other depravities. Suffice it to note that one is uglier than the other and each alone is enough to make Kurds and their friends sick for days.
For days now, I have been staring at these pictures. I have been telling myself: “One of the decapitated heads is yours.” It is an eerie feeling. Just stop and think of it: somebody staring at you holding your decapitated head. I have made a point of looking at the reactions of Kurds who confront these pictures for the first time. They feel utterly numb. Think of a people without faith, without love, without hope and with lots of pain. That is what the Kurds of Turkey have become.
These pictures and the heinous crimes they show are not aberrations. These scenes are repeated often in southeastern Turkey, the historical land of the Kurds. Armed with East German rifles, West German armored vehicles and sophisticated American weapons, Turkish soldiers are creating the largest moonscape on the face the earth, raining death and destruction on the Kurds and their land. House Concurrent Resolution 136 of the 104th Congress notes that more than 2,650 Kurdish villages have been destroyed in this most recent Turkish assault on the Kurds.
The French philosopher Voltaire wrote that the worst kind of death is to be obscurely hanged. The slaughter of the Turkish Kurds is a good example of that. Ask the Kurds for the name of a people that supports their cause for civil rights and there is not an answer.
In Turkey, where the majority of an estimated 25 to 30 million Kurds live, resistance is costly; as the pictures show, even your dead body is not immune from abuse and degradation. Public office is costly, too, as is proven by the case of 13 duly elected Kurdish deputies who lost their seats in the Turkish Parliament. Four were sentenced to 15 years in prison for advocating the legitimate rights of their people.
Ankara has tried everything in its power to discourage the Kurds from demanding their rights. It has tried force. Nothing has come of it. It has tried the “village guard” system in which poor Kurds are armed to teeth and inculcated with hatred for their kin. The upshot has been a disaster: Kurds killing Kurds to the chagrin of their friends. It has tried religion, the opium of masses in the words of Karl Marx, and again the policy has not worked. But something quite unexpected has taken root in Turkey because of the heavy emphasis on religion.
The Islamic Welfare Party scored the highest number of votes in Turkey’s latest parliamentary elections. This was the result of an unscrupulous campaign by Turkey’s leaders, first to undermine the rising tide of Kurdish national consciousness by inculcating a universalistic Islamic ideology which they considered less dangerous than the Kurds, second by using the rising tide of Islamic threat in order to manipulate opinions in the European Union and the United States so as to secure closer military and economic ties.
The late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat encouraged Islamic fundamentalist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood in order to use them against alienated Egyptian youth who were increasingly turning to Marxism. But he himself became the victim of the forces to which he gave a free reign. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood within the Egyptian military gunned him down.
Maybe there is something called poetic justice in the world. Maybe we Kurds will get our civil rights after Turkey travels the same road taken by Iran. Maybe then the State Department will recognize our sacrifices of pain and blood and let us have our due.