“Democracy is like a bus ride. Once I get to my stop; I get off.”
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
May 18, 2016
The Kurds and the Turks were not supposed to fight one another this year.
High-level peace talks last year were so promising that a Mandela- style house-arrest was being considered for imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, founder of the latest Kurdish rebel movement in Turkey.
But then some stuff hit the fan: a group of pollsters met with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president since 2014.
They told him that Kurds were blocking his goal of absolute rule—a dictatorship for life, albeit through an obedient parliament.
That was news to him, and for good reason.
He had only humored Kurds to consolidate his power.
But now they were showing signs of ingratitude and cheekiness.
That wouldn’t do!
They must be forced to drink from a cup called humility—and he would gleefully serve them massive doses from super-gulp-size cups!
So, as the country geared itself for elections of June 2015, bombs began exploding right on cue in the offices of a legal Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), in Adana and Mersin.
Their volunteers began receiving death threats, and some were executed with deadly efficiency, such as in Bingol.
Kurdish rallies, peaceful up until then, suddenly became death traps as hidden bombs began exploding, as in Diyarbakir.
The Kurds, to their credit, took the beatings—during the campaign season at least—with the saintly patience of the Prophet Job to make sure that elections were not cancelled on their account.
The results proved the pollsters right: Mr. Erdogan failed to get the absolute majority that he wanted.
In fact, his party lost its majority in parliament, and the grim prospects of fighting in court—or maybe sharing a jail cell with Mr. Ocalan—became frighteningly real.
So real, in fact, that although Mr. Erdogan constantly hogs television time, he then went into hiding for several days!
But when he reappeared, he began raining intensified fire and brimstone on the Kurds and plotting even deadlier ways to the top.
Burhan Kuzu, Mr. Erdogan’s bootlicking one-time chairman of Constitutional Committee in the Turkish Parliament, snidely tweeted:
“The election is over. I said the choice is stability vs. chaos. The people have opted for chaos. Good luck.”
The “chaos” that Mr. Kuzu predicted swung into overdrive, a hallmark of totalitarian systems, to “endear” the masses to their indispensable leader!
In July, an Islamic State suicide bomber killed 33 mostly university students at a cultural center in Suruc.
This foolishly prompted Kurdish youth in Turkish Kurdistan to play right into Mr. Erdogan’s hands by raising barricades in more than a dozen districts in August and declaring themselves autonomous.
During a two-day September period, Turkish thugs brutally attacked hundreds of Kurdish establishments across Turkey—while police never lifted a finger to stop the malicious violence.
This was capped by two Islamic State suicide bombers killing 103 Kurds at an October peace rally in Ankara.
In November’s repeat elections, frightened and intimidated voters restored Mr. Erdogan’s party to power, but still refused to give him the absolute majority that he craved.
Aggressive plans to re-conquer Turkish Kurdistan brutally resumed as Turkish tanks began shelling Kurdish towns with impunity.
Today, far too many Kurdish towns look like the bombed-out ruins of countless European cities during World War II.
Consider these two accounts from the media, one from Nusaybin and the other from Cizre, in Turkish Kurdistan:
Selamet Yesilmen, a pregnant Kurdish mother of five children was shot dead on the steps of her Nusaybin home on the third day of the lockdown there.
The city is still under martial law and the government is now considering aerial bombardment.
Turkish tanks began shelling the town of Cizre in December, forcing residents to flee or hide in underground bunkers.
Kurds trapped in three basements frantically pleaded for help from their cell phones while Turkish tanks callously reduced their hideouts to funeral bonfires.
Last month, the Turkish government proudly declared the city, “liberated.”
Representatives of several human rights organizations tried to visit the charred basements and reported up to 178 civilians killed.
“Some were burned to death deliberately, including a young child,” wrote Şebnem Korur Fincancı, president of Human Rights Foundation of Turkey.
A shell-shocked teenage Kurd told how a Turkish policeman handed him a bag of bones then said: “This is your father.”
The horrific news greatly pleased the president of Turkey who joyfully broadcast it like a profit-and-loss statement:
“Our losses have surpassed the number 300. But their losses are ten times as many.”
He droned on: “We should not be afraid of dying; we should welcome it. For a land to become a country, it needs the blood of martyrs.”
The Kurdish casualties may be more or less, but I doubt if Mr. Erdogan is including the murdered unborn child of Mrs. Yesilmen in his tally.
But there is absolutely no doubt that Kurdish refugees are flooding into Europe as desperately as the Syrian ones.
Europe, as those who have travelled there know, is not an empty continent that can easily absorb 20 million Kurds from Turkey, temporarily or permanently.
Turkey shows no signs of abandoning its bedrock ideology: The mere acknowledgement of Kurds is an intolerable political liability.
Here is how Mahmut Esat Bozkurt, the Justice Minister of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, expressed it:
“The Turk is the only master of this country, its sole owner. Those who are not of Turkish stock have only one right: to be servants and slaves.”
A cursory look at the speeches of the Turkish president tells you that he heartily slops up that barbaric sentiment.
His toxic contribution to this rank racism has been to virtually garnish it with a stinking Islamic sauce.
Hopeless as it looks, a ray of light may have penetrated through the darkness to help the Kurds last January.
A petition promoting the fundamental rights of Turks and Kurds alike was endorsed by 1,128 prominent academics, including acclaimed American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky.
It boldly began:
“We will not be a party to this crime!”
It went on:
“The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks.
“It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime.
“As a result, the right to life liberty and security and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.”
Calling themselves “Academics for Peace,” the distinguished professors called on the Turkish government to cease hostilities against the Kurds and cited the urgent need for impartial observers to help de-escalate the conflict.
They vowed, “We will not be a party to this massacre by our silence. We will continue with our advocacy through teach-ins and meet-ups with politicians and representative assemblies.”
The next day, another Islamic State suicide bomber blew himself up at a popular tourist attraction in downtown Istanbul, killing 13.
A few hours later, the Turkish president addressed a group of Turkish diplomats—and made his raw political sentiments abundantly clear:
His 40-minute speech devoted less than one minute to the murdered tourists and their families.
But a whopping 15 minutes were thunderously dedicated to the “herd of pseudo intellectuals” who “accuse us” of violating the “fundamental rights of terrorists.”
Mr. Erdogan went on to call the academics who condemned his terror “ignoramuses” and said they have nothing to do with Turkish “enlightenment,” but are the epitome of darkness.
And to set things straight—in his cockeyed mind, at least—he ordered his ambassador in Washington to invite Noam Chomsky to Turkey, “to be our guest in the region.”
Instead of getting his information through these traitors, Mr. Chomsky should “see it” in person, he shouted.
Unmoved, Professor Chomsky told the Guardian, “If I decide to go to Turkey, it will not be on his invitation, but at the invitation of the many courageous dissidents, including Kurds, who have been under severe attack for many years.”
He added, “Turkey blamed ISIS [for the attack on Istanbul], which Erdoğan has been aiding in many ways, while also supporting the al-Nusra Front, which is hardly different.”
He then rightly blamed Mr. Erdogan for launching “a tirade against [the academics] who condemn his crimes against Kurds—who happen to be the main ground force opposing ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.”
It is pretty clear that the Turkish president has never heard of Mark Twain’s famous maxim: “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”
Not just the Turkish and Kurdish academics, but also their colleagues from all over the world have taken up the cause of peace with their sharp pens and even-sharper tongues.
The Turkish president has had his supporters leap into the fray as well.
A day after his diatribe, Turkey’s mafia boss, Sedat Peker, chimed in with this chilling statement for the Kurdish and Turkish professors who had signed the declaration of peace:
“We shall shed your blood like water and take our showers in it!”
Mr. Peker continues to regale pro-government media with his blood-dripping interviews while the same media has declared open season on Mr. Erdogan’s critics, especially the academics.
The absurdity of exchanges prompted one academic, Ayse Kadioglu, to bitterly note:
We are talking for “the right of people to peace,” while the supporters of Mr. Erdogan are asking for “the right of their ilk to take showers” in our blood!
It is indeed the season of blood in the Turkish-Kurdish conflict.
The Turkish president is wielding a war-ax and threatening to chase the cheeky Kurds to the gates of hell.
The Turkish and Kurdish academics are wielding a scalpel trying to heal Turkey as it is with all its colors, so to speak.
You can safely put me down, as you might guess, as a friend of scalpel-wielders.
And as our greatest role model, Hippocrates, warned us long ago, we should all be under oath to do no harm.
No such compunction clouds the thinking of the Turkish mafia boss or his president.
They can murder Mrs. Selamet Yesilmen and her unborn child in the morning and go hug their children and wives in the evening.
The gruesome numbers are mind-numbing, and I am not really good at comparing human suffering to lifeless statistics.
What I may be good at is to relate to you the Kurdish Question through a narrative of what it means to be a Kurdish activist when your people are hunted as if they were beasts of prey.
To do that, I have chosen the avenue of an open letter, one that I have addressed to Baby Yesilmen.
I can’t read it to her—since she died in her mother’s womb.
And I cannot even send it to Mrs. Selamet Yesilmen, since she was brutally shot down on her own doorstep.
But I am going to assume both are right here with us, as I tell them about the motives of their killers.
Listen, as I tell you about the persecuted people called Kurds, and a mournful land called Kurdistan:
Dear Baby Yesilmen,
You were killed before you were born, and our cruel world hardly noticed it.
Let me try and remedy that lapse, by telling you how your future was stolen from us.
I say, “us,” because, like you, I am Kurdish.
It is not exactly an asset to be a Kurd at the dawn of the 21st century.
In fact, it is quite a liability.
Kurds often lament: We are born into slavery and start life at a disadvantage, compared to our predatory neighbors.
History sadly seconds their proposition.
Homer says: When a people lose their freedom, male members of that society lose half of their manhood.
True as that is, I got a further education when I talked to a Native American woman about the Greek bard’s observation.
She opened my eyes even wider when she said:
“Well, the women lose everything.”
She spoke from experience, and I felt humbled in her noble presence.
I thanked her for her candor and doubled-down, not just for my own emancipation, but also those of our sisters who are under the double-whammy of subjugation and persecution.
Our journey has been very difficult.
Let’s start with your death.
After your murder, a group calling itself Academics for Peace signed a petition urging your killer, the president of Turkey, to cease and desist immediately.
He ignored them at first, and then began attacking them as lovers of terrorists!
He ordered four of them jailed in solitary confinement.
Thirty were dismissed from their jobs.
Some, sadly, have been forced to withdraw their signatures.
But many more have stepped forward, adding their voices to the declaration and firmly holding onto it.
Here is another bit of potentially good news: Academics for Peace has been nominated for this year’s prestigious Nobel Peace Prize!
The voluntary and steadfast suffering of these scholars has done more to awaken the Turkish body politic than the killing of thousands of Turkish soldiers and Kurdish fighters in this most recent conflict.
Education, in other words, is a better catalyst for change than mixing blood and iron—which is what statesman Otto von Bismarck recommended to his future fans, folks like Kissinger, Erdogan and even our Ocalan.
We need to put as much distance between blood and iron—and those big egos—as there is between the earth and the moon.
Baby Yesilmen, these courageous advocates of peace, working on your behalf, are lovers of humanity battling the destroyers of cultures.
One of them hails from Mardin, the provincial capital of Nusaybin, your hometown.
Her name is Esra Mungan.
She was born into a family of scholars and was educated in Germany in her formative years.
There, she became familiar with the history of Nazi brutality and vowed to remain true to her inner voice, even if it meant hardship.
Her noble heart made room for the Kurds and Kurdistan, and unlike her country, which scorns our language, she studied our mother tongue!
In her world, languages aren’t toxic waste, to be avoided at any cost, but priceless ornaments that could brighten one’s curriculum vitae (CV).
If you had lived, you two would have made excellent friends.
One day, when our Kurdistan is free, we definitely want to list her on the wall of the “Righteous Among the Nations” who embraced us when it was easier and more profitable to persecute us into oblivion!
This letter would be incomplete if I didn’t mention another letter, one that teared-up the eyes of your murderer, the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A young Egyptian girl, Asmaa el-Beltagy, was shot and executed in 2013 like your mom. Her killers were members of Egyptian security forces.
She happened to be the daughter of an Egyptian politician, a member of Muslim Brotherhood.
Her dad was in hiding at the time and could not attend her funeral.
He wrote her a letter that was read to the Turkish president on television in a live program.
Here are a few lines from it:
“You lived walking tall challenging atrocity.
“Rejecting all obstacles, you fell in love with freedom.
“In this short life, I couldn’t have enough time to talk to you. When we met for the last time, you told me: ‘You are away from us even when we are together.’ I told you ‘This life is not as long as we can have enough of each other.’
“Lastly, my dear daughter and invaluable teacher: I don’t bid you farewell but I’ll see you tomorrow, on the banks of Kawsar Pool in Heaven with the Prophet and his companions.”
As the letter came to an end, the Turkish president spawned a fountain of tears in front of millions.
When asked why he was crying, he said the letter reminded him of his own relationship with his kids, that he too had neglected them while working very hard for his party’s victory.
Watching the scene live, one Turkish journalist mused for millions of Turks and Kurds alike:
How come the Turkish president can shed tears for a teen killed in Egypt—while ordering his army to kill protestors including “women and children” in Turkey?
“The answer, my friend,” as Bob Dylan put it in a song, “is blowin’ in the wind.”
But no one wants to see it or even admit to its existence lest they ruffle the feathers of a despot on Bosporus.
As Bob Dylan might have said of the Turkish dictator, the only atrocity that riles Mr. Erdogan is the one that is committed against Muslims.
The only freedom that he considers sacred is the one spelled out in the holy book of Islam, the Quran.
The only death that makes him cry is the one that separates a Muslim father from his Muslim daughter.
If you are not Muslim, you are a heathen; that’s how he feels.
On his watch, the number of mosques has surpassed those of schools in Turkey.
Ankara now pays more to its clerics than to its teachers.
Mr. Erdogan says, he wants to raise an “obedient generation,” one which will resemble the Taliban in Afghanistan more than the students who attend American colleges, in terms of their open-minded values.
This “obedient generation” does not like Kurds, not because the Kurds are not Muslims, but because they believe, like their president, the Turks should always be masters of the Kurds.
In fact, I am willing to bet, if we could get the teetotaler Turkish president drunk, this is what he would say to the Kurds:
“My ancestors killed off the Armenians, including pregnant women, to make room for Muslim Turks and now you want us to freely share it with you socialist wannabe Kurds?”
This wine-induced, unvarnished truth is what killed you, Baby Yesilmen.
I may have concentrated too much on the doom and gloom so far.
So let me offer a way out of our predicament as well.
The balance of power between the Kurds and the Turkish state is similar to the balance of power between the Native Americans and the whites when Andrew Jackson was riding roughshod over them.
The Kurds would do better to bide their time, as the blacks of President Jackson’s time did—as intolerable as slavery was back then—than to fight the Turks at this most inopportune time for us.
Look at the cold hard facts, regarding the Indians and blacks:
Many Indians now live in poverty on wretched reservations, and have no say in national policy—while many blacks sit in the highest councils of power in Washington.
The blacks, although cruelly abused, peacefully bided their time—until it was the right time to dash for freedom with the least damage to themselves and their white neighbors.
The Indians fought—and lost.
The president of Turkey is praying that Kurds trod the same Indian warpath.
We Kurds should not hand that war-monger the war lance.
If we take the right path, we may, one day, be able to honor you with a memorial in the heart of Nusaybin.
I would like for your memorial to be a crystal statue of you, nestled snugly inside your mother’s womb, surrounded by shatter-proof glass, perpetually serving as a haunting reminder of mankind’s savage inhumanity to his fellow human beings—even to unborn children like you, who are as innocent as virgin snow.
Underneath it, I would chisel into the side of its granite base these inspiring words from American President Franklin Roosevelt:
“We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world beyond the horizon.”
I am sorry, Baby Yesilmen, that you were cruelly deprived of the opportunity to see that beautiful future horizon.
Kani Xulam is the director of American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN). He was recently hosted at Boston College where he contributed to a Symposium titled, The Kurdish Question. This is an edited version of his statement.
The original of this article appeared in the Counterpunch.