The Dreams of a Kurd
DIYARBAKIR — Ah, Diyarbakir. This is an ancient city, almost 4,000 years old, one of the oldest on the planet. Last time I was here, the oppression stuck to my skin like humidity in a rain forest. Armored personnel carriers roamed the streets and the cops beat the hell out of a crowd of Kurds when they came to a cemetery hoping to memorialize a democracy martyr’s death from the early 1990s.
This time, however, the APCs were parked off the streets. There is a notable lack of gendarmes, Turkey’s internal security police and the primary force responsible for keeping order in the southeast for the last 15 years. The sidewalks are cracked but bustling. Merchandise — whole fish, shoes, scarves and fabrics, toys and sweets — spill out onto the sidewalks, forcing older women in headscarves and traditional dress, men in kafiyehs and the Kurds’ trademarked baggy trousers to compete for walking space with teenagers in Nike sweatshirts and young men in leather jackets trying to look tough. Or they could take their chances in the street with the taxis, zooming madly, beeping their horns in staccato blips as warnings. The cacophony is thrilling, exhilarating, and even now as I sit in my hotel room, I can hear the merchants in the bazaar calling out, the horns, the traffic, snippets of conversation that echo up the alley walls and slip into my room.
Turkey lifted the emergency rule a few months ago and the difference, to me, is dramatic. This is a city that feels newly alive.
But not so to some of the younger Kurds. Emre, a 17-year-old English student, found me as I was trying to reach the KDP’s Damascus office. Slight, with delicate features and a mustache that was shyly announcing itself, he was interested in my satellite phone. As we struck up a conversation, he took to a caravansarai — a trading post built 500 years ago by the Seljuk Turks — that now served as a tea garden. It also served as a mini-bazaar, with merchants in each corner running shops selling carpets, silver-work, scarves, kafiyehs and even old Iranian rials.
Sitting down among intricately knotted carpets exploding with color — note to self: come back and ship one of these home when you come back through — that hung from the walls and ceiling supports, Emre, J., myself and Emre’s friend, Necati, sat down to some of the ubiquitous tea.
He was against the war, of course — basically everyone in Turkey, 94 percent, is against the war — but I asked him if things were better now that emergency rule had been lifted. He said it was only a little better. I asked him if the Turks were justified in worrying about its own Kurds attempting to break off and dash for independence if the Iraqi Kurds over the border attained their own country.
“Let me answer your question with a question,” he said. “In America, there are, what, 50 states? Does the black man want his own nation? Does the brown man?”
I said no.
“And why is that?”
J. spoke up. “Because they don’t have to. They are happy being Americans.”
Emre said that was his point. “If I can speak my own language, learn Kurdish in school, listen to Kurdish music and have the same democratic rights as the people in the west [of Turkey], why would I need my own country? We want the same economic development as in the west, too, we want to be as rich as they are. If we had all this, why would Turkey’s Kurds need their own country?
“But if we can’t have that,” he warned. “Yes, I want my own country. Yes, I will want a military to protect myself.”
I’ve since found out that some donors have been getting the B2I-Dispatch hours after it’s gone up on the Web site, which is exactly backward from the way it’s supposed to be. I’m truly sorry and I apologize. I will see what I can do about that. I’ve also discovered that I grossly overestimated the bandwidth available on the sat-phone. Which means there may not be many pictures until I get back. I haven’t taken many, however, since my focus has been on traveling, but perhaps Diyarbakir would be of interest to people.
Also, I read every comment that people make on this site, as well as all emails. However, because of time, bandwidth and other considerations, I may not be able to respond to everyone. Please don’t take it personally. I really, really appreciate everyone taking the time to write, and your notes of support keep me excited about all of this.
As for donations, I also don’t often have time to thank you all personally, but I have been forwarding your email addresses (as per PayPal) to Mike for adding to the list, which he is doing. So while you might not get a personal thank-you note, you are being put on the list. And allow me now to thank you all very much for your continued support.