Dancing around words as a Kurdish journalist

The word “war” appears to have been banned in Turkey. During the Amed Labour and Democracy Platform’s Regional demonstration in Diyarbakır three weeks ago, heavily armed police forced demonstrators to remove the word from banners before allowing them to enter. They told protestors that the word war was banned.

In the last five years, it has become dangerous to use some words in Turkey. One of them is “peace”. Two years ago, police broke my door down and violently detained me in front of my two children because I posted tweets calling for peace.

After the summer of 2015, when the peace process between the Turkish government and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) collapsed, peace became a very dangerous word. Nearly 2,000 academics have been fired from universities and many people have been imprisoned just for demanding peace with the Kurds.

When you use the word “peace”, that means that there is a war. But Turkey does not accept the existence of war. According to the Turkish state, what they do in their own Kurdish cities, in Syria or in any small Kurdish territory in the world, is not war, it is “a fight against terror”.

Turkey is partly right. What it is doing in northern Syria is worse than war. It is forcibly entering foreign territories, and I cannot openly use the word for what they are doing there as I do not want to end up in prison.

It is so hard to write or speak about what is happening in Turkey today. As a journalist and human rights defender, I need to think about every word I use. Should I use the word “invasion”, should I use the word “occupation”, should I use the word “war”, should I use the word “peace”?  Every word that I use will have a direct effect, not only on my life, but also on the lives of my family.

Just three months ago, after Turkey’s so-called Operation Peace Spring against Syrian Kurds in northern Syria, my home was raided once more, this time because of using the word “war” in my tweets. As I was in London, I was not detained, however my two sons again faced police violence.

Sometimes the bans on words make us do strange things. Since the collapse of the peace process, the word “Kurdistan” has been banned in Turkey. We need to find different ways to talk about our region. Sometimes we use “Kurdish cities,” but this can be also dangerous, so sometimes we say “the region” and sometimes we use “the southeast of Turkey”.

The challenge does not end there. The Kurdish name of my city is Amed and the Turkish name is Diyarbakır. During the peace process, we used both names, and both were used on public billboards, buildings and in official publications. After the government accused our mayors of terrorist links and replaced them with its own appointees in 2016, the name Amed was erased all around the city, just as all the Kurdish names were removed from every corner of our cities. Kurdish cultural and linguistic symbols have been completely destroyed across “the region”.

This brings me to another word that causes problems in our daily life in Amed, or let us say Diyarbakır. Since 2016, our cities have been managed by the government appointees, which in Turkish are called kayyım. They are not our mayors. Our mayors are in prison. As Kurdish people we insist on calling them kayyım. But the government appointees demand to be called mayors, and this causes different problems in our daily lives, as they hold power over our cities.

I am writing this article to you from a city whose name is banned. It is a city from a region whose name is also banned. In this city and in this region, something is happening that I cannot tell you, because it is banned. What I can say to you is people are dying in my region. My streets and my beautiful homeland are covered with Turkish flags and kayyıms, but I cannot tell you how this feels. There are police and special forces teams with heavy weapons in my streets, I cannot truly and openly tell you why. Every day jets fly over our cities, even now as I write to you, but I cannot tell you where they are going and where they are bombing. I hope you understand.