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Turkey need not look far to find racism

Discussions about racism in the United States have taken over Turkey for days. Turkish artists, columnists, journalists, celebrities, football clubs, athletes and actors have shared photographs of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, accompanied by how sad they are, adorned with the message: “We can’t breathe.”

It is true that “we can’t breathe.” We Kurds cannot breathe in this country, and we haven’t been able to for a long time. Events over the past couple of weeks should be enough to understand why.

On May 22, 18 politicians and activists, including from the majority-Kurdish left-wing opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Rosa Women’s Association in southeastern Diyarbakır, the largest Kurdish-majority city in Turkey, were detained and some were sent to prison.

One of those destined for jail was Dilgeş, a three-year-old boy. Dilgeş, who has had one of his kidneys removed due to a chronic condition, waited in the Diyarbakır courthouse until the morning alongside his mother. He was hoping to go home, but instead he headed to prison when his mother was remanded in custody.

Last week, plastic boxes full of bones that came from 261 people were discovered buried on top of each other underneath a pavement in Kilyos, in northern Istanbul. The bones belonged were those who were unearthed from a cemetery in the Kurdish-majority Bitlis province in eastern Turkey and transferred to Istanbul, without their families’ knowledge.

In other countries this incident might have triggered mayhem. But they were Kurdish bones, so this country did not make a sound. Bones, stacked, under a pavement, just like that…

A few days ago a mass grave was discovered in Dargeçit, Mardin, another Kurdish-majority southeastern province. Skulls and bones that came from 40 people. Forty Kurds, who were spirited away in the ‘90s, stolen from their homes and loved ones, and murdered. This incident was also brushed quietly under the rug. Nobody asked who these people were, what lives they led, how they were taken from the people who loved them, who killed them.

A curfew was declared in 19 villages in Bitlis the other day, and of course nobody questioned why. The government appointee who replaced Siirt’s elected mayor, Berivan Helen Işık, who won 48 percent of the vote for the HDP, ordered municipal workers to tear down the Celadet Ali Bedirxan Library, named after the Kurdish linguist who first compiled the grammar of modern-day Kurmanji, the Kurdish dialect spoken in Turkey, Syria and parts of Iraq.

Meanwhile, this week photographs of torture in the Diyarbakır police headquarters made the rounds on social media. Nobody shouted from the rooftops that torture was a crime against humanity.

For some reason, all divine principles, all lofty beliefs keep smashing up against “Kurdishness” in this country. But let us condemn that one police officer in the United States. That is much safer, naturally.

As Turkish-language condemnations of George Floyd’s death continued to come, Ercan Kurkut was trying to get his voice heard on Twitter, three years after his brother Kemal was killed by the police during Newroz celebrations, when Kurds welcome the spring on March 21.

“There are no limits of the torture we were subjected to in courts. We are hurting. The killer of our brother, our son enters the court room through the same door as the judges’ panel, smiling at them. How can we expect justice from these people now?” Kurkut asked.

As top Turkish state officials and low-level civil servants alike expressed their sorrow for the death of George Floyd, former HDP deputy Ferhat Encü was writing about his relatives and brothers who were blown to bits by Turkish army jets on December 28, 2011 in what has come to be known as the Roboski massacre.

“As a person who has experienced how (the media) turns the truth upside down, I am saying that your panic will not be able to cover up the truth,” Encü said in a tweet.

Besna Tosun, a member of the Saturday Mothers, a group that advocates for justice over enforced disappearances by Turkey, was at the same time seeking justice for her father Fehmi Tosun.

“There are 25 years between the two photographs,” Tosun tweeted. “I don’t know how much longer I’ll be alive but on this path I took to find my father, I will not stop until I reach the truth and justice. I will never be silent.”

As Turkish football clubs issued anti-racist statements for George Floyd, some social media users were trying to remind people of the treatment Kurdish clubs Amedspor and Cizrespor have received over the years in the face of “sensibilities” by the very clubs that were responsible for some of the racist treatment.

This week, thousands of Kurds spoke of examples from their own lives and of the loved ones they had lost, trying to describe the racism and cruelty they were subjected to for years, against this “sensitivity” against racism in this country with regard to the death of George Floyd.

Unfortunately, these are futile attempts. It feels meaningless to even write these words down in this country. Violence against The Kurd has been legitimised. There is no sorrow when The Kurd dies. Even The Kurd’s language is not tolerated. Nobody says, or can say, “A mother’s language is halal as a mother’s milk.”

The Kurd’s bones are in mass graves, or in Tupperware containers. There is no shame about it, neither are heartstrings tugged.

Search not far or wide for racism, my brothers and sisters. Racism is present in this country, in your lands, in your language, right there in your mind.