We exist, Kurdistan exists!
I remember as a child how afraid I was when my mother spoke Kurdish in public. When I was seven, I needed to go to the hospital every week because of an accident. When the doctor would ask my mom a question about my health, I would quickly answer before my mother. My mother’s Turkish was not good. I was afraid of her speaking Kurdish. As a child I thought that she could be punished. Kurdish was forbidden. In schools, on televisions and in public areas, we were given the perception that to use Kurdish was bad. In some hospitals, “No Turkish No Service” was written on the walls. My elders told me about the fines given when they used Kurdish. I remember thinking “but we exist.”
As years passed, it was not easy for us, as Kurdish children to accept our identity, our language and to be proud using Kurdish without fear and shame. Today millions of Kurdish people in Turkey do not know their mother tongue because of the years of language oppression.
Last week, when the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Osman Baydemir was punished for using the word “Kurdistan” in parliament, my childhood memories came back to me.
In his speech, Osman Baydemir said:
“As a son of the Kurdish people, as a representative coming from Kurdistan I see my role as being this: this roof should encompass both Kurds and Turks.”
When he finished speaking, Deputy Speaker Ayşe Nur Bahçekapılı asked him where Kurdistan was. “In here,” he replied, pointing to his heart. Baydemir was then thrown out of the chamber under a rule that bans insulting government officials and using terms that run counter to the “indivisible unity” of the country. Baydemir was suspended from two sessions and fined 12.000 TL. (3.108 USD).
No true recognition
Until the end of the 1990s our existence was not accepted in Turkey. In Turkish media and schools we were the “mountainous Turks” who when walking through the snow simply made the sound “kart-kurt”. Some Turkish people even believed that we had tails. I remember one of my friends who grew up in Konya, a central Anatolian city. One day he undressed himself and ran through the school garden to show the other children that he did not have a tail! Even our existence was not accepted, we have always been here, we have always existed.
Thousands of Kurdish people have died for this recognition.
In the early 2000s things began to change. In 2005, while Prime Minister Erdoğan was in Diyarbakir, he stated that he recognized the Kurdish Issue. This was followed by the “Kurdish Opening Project” in 2009. During that time there were some positive developments. Private Kurdish courses were legally permitted. A Kurdish channel TRT-6 was launched which was followed by the opening of Kurdish language departments in some universities. Although these developments took place, education in mother tongue has never been accepted in Turkey. More than 20 million Kurdish people continue their education in Turkish language schools.
In the following years, the “Kurdish Opening Project” changed into the “Democratic Opening Project” and ultimately into the “National Unity Project”. These name changes show how the government’s position regarding the Kurdish issue changed. While the first name included the word “Kurdish” openly, the “project” changed to a more nationalist discourse.
The talks between the Turkish government and the PKK finally led to the 2013 ceasefire. During those “peaceful” years, Erdoğan who was prime minister at that time used the word “Kurdistan” in one of his speeches. It was a big step in the history of Turkey. In the end Kurdistan, our homeland, was recognized! When he was criticized by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies for saying “Kurdistan”, Erdoğan stressed that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk used the word “Kurdistan” as well and asked, “Was he a separatist too?” Erdoğan briefly explained:
“MHP and CHP deputies shall read the first official records of the parliament. They will see that the word ‘Kurdistan’ is in those records. When they look to history they will see that eastern and southeastern regions are the Kurdistan state of the Ottoman Empire”.
After 2 years of talks between the Turkish government and Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, the Dolmabahçe Agreement was announced. On 28 February 2015, millions of people across Turkey watched as a list of shared agreements in a joint public appearance of the Turkish government and pro-Kurdish lawmakers at the Dolmabahçe Palace (the Prime Minister’s office in Istanbul) was announced. After the June 2015 parliamentary elections, when HDP received parliamentary seats by passing the 10% threshold, Erdoğan turned, and he announced that he no longer recognized the Dolmabahçe Agreement. The “peaceful” years were over.
Everything Kurdish was banned
The peace process between the Turkish state and the PKK collapsed in July 2015. In August, the clashes began in Kurdish city centers. The state began declaring curfews in Kurdish cities. Many Kurdish cities have been demolished; millions of people have become homeless. According to the Diyarbakır Human Rights Association’s report, more than 2000 people were killed, 448 of those killings were extrajudicial killings by soldiers, police or village guards during the curfews. 75 of them were children.
After the July 15th coup attempt in 2016, a State of Emergency was declared. In addition to what was already happening, things got a lot worse in the Kurdish Region. State administrators were appointed to replace elected mayors in dozens of pro-Kurdish municipalities. Today 94 of 102 Kurdish municipalities are run by state trustees. Almost all Kurdish media, even the Kurdish children’s channel were shut down. Kurdish civil society organizations were closed by the government under the allegation of supporting terrorist groups. Thousands of Kurdish teachers were fired from their jobs in the Region. Kurdish language departments in the universities were closed, Kurdish language pre-schools were closed. Hundreds of Kurdish politicians and activists have been detained. Even the co-presidents of HDP have been detained. Today nine Kurdish parliamentarians and seventy Kurdish mayors are in prison. Some of them were forced to leave the country. More than 3000 HDP members are in prison. There is a constant threat of detention on Kurdish people. Every morning we regularly check to see who has been detained that day.
Anything Kurdish has been banned again. Kurdish statues and sculptures have been removed by appointed state trustees. For example, the famous Kurdish poet Ahmedi Khani’s statue in Doğubeyazıt was demolished; the memorial statue of Roboski massacre was dismantled. There are so many more… Kurdish signboards, Kurdish park names, Kurdish names of streets have been changed to Turkish. Eveything Kurdish is being cleaned from Kurdistan. To say “Kurdistan” has been banned again.
Two months ago, I was called to the Anti-Terror Department of the Diyarbakır Police Station. When I arrived with my lawyer, I learned that an investigation had been opened against me due to my articles and social media posts. One of my articles is under investigation because I used the word “Kurdistan”. The police officer asked me where Kurdistan was.
Our heart is Kurdistan
Kurdistan, the home of millions of Kurds was divided into four parts 100 years ago. Since that day, Kurds have lived under the authority of four cruel states. 100 years have passed with massacres, killings, chemical bombs and executions…
Kurdistan, the home of Kurds and sprawling mountain ranges, peppered with spring flowers, flowing waterfalls and hidden caves. Kurdistan, where the sun burns hot and the rocks remember. Kurdistan, where her people have suffered greatly and yet remains after hundreds of years.
Kurdistan is not only a land anymore. It lives in the heart of her people. Our heart is Kurdistan. We are Kurdistan.
We exist, Kurdistan exists!
*A short version of this article was published in Ahvalnews, with the name “Kurds exist”. See: https://ahvalnews.com/kurds/kurds-exist