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Nurcan Baysal: Saying “I demand peace”, is dangerous.

Part 2.

What about the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)? You wrote a critical text about its President and his recent visit to Turkey…

I was so angry… He visited Mardin and met the kayyum (government-appointed trustee). I understand he had to visit Erdoğan and some institutions, but all his trip could have been quite different. If he is visiting the state officials, he should also visit the NGOs and meet with the human rights associations and defenders. But he chose not to and because of that I was disappointed. It was a big disappointment for people, like me, who are fighting for human rights, freedom and democracy. It was the first time the president of the ECHR was visiting Turkey, it was such an important visit. As a Kurdish woman, I was even angrier, because he visited the kayyum, the person who was appointed instead of our elected mayor… It was a big shade on his, and the Court’s, impartiality.

Still, sometimes I feel the ECHR is one of the few institutions that gives some hope to human rights defenders in Turkey…

That is why we were so disappointed. It is one of the few institutions that give us hope. For instance, in the 1990s, the ECHR was our only hope, lots of unsolved murders were solved, we found some mass graves with the help of the ECHR… We had lots of hope on the court. It is very important for Kurdish people, it is one of the main institutions for us. That is why he should be more careful, he has to know what he is doing.

Some days ago, Erdoğan said that “Our media has the modern infrastructure but does not reflect our voice and minds”. According to some estimates, more than 90% of the media is under the control of the president’s allies and Kurdish outlets have been dramatically targeted, especially after the failed coup attempt in 2016. Have they been able to somehow resurge? How do you regard the current situation of Kurdish media?

We still have Mesopotamia Agency, based in Diyarbakır, they give news from all Kurdish cities. When they closed Kurdish newspapers, they opened under a new name. The Kurdish movement has always been like this: for instance, if you close a party, a new one, with a different name, is created. It continues but with a lot of court trials, the state never finishes its pressure. Everyday there are new court trials against Kurdish media, newspapers and news agencies. It is really hard what they are doing, the situation is much worse than before the coup attempt.

You have already recognized that you and some of your colleagues apply some degree of self-censorship, for obvious reasons, which is quite telling when it comes to the situation of freedom of speech/press in Turkey. I assume that the recent social media law is just going to make that reality even worse…

It will make it worse; it will be a constant pressure on social media companies. However, to be honest, Kurdish people live under pressure and repression for so long that sometimes I do not remember times of freedom. I am not sure about what will change in my life and as a Kurdish person, I live under repression for a really long time.

In a public opinion survey taken shortly after the 2018 elections, less than 1% of Turks cited the Kurdish problem as Turkey’s most important issue. To Erdoğan, “there is no Kurdish conflict”. Do you believe that the issues faced by Kurds are forgotten out of the southeast of the country? How do you think people in other parts of Turkey should react and what kind of solidarity do you expect?

I feel support [from the rest of Turkey]. In social media we see lots of hate and racism against Kurds, but in real life it is not like that. People are afraid to talk, even Turks. It is true that there is a huge racism problem in Turkey and violence against Kurdish people is legitimized. Maybe lots of people do not react when there is violence against Kurdish people, but, on other side, I know there are good people, not happy about what is happening in this country, but they cannot speak. It is too hard for good people to speak, it is hard for them to support Kurdish people. Sometimes I meet with Turkish people who say that they know what we are experiencing, yet they cannot support us loudly. There is a huge pressure. Turkey is like a big prison now, people cannot speak openly. We see lots of racist attacks on social media against Kurdish people, but I am not sure whether social media is showing the real Turkey. There, racists can speak openly. But people who support peace with Kurdish people, who support democracy and equality, who want justice, cannot do the same.

To say some words is dangerous in Turkey, if you say “I demand peace”, that is dangerous. If you say that, you mean there is a war… And then you will be asked: “Where is the war? There is no war. There is a fight against terrorists!” People are losing their freedom, jobs, children, etc., just because they are demanding peace. Think about the Academics for Peace. Most of them are Turkish. They just said they do not agree with this war, that as Turkish citizens they would not be part of it. And then, what happened? All of them lost their jobs, they were labeled as terrorists and many left the country. Others committed suicide, as they were jobless, could not bring food to their children. There is a big racism problem, but I still believe – and I want to believe – that there are many good people in Turkey who are really sad about what is happening, but who cannot speak out.

Think about Osman Kavala, he is in prison. He spoke out, he does good things for peace and equality. There is no freedom in Turkey. Without freedom, it is hard to do analysis. What people read is what is written under these conditions. Nowadays in Turkey, racists can speak, people who want to kill the others can speak, but those who want peace and freedom cannot. We need to analyze the conditions of Turkish and Kurdish people. I still have hope, I think there are many things we cannot see. We do not really know about people who are in silence, afraid to speak about everything. You cannot criticize what the government does, so people are quiet. There is a big repression in Turkey, it is a very different country now. A society of fear.

Have you ever felt that it would be under Erdoğan’s leadership, especially when he presented the Kurdish initiative (Kürt açılımı) that a solution to the so-called Kurdish question would be found?

I had hope, I think lots of Kurdish people believed him, that he would change something. But then it was a big disappointment. We were not expecting this kind of war.

Do you feel that political divisions among Kurds – and I’m mainly referring to the HDP, AKP and Hüda-Par – can be an obstacle in the fight for better conditions for the population in the Southeast of Turkey?

Kurds are not a homogenous group, there are lots of divisions among Kurdish people, but there is something that all agree on which is education in mother tongue and cultural rights.  Language is like a red line for Kurdish people.

Who are those Kurds who support the AKP and Erdoğan? It is curious that it is not easy to find articles in Western media about them.

Kurds who support the Akp and Erdoğan have some ideological and practical reasons. Firstly, they are more religious and Kurdish community ,in general, are a religious community. The HDP is is more secular, gender-equality oriented. Besides that, they think that just powerful figures can do something in this region.

We also need to speak openly: before the AKP, there were no roads to villages, some infrastructures were really bad in the Kurdish Region. They did a lot in that field. So, they feel the AKP is the party who brought these things to this region. Some Kurdish people have problems with the PKK as well, and believe they have to stop fighting. All these things come together. There is not only one reason.

I was in Şırnak some weeks ago and I met with some village guards. When I spoke to one of them he said he became a village guard because he had no other option, he needs money for his kids. When we think about village guards, we think they are bad people who kill their own brothers. But that man is just a villager who needs some money to feed his kids. He told me he never wanted to be a village guard, but there was no other job option. What can I say to this man? Nothing is homogeneous. Most of village guards were probably involved in bad things, they used guns. But there are also people who become village guards just because of its salary. You should know that especially in conflict areas what you see sometimes is not the “truth”, and  try to see and understand the “unseen” that remained within the different truths.

We should be very careful when we talk about people living in Kurdistan. Living here is important and hard. Even Kurdish people who live in Brussels, Paris… they do not understand how it is to live here under the sounds of bombs. If they lived here, they would know that even the sound of a bomb is paralyzing. That feeling when you are eating food, going to the market, to know that while you cook to your kids,  someone is dying… You cannot eat, it is kind of shameful not to die. They do not understand those things. You continue your life with this feeling and you know that you life doesnot have a value in the eyes of this state and you and your children are killable.

Kurds are widely considered to be more conservative than the general population. However, there is a huge support in the Kurdish-majority Southeast for the HDP – a secular, liberal and progressive political party. Is the support that the party gets in the Kurdish regions exclusively due to an ethnical factor?

The only party openly saying that Kurds exist and defend their rights is the HDP. There are lots of conservative people who support the HDP. Even if you are not happy with their policies, sometimes that is not important, what matters is that they are giving you a voice. They are the only ones who struggle for Kurdish people rights. I also support their  gender-equality policies, but I have some relatives, very conservative, who also vote for the HDP. It is a problem of existence. The others say we are a big nothing, but I am something, and only the HDP say “as Kurds, you exist, you should have rights like the others”.

In Turkish history, sometimes we have existed, sometimes we do not. I remember that when I was a child I had the same problem. In the 1980s, in the hospital there were signs that said “No Turkish no Service”. But my mother’s language was Kurdish and I told her that we exist, but some do not accept it. I am also writing because of that, because we exist. They say us that you don’t exist, we say them that we exist. And yes, we exist.

You have been developing a great work not only but also on the field of women rights. There are many issues affecting Kurdish women such as the lack of educational attainment (8 in 10 are either illiterate or did not finish primary school), high fertility rates, child marriages and honor killings. What can be done to make this situation a bit better (or, at least, less harsh)?

We have educational problems, poverty problems. When we had Kurdish mayors, it was different. They had a gender-equality language, they established gender-equality policies in their municipalities. There were gender departments, women bus drivers, emergency lines, shelters for women, women NGOs, etc. But in 2016, when state trustees came, they closed those departments, the emergency hotlines, and many other things. All we gained, all we struggled for, we began to lose it. I think this affect the lives of women. There is also impunity. When you kill your wife or a woman, in a few years you are out of prison. There is impunity when it comes to honor killings. In Turkey, especially in this region, women have been losing many of the rights we gained before.

In the southeast of Turkey, more than half (56%) of children live in extreme poverty. How to deal with this issue?

Poverty, especially among Kurdish children, is one of the big problems in the region. There are many reasons for this. We have war. For example, in the 1990s, more than 3000 Kurdish villages were destroyed, some of them were burnt, which meant the loss of many natural resources also. If one takes into account our natural resources, we are not poor, we have rivers (Euphrates and Tigris) and we have very fertile lands. But we cannot use them. No one comes and invest in this region. There is war, investors are not coming to the region.

Besides that, it is not easy for Kurdish children to continue in the education system, which is in Turkish. When I was a child, lots of teachers thought Kurdish children had cognitive issues, that they were stupid. Lots of Kurdish children left school because it is hard for us to understand in Turkish.

You have a dream of establishing a school of peace in Sur “for people who believe in peace and human rights”. How is that project going?

Lots of people want to buy my house [the one in which the school is planned to be] and I always say no. I have been talking to some of the architects and trying to find some money to restore the building. We will see what we can do. It is my dream, I hope one day I will open the house.

José Miguel Rocha
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