On Oct. 7, I joined my colleague and old friend Hasan Cemal at dinner in Istanbul. While I was on my way to the restaurant, I learned about disturbances in the Kurdish-inhabited provinces of Turkey, loss of lives and the imposition of a curfew in six provincial centers and a number of districts. As we sat down for dinner, we were informed that in different areas in Istanbul clashes had erupted between protesters and security forces; Cemal was receiving calls nonstop. He told me early the next morning that he would go to the border province of Mardin to be hosted by Mayor Ahmet Turk, a veteran Kurdish politician and perhaps the most respected Kurdish name in Turkish public opinion.
This news did not surprise me. Cemal is considered the dean of the Turkish journalism corps. He has been in the profession for over 40 years, and he served as the editor-in-chief of Turkey’s oldest paper Cumhuriyet for a decade. During the military rule of the early 1980s, he was on the Executive Committee of the International Press Institute. After a long and brilliant professional career, he dedicated himself to field reporting mainly on the Kurdish issue. He traveled frequently and developed strong connections among the Kurdish political elite. He just published a new book titled, "Kurdistan Gunlukleri" (“Kurdistan Chronicles”), about his extensive travels and contacts in Rojava, the Syrian Kurdish area adjacent to Turkey’s border.
While the aggression of the Islamic State (IS) on Kobani was underway with a reluctant Turkey standing by, watching extremist Islamist forces on the verge of slaughtering the Kurds and thinking of its repercussions in Turkey’s Kurdish population, Cemal could not do anything else but go to the region to report.
And that’s what he did. These are excerpts of a first piece he wrote on Oct. 8 under the title “Serhildan-I” ("Uprising-I" in Kurdish). Reading Cemal’s impressions made the title even more interesting: “Ahmet Turk said, 'Even I am confounded by this Kobani issue. I was thinking that in the end Turkey would help the Kurds. I was wrong. It didn’t.'”
Cemal believes for Ankara to leave the Kurds alone to face the barbaric IS gangs was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. He wrote, “Those who had never voted for us, those who had supported the AKP [Justice and Development Party] were all at Suruc. They are all in the streets now. Ankara’s policy of let’s leave it to IS to cleanse the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] an PYD [Democratic Union Party] and to teach them a lesson has destroyed everything. Beheadings by IS, the rape of women and Turkey’s passivity in the face of all this barbarity has become a breaking point for the Kurds. … Before it was the guerrillas who said that this state cannot be trusted, but now the people in the street are saying it, too. Kurds see how the state is turning a blind eye to IS.”
"The TV was on. We were watching the Sterk and Ronahi Kurdish channels. The news ticker read: 'A statement by the KCK [Kurdistan Communities Union]: Kobani is AKP’s new war concept.' A second statement followed: 'Don’t leave the streets. Every place is Kobani, every place is resistance.' Striking pictures were aired of streets full of people; places on fire. Ahmet Turk said, ‘I don’t remember anything like this. This is the first time. This is a true uprising, a serhildan. Last night, the governor called me to say, Tell them to go home. It was like a joke. Who is going to listen to us? In popular actions like this a point comes when you can no longer keep a rein.’
"In referring to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ahmet Turk said, 'In the people's eyes, Erdogan is now a dictator. What kind of arrogance is that?'
"Ahmet Turk continued, ‘Listen, what we have been living through for the past two days is serhildan of Kobani, an uprising. It is beyond an organization. It is an uprising of the people. This state’s mentality has not changed in substance. Look, years later tanks are back on the streets. With this sort of state mentality Kurdish equality is a false dream. You can’t solve the issue with this mentality.'"
Cemal then quotes views of some anonymous Kurds: “On separatism one of them said, 'The AKP’s policy is to back IS. That’s the policy that is dividing Turkey. Kurds now see this reality. They understand that the solution process is not seeking to solve the question but to undo the Kurds.'
"Another added, ‘Kurds see that IS is a subcontractor used against the Kurds. The state is fighting Kurds through IS.'
"Another said, ‘Erdogan put IS and the PKK in the same basket; called both of them terror organizations. This really hurt the Kurds. They couldn’t believe it.'"
At midnight on Oct. 9, Cemal wrote the “Serhildan-II” piece from the Kurdish town of Suruc on the frontier separated by the railroad from Kobani:
“You hear grievances against Erdogan every step of the way. He said Kobani is about to fall and will fall. Is he aware that Diyarbakir has already fallen? If it continues like this, may God help us; the entire country will be set on fire. Is Erdogan aware of this?”
Arzu Yilmaz is a young academic of Kurdish origin. She is a doctoral candidate in the School of Political Sciences at Ankara University, and she has a reputation as the most perceptive academic personality in regard to the Kurdish issue. For her Ph.D. dissertation, she spent more than two years in Dahuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, where she studied the Kurdish political movement. The moment Turkey’s Kurdish provinces erupted, she wrote the following:
“Don’t let anyone play the three monkeys. Turkey is openly heading to war, not only across its borders but also inside. Kurds have risen. In Kurdistan, there is popular uprising with unprecedented popular participation. … What is clear is that it doesn’t matter what city, town, village. It is like a bomb ready to go off.”
A small news item that may not have attracted the attention of many people, for me is the most striking. Teyrenbazen Azadiya Kurdistan (TAK), believed to be a faction within the PKK that was responsible for a number of acts of urban terrorism, issued a statement that read: “It is time to call to account the owner of the gun barrels pointing at Kobani. From now on, all major cities are our fields of action and all enemy forces are our primary targets. When Kobani is burning, Turkish cities will not be sleeping comfortably. TAK will transfer the conflagration at Kobani to enemy forces in big cities and turn them to hell.”
A media report on Oct. 9 described TAK's record as follows: "TAK, which is part of the PKK but operates independently from the organization, has until now claimed responsibility for many bomb attacks against big cities and tourist destinations. The attacks in Kusadasi, Marmaris and Antalya in 2005 and 2006, and [the attacks] on June 22, 2010, in Istanbul that killed five people, four of them soldiers, were among those claimed by TAK. The attack on Oct. 31, 2010, at Taksim in Istanbul that wounded 32 people, and [the attack] on Sept. 20, 2011, in Ankara that killed three were also claimed by this organization."
Turkey is heading down a very dangerous path toward violence, with the potential of a civil war and/or intercommunal fighting. This would be very bad news. Even worse, the PKK and its imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan may not be able to control the developments.
We will be watching the scope of the spontaneity of the Kurdish outrage in Turkey and the talent of the Kurdish political elite to handle the situation.
For the government — which seems to have lost its ability to think comprehensively — the task to prevent Turkey from drifting into a civil war depends mainly on the Kurdish political elite and their control over the new generation of Kurds, whose outrage has grown further with the situation in Kobani.
Because if this is a "serhildan," then it may be the harbinger of worse to come.