Accessibility links

Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

  • Dorian Jones

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between secular Kurdish nationalists and their more pious compatriots. The region's main city, Diyarbakir, has become the epicenter of bloody clashes between the two groups.

Last October, Diyarbakir was rocked by some of worst violence in decades. The clashes were sparked by Kurdish nationalists who were angry at the Turkish government for not supporting Kurdish fighters under siege by Islamic State (IS) militants in the nearby Syrian city of Kobani. But much of the anger was also aimed at religious Kurds suspected of supporting Islamic State militants.

Yusuf Er was delivering meat with friends during the Islamic festival of Eid to local needy people for a charity connected to the Islamist Huda Par party. He says one hundred or more people stopped them and that there was a voice from behind accusing them of being associated with IS. Then, he says, the crowd started attacking them with stones and sticks without giving them a chance to explain that they had nothing to do with IS.

“I heard my friends' screams of pain. I understood they were being shot,” recalls Yusuf.

Yusuf survived despite himself being shot twice and stabbed 17 times. His four friends died.

But Mehmet Bahattin of the Islamist Huda Par party denies any links to IS, claiming it is the victim of a power grab.

Bahattin says this is a serious and unfair accusation without any proof. He says actually the Kurdish rebel group PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party), which does not allow any political establishment other than itself in the region, is aiming to judge and eventually eliminate Huda Par by accusing it of affiliation with IS, which, he adds, has a negative place in the mind of Kurdish people. “This was their goal,” he says.

‘This is not Islam’

The staunchly secular PKK has been fighting the Turkish state for more than four decades for greater minority rights. But, for now, tentative peace talks are continuing with the government.

The Democratic Society Congress or DTK is linked to the PKK. Hilmi Aydogdu, co-chair of the DTK, suspects Huda Par of being connected to a shadowy group used by the state in the war against the rebels.

He says its roots lie in the past, in the 1990s. In the memory of Kurds, the violence and massacres of the '90s are still very strong, says he.

“At that time Huda Par… committed serious massacres against Kurdish patriots, religious leaders and anyone who was against them,” said Aydogdu, adding that even today there is still potential ground for more confrontations and provocations.

DTK accuses Huda Par of collaborating with the state to kill dozens of its supporters during last October’s unrest. Mahsum Coban was one of them. He was part of a convoy protesting IS when his car was stopped by gunmen near Huda Par's office. His family and pro-Kurdish parties claim Huda-Par supporters shot him.

His mother, Neslihan Coban, just wants an end to religion being used for political ends.

She says her children all read the whole of Quran.

“I made them read it all. Mahsum used to read every night, share prayers on his Facebook page. We are Muslims. Nobody should use religion for political ends. This is not Islam,” said Coban.

For now, calm has returned to Diyarbakir's streets. But observers warn that with clashes between Kurdish nationalists and Huda Par supporters occurring in nearby Turkish towns, tensions remain in the city, along with feelings of unfinished business.

XS
SM
MD
LG