Accessibility links

Turkish Kurds Feel Fallout From Separatist Campaign


Kurdish rebels have been fighting for increased autonomy in southeastern Turkey for more than 30 years in an ongoing campaign that has cost thousands of lives.

The guerrillas have recently stepped up their bombing campaign - killing at least 24 Turkish soldiers in their most recent attack.
Many Turkish Kurds actually oppose the guerrilla violence. They are frustrated by a broad government crackdown and continued widespread discrimination.

Life in the Kurdish southeast of Turkey is constantly disrupted by Turkish jets flying overhead.

Hulya Agaoglu feels her life is in danger.

“We definitely have concerns about our future, because we can be victims of a bomb attack. When you go out, there may be a protest, when we go out we are afraid to be caught and be labeled, and be killed or imprisoned. That is what frightens us,” said Agaoglu.

Even members of the country's pro-Kurdish political party have been detained. They are charged under Turkey's broad anti-terror laws with supporting the outlawed PKK guerrillas.

Turkey's ruling party spokesman Huseyin Celik, himself a Kurd, rejects accusations that many of those arrests are unwarranted.

“Those mayors or administrators who have been detained, are not just being detained because of what they do, their jobs, but because there is sound proof that they they have provided finance, resource and logistics to a terrorist group,” said Celik.

To an outsider in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, it can be difficult to tell who is a Kurd and who is not. But Kurds, who make up roughly 20 percent of Turkey's population, speak of widespread discrimination and oppression.

Kurdish parents change their children's names to Turkish names, and teach them Turkish. But nothing can mask their accents and their pride in their ethnic backgrounds, and they are still afraid.

The fear reaches as far as Istanbul. Kurdish students here were too frightened to show their faces.

“There is a guy who is very active among Kurdish students, like supporting nationalist movement, saying 'I want education in my language, I want to learn my history, I want to learn my literature, I want to live my traditions.' If you defend something like that, the police will catch you and say you are a member of the PKK," said one student.

Lawyer Ramazan Demir spends most of his time defending imprisoned Kurds. He said the government approaches the Kurdish demands as a security problem. There is no dialogue, he said. It is a question of assimilating or losing their identity altogether.

“A Kurdish [Kurd] can be a prime minister, a Kurdish can be the president of the state, a Kurdish can be anything, whatever he or she wants. But they cannot be Kurdish,” said Demir.

For the Kurdish youth here, that is a stark choice.

  • 16x9 Image

    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

XS
SM
MD
LG