I went to Cizre to assess the situation on the streets of the city and discover people’s feelings about the recent government security operations that are continuing against the PKK, and whether the fighting could influence the PKK to lay down their arms. Joining me was former General Staff officer Metin Gurcan, and the former head of the Turkish Nationalist Foundation Alaadin Aldemir. We were hosted by Abu bekir Şık, one of the heads of a prominent and powerful Kurdish Sheikh tribal family.
Walking off the plane, I was dazzled by the sight of the shiny new airport. We took the beltway around the city of Diyarbakır, driving past a number of new five star hotels. I was struck by how it resembled parts of Doha in the Gulf, But inside the old city walls, the historic part of Diyarbakır, the high-end hotels were closed as well as some shops reflecting the recent youth rebellion.
Driving on the new motorway from Diyarbakır to Cizre I saw many new government buildings, new waterworks, and electrical infrastructure. I thought about how the government has invested a lot of capital in new buildings, new hospitals, new airports and motorways, but they haven’t invested the same energy , time and money into a socio-economic infrastructure: creating new and alternative social and political policies and solutions.
Coming into Cizre there was a long-line of the trucks waiting to be let through the security services blockade. We were able to dodge the line up and drive into Cizre by way of the side streets with the help of our Kurdish host Abu Bekir.
Young people had blocked the entrance of some of the streets in the neighborhood we were heading for by building walls of sands bags decorated with a few Kurdish flags flying on sticks. Some streets were even blocked by trenches.
Before going any further we had to get permission to enter the neighborhood. “Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here?” the young people asked us. Abu bekir made a couple of phone calls and while we waıted we went to the cemetery to pay our respects. After they checked our papers and had a brief discussion with a lawyer friend of our host, we were allowed to pass.
In the neighborhoods’ everything seemed normal. Daily life was continuing – shops were open, there was a wedding and a funeral happening. We didn’t see any guns. The streets in some of the neighborhood of Cizre looked like the scenes we saw on TV of the streets of Gaza and in Lebanon, and it appeared that the local people tolerated the youths Palestinian rock throwing style protest against security the forces.
We talked to shopkeepers . they recognized me and said “you give a balanced interpretation of the issues ” but they had questions for Metin Gurcan about his nationalist interpretation, but we can understand him,so he and the shopkeepers got into a deep discussion. The shopkeepers told us “We don’t understand why the solution process ended. “
They reproached the government for stopping the peace process. I asked the shopkeeper two questions “ What do you think about having a municipality with legal enforcement capabilities and you give some benefits of municipal income to Kandil ? I don’t understand why young people are allowed to block and control streets with violence. “
He widened his eyes and responded “ Why did you come here if you are going to ask about young people blocking the streets. The Security forces came into our streets looking for people, These young people tried to protect our neighborhoods with violence, but I don’t like this way. He ignored my question about kandil.
The shopkeeper trusted us and took us around his neighborhood and to one of the new, but illegally declared autonomous districts. Cizre has a population of 300,000 people living 30 districts. About 12 districts have unilaterally declared themselves illegal autonomous from the greater municipal government by youth committees. About 80% of Cizre is under the age of 30.
As we were walkıng I commented that it was such a shame that the energies of these young people weren’t dırected towards education and entrepreneurship where they could apply their ideas for something unifying and wealth creating. Instead their future was set as one of rebellion.
We approached a representative of the autonomous group and he took us to a tea garden. There was a meeting in progress and I notıced there were a number of families coming and going into the meeting and İ wondered if it was a traditional conflict resolution meeting.
Our hosts invited us to go with them to the mosque in the city centre where locals go to pray, so we left the ‘autonomous area’ that is controlled by the young people and went to the town centre. Here we could see in all its glory the thousands of years of heritage.
While we were doing our ablutions (washing before praying) many people, young and old, came to us to share their feelings and ideas about themselves and what they want in regards to the peace process.
After prayers more young people and a few Mullahs approached us, they recognızed us from TV. They asked us why the solution process had stopped. They asked that more people from eastern Turkey come and talk to them and visit, “ıf they come they will lose their prejudıce about us” , they said.
The large population of young people in the mosque and on the streets of Cizre was striking, estimated at 80% of the population. After prayer we went to the cemetery and then walked the streets, ıt was safe, people were friendly and chatty. Abu Bekir took us to some bombed out places. “Even during peace time bombs would randomly go off”, he said, “ people accept it as normal” . We had lunch.
He took us to meet his family. They live a traditional Anatolian way of life with cushions on the floor and when an older person speaks everyone else stops talking. It was the same house that hosted Suleyman Demiral – Abu Bekir’s brother had been the head of the AKP in Cizre. Some of his other family members are part of the PKK, it was whıspered to us.
On the wall I noticed a Turkish flag and a Besiktas football club banner. The heads of the Sık family gathered to talk with us. The elders told us, “being Kurds we have always been living as second class cıtızens accept for the last few years during the solution process. We hate the bombs and weapons, it important to have a brotherhood of Islam but the government shouldn’t treat civilians like we are terrorists, we are very glad your visit but you shouldn’t forget this ; If you say the truth you will pay ”.
The family heads said they are waiting for true long – term solutions, “for the last 50 years no one has wanted a real solution. If they had really wanted to solve the problem it could have been solved in one month. The key to the solution is handed to only two people, the rest of us are ignored. The traditional (tribal) leadership doesn’t have the influence over the new generation as before. “
My friend Mete Yarar was in Cızre filming a documentary for TRT (Turkish National Radio and Television)phoned me and invited me to go to police headquarters to meet the Chief of Police to hear his interpretation of events. But all of a sudden we were startled to hear gunfire coming from polıce headquarters. Mete called me and saıd’”don’t come we’re under fıre”. Our hosts warned that Security would probably declare a curfew and that we should leave the city while we safely could.
We departed the beautiful city of Cizre for Mardin.
Historically Cizre was an important part of the Ottoman Mosul Vılayet; we can compare the Vilayet to a feudal kingdom. İn present day Kurdish politics it is seen as part of Rojova, a Kurdish region that includes Silvan, Idil, Nusaybin and Cizre, an areas imprisoned PKK head Abdullah Ocalan has declared part of a new strategic point called Botan. It is linked with Kobane and Jalabrus, so that a conflict in Kobane and Jalabrus results in conflict in Cizre.
The KCK has given young people a large role to play in their short and long-term political strategy. During the campaign before the June 7th election Kandil accused the government of stopping the solution process and so asked the young generation to start an uprising in Cizre and declare partial autonomy. But this isn’t enough to explain events leading to the fighting between the PKK and the state.
It ıs very clear that the young generation has become alienated from Turkish Republıcan values. They identify first as kurds in Kurdsistan and see the PKK as providing security. I compare this situation to my generation and events in the 1970’s when youth was beeing indoctrinated my Masoists and there was shootings
on the streets on a daily basis and fighting was happening on the campuses.
Young Kurdish people are connected with the idea of Rojova as a homeland without borders, and Cizre, Kobane and Jalabus are part of the same territory. It ıs a psychologıcal boundary for them and we must be conscious of this. İt’s a conflict between the nation state and the ethnic nation.
Kandil has directly and indirectly indoctrinated this generation, and they have also given practical training. Some youth went to Rojova to fight and some went to be a witness. During the solution process neither side was convinced of the other side’s sincerity, so even though the solution process was said to moving forward it was questionable in reality. Kandil was preparing for a low intensity regional war as part of the strategy to prepare for every option: peace and war.
Kandil has been using civil upheaval and conflict by the youth as a method of bringing the government to the table and re-opening a new solution process. It is fortunate for Turkey that Kandil hasn’t created a strategy for the cities and urban centers.
We should be concerned about the young generation: that as time goes by their protests will mutate and a new hero will be borne and they’ll declare independence from Kandil and Imrali. Unfortunately this generation’s childhood traumas and memories play a strong role in their psyche and they have no memories of a cohesive society. This problem will become more acute and intractable in the face of new kobani style events.
Given this situation it is recommended that authority in the region be decentralized and that local authorities be authorized to communicate with the young people to help defuse the situation by dealing with their concerns in a respectful way with humanity and understanding,
Our government has done a good job of using technology and defense methods in their bombings. As a result Turkish security forces have harmed the PKK in the mountains and rural areas. This success is a motivating force for the Turkish security forces, The state policy of keeping the army out of the city centers and towns during this conflict is a good one.
We have to look at who will keep the streets, if it’s the young people we will need new policies. The KCK has created a primitive lifestyle model that is pseudo Maoist. And even though the state has built a lot of new infrastructure they haven’t introduced a new socio-economic model nor have they been emphasizing our common identity as Turkish citizens. If operations are to be successful public perception must be that ideas and feelings of a common identity go up, not down.
We also need to take a look at whether the percentage of young people joining the PKK, YPG, PYD is increasing and if it is why they’re joining.
It must be kept in mind that Kandil influences the entire regional area of northern Iraq, northern Syria, and SE Turkey. Turkey needs to be part of the planning process for the post conflict political structure of northern Syria.
Turkish foreign policy should accept as fact the existence of a Kurdish autonomous region in northern Syria and establish a relationship similar to the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. This will increase Turkey’s security in the region. It could also have the effect of splitting the Kandil group and establishing a peshmerga force in northern Syria that will improve security in the region.
Turkey also needs to create domestic policy that will allow Kandil to integrate into the Turkish political system. If the Turkish government does this it could voluntarily split the kandil – YPG connection. We need to create a new policy to support reintegration and a multi ethnic security force that includes Kurdish, Turkmen, and Arabic Syrians.
Kandil also needs to bear the responsibility of putting forward a concrete and realistic proposal for what they want. They have used brute force but have put forward no intellectual proposals that can be used, instead using rhetoric.
Civilians in the region need a voice where they can put forward what they want. For the time being their voices are being drowned out by the fighting between the state and the PKK.