Friday, November 16, 2012

The Kurdish View of the Kurdish Issue

With the Kurdish hunger strike in Day 66, the reason for much of the media silence is because Turkey is imprisoning journalists who write about the Kurdish situation. So alarming is the rising number of arrests that an occasional newspaper called Tutuklu Gazete, or "Jailed Newspaper" publishes statistics on the number of journalists, elected officials and other politicians who are arrested. 

On Sept 10, 2012, a mass trial for 44 Kurdish journalists began. Most are charged with "membership in an armed organisation," which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, according to the Anatolia news agency. The organisation is not the PKK, it is the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), a Kurdish political party that the government accuses of aiding the PKK. The stated goal to “annihilate the PKK” and destroy the KCK might, by some people, not represent actions of a “moderate leader” as Ceylan Yeginsu  describes Erdogan in the International Business Times, Nov. 15. Erdogan scorns hundreds of hunger strikers who are risking death for the cause of Kurdish rights. 

Some observe, with sarcasm, that the fact there is a trial at all for the journalists is a step in the right direction. "It is better than the past," says Huseyin Akyol, editor of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem, eight of whose staff are on trial. Mr. Akyol, a 23-year veteran of the paper, offers a stark perspective. "In the 90s the state killed us, we lost 76 journalists and distributors and they blew up our offices. Now they just imprison us - although life in prison is difficult."

Turkey currently tops the world for jailed reporters according to a report published in October 2012 by the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists. It found 76 journalists were imprisoned as of 1 August, 2012, of which 61 were identified as being detained because of their reporting. 

Prior to the elections of June 2011, 13 Kurdish candidates for parliament (mostly BDP) were banned from running for office which led to massive protests forcing the government to restore 12 names to the ballot. From the Kurdish point of view, this is what caused the escalation of violence resulting in over 800 deaths of both soldiers and Kurds since then.

Kurdish mayors, politicians, and journalists arrested in Turkey
Over 33 elected mayors of eastern Turkey’s Kurdish towns and cities had been arrested as of April 2012. That number continues to grow. On June 7, 2012, the mayor of Van was arrested along with 4 other mayors. In Dogubeyazit on June 14, 2012, 15 Kurds were arrested without charges and taken to Agri jail. Many were employees in the local city hall and a few worked in the local BDP office. The mood of the town grew sullen. People were depressed and angry. These alarming scenes of arrests throughout eastern Turkey have been escalating since 2009 when Erdogan began his campaign to destroy the KCK. The arrests have left Kurds in a growing sense of outrage. 

7748 people have been imprisoned and over 3800 people have been arrested during operations against the KCK. Many elected officials and politicians arrested are members of BDP, not KCK. Many people, including children, remain in prison without being charged. 

The press rarely reports about the US drones that fly over eastern Turkey 24/7 and report locations of suspected PKK camps to the Turkish military, nor does it report on the hundreds of innocent Kurds that have been killed by bombing raids called out by the drones. I spoke in person to a Turkish Air Force helicopter pilot in May 2011 who told me he was trained in Atlanta, Georgia, to fly the helicopters. He explained that the US passes drone information to the Turkish military for action. 

U.S. drone flights in support of Turkey date from November 2007, when the Bush administration set up what is called a Combined Intelligence Fusion Cell in Ankara. U.S. and Turkish officers sit side by side in the dimly lighted complex monitoring real-time video feeds from Predator drones. 

Right after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Ercis and Van on Oct 23, 2011, displacing nearly one million residents, instead of sending aid to the area, the military sent 10,000 soldiers into southeastern Turkey in a military campaign against the PKK and flew bombing raids resulting in more deaths. When international aid agencies offered earthquake aid to Turkey, the government turned down the aid, leaving bewildered observers and survivors asking, “Why?”

In Dec 15, 2011, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met in Ankara with President Abdullah Gul and Turkish defense leaders to finalize a 111 million dollar deal for the U.S. to move its drones from Iraq into Turkey and to sell 3 AH1 Super Cobra helicopters to Turkey.  Panetta expressed the United States’ solidarity in its fight against the PKK. It appears the US wants the PKK finished off so it can stage its continuing Middle East wars from Turkish soil without interference.  

On December 28, 2011, 36 innocent Kurdish young men with their mules were bombed and killed on a Qandil mountain trail between Iraq and Turkey. The Turkish government blamed the “mistake” on “bad intelligence”. The U.S. predator drone flew away after reporting the caravan's movements, leaving the Turkish military to decide whether to attack, according to an internal assessment by the U.S. Defense Department, described to The Wall Street Journal. "The Turks made the call," a senior U.S. defense official said.

Uludere bombing, based on US drone intelligence, killed 36 innocent Kurds 
It has been more than 30 years since it was reported that high flying spy planes could identify the license plate number on a car or calculate the height of a man from his shadow. Is the public so gullible as to believe this bombing raid was a mistake? A person can no longer take a naked swim in the privacy of her backyard pool for fear of showing up on Google Earth! 

The message was clear. The Qandil mountain trails between Iraq and Turkey should be closed now that the U.S. was transferring its drones to Turkey. In May 2012, NATO and the US established its radar base for the missile defense system in Malatya in southeast Turkey, with little or no international press coverage, in spite of regular protests outside the gate of the military base. In exchange for US drone coverage, as well as US drone and helicopter sales to Turkey, in support of Turkey’s campaign to annihilate the PKK, Turkey allows the US to maintain military bases on Turkish soil. 

The 3 AH1 Super Cobra helicopters were delivered by the US to Turkey on September 23, 2012, two weeks after the prisoner hunger strike for Kurdish rights began.   

The AH1 Super Cobra is armed with Hellfire missiles.  The Obama administration formally notified the US Congress on Oct. 28 of an unusual proposal to sell three AH-1W Super Cobra twin-engine attack helicopters to Turkey from the US Marine Corps inventory. Under the administration's plan, the Marines would get two new, late-model Textron Inc Bell AH-1Z Super Cobras in exchange for the three, twin-engine AH-1W aircraft that would be transferred to Ankara, a congressional official told Reuters last year. Such sales from the US military's current inventory are extremely rare, Reuters noted.

One must ask how many schools could have been built for Kurdish school children for the price of those 3 Super Cobras?

According to a letter from the hunger strikers, they are asking for more humane conditions for Abdullah Ocalan, held in solitary confinement for a year-and-a-half. His attorneys have not been allowed to visit him. A website (, which is blocked in Turkey, contains a letter from Ocalan describing his deteriorating physical condition. He explains that has body trembles from lack of sufficient air in his tiny cell. He feels he is suffocating. I ask, what country in the world, abiding by international legal standards, justifies denying a prisoner the right to meet with his attorney (other than, of course, the United States at Guantanamo gulag)?

Why is the demand by the hunger strikers for Kurdish rights and easing of prison conditions for Ocalan and the right to meet with his family and lawyers so difficult to agree to? On what principal is the Turkish government standing firm in its position against the hunger strike? 

Amy L. Beam, Ed.D. 
educator and tour operator

Friday, November 9, 2012

Photos and Links of Kurdish Hunger Strike Supporters

Light a candle in support of prisoners on hunger strike for Kurdish rights.

Hunger strikers demand three reasonable things.  Mr. Erdogan, please don't wait until it is too late.

1. Education in their Kurdish language
2. The right to use Kurdish in courts
3. Easing of conditions for Abdullah Ocalan and access to his lawyers

The hunger strike began on Sept 12, 2012
Solidarity actions with hunger strikers in 20 cities
Kurdish hunger strike in front of CNN building in Los Angeles on November 12th: KNCNA
Prominent Kurdish politicians join militants' hunger strike in Turkey, Nov 10, 2012 

Brussels train station supporters Nov 11, 2012

Amed-Diyarbakir/ Serkeftin, Nov 11, 2012

Istanbul Taksim, supporters of Kurdish hunger strikers, Nov 11, 2012

Supporters of Kurdish Hunger Strike in Adana, Turkey

Supporters of Kurdish Hunger Strike in Van, Turkey 

Empty streets in Diyarbakir: Protestors in Solidarity with Hunger-Strikers

Nov 2, 2012, Supporters of Kurdish hunger strikers in Toronto

Nov 7, 2012, Kurds in Ireland go on hunger strike in support of hunger strike in Turkey

Oct 30, 2012, Supporters of Kurdish hunger strikers outside Parliament in Stockholm

Stockholm supports Kurdish hunger strikers on day 60


Turkey's Kurds' critical hunger strike By Julia Harte, Nov 6, 2012

Kurdish children in Lebanon support Hunger Strikers, Sept. 9, 2012
At Root of Kurdish Hunger Strikes, Decades of Struggle by Emiko Jozuka, Nov. 8, 2012

Armenians in Istanbul support Kurdish hunger strikers, Nov 9, 2012
Bakırköy Women’s Prison, police fired water canon on supporters, Nov 9, 2012
Police water hose and tear gas women in Gever for Friday prayer, Nov 9, 2012

Chicago Kurdish Cultural Center supports prisoner hunger strike, Nov 1, 2012

Kurds in Oslo march in support of Prison Hunger Strikers 

Adelaide, Australia, demonstrators support Kurdish hunger strike, Nov 9, 2012
CNN news reports on peaceful sit-in of mothers in support of Kurdish hunger strikers

Police tear gas Kurdish women in Istanbul peacefully supporting hunger strikers

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Prisoners on Hunger Strike for Kurdish Education

Nov. 4, 2012
by Amy L. Beam

As 683 prisoners begin the 54th day of their hunger strike in 66 prisons across Turkey, panic grows over the looming possibility of their deaths.  I implore Turkish leaders to immediately open the way for peace.  In partnership with local Kurdish guides, I operate Mount Ararat Trek, sending climbers to the summit of Agri Dagi (Mount Ararat), near Dogubeyazit in eastern Turkey on the border with Iran and Armenia.

Computers in Every Classroom in Kackar Mountains 

 In 2011, I visited the Kackar Mountains to expand our tour programs.  From Yusufeli, the narrow, rough road winds up, up, up through a steep river canyon bordered by sheer rock cliffs.  The road ends in a sidewalk wide enough for one vehicle to drive to Yaylalar, a village of two pensions at 1900 meters. 

Though only 60 kilometers from Yusufeli, the treacherous drive to Ogunlar takes three hours.  I remarked to my Kurdish business partner at the amazing feat of running electric and phone lines up the mountain road.  “When you have your own country, you can do anything.  You can take electricity to the top of a mountain like this,” he answered.  They even have cable TV and internet connection at the top.
Electric and phone lines run all the way to the top at Ogunlar, Kackar Mountains

Village below Yaylalar in Kackar Mountains 
Back home in Dogubeyazit, Murat Camping Hotel and Restaurant, which is located only 6 km above Dogubeyazit, continues to request a mobile phone tower to be put on the hill for guests to have internet access.  For two years it has been promised “next week.”   Like a hundred empty promises to Kurds, it remains unfulfilled.

In Ogunlar we chatted with the pension owner’s son, a university graduate with a degree in computer science. He teaches computer science in a local public school in the Kackar Mountains.  I expressed surprise, “You mean you drive all the way down to Yusufeli every day to teach!  How is that possible? The drive takes three hours each way.”

“Oh, no,” he explained. “I teach in a primary school just down the hill from here.  The school has one computer in each classroom plus a computer lab. I am their full-time computer science teacher.”

On our return to Yusufeli, I was on the lookout for a village school large enough to merit a dedicated computer science teacher.  There was none I could see.   But I did look over the cliff edge of the road and was baffled to see a stunning new soccer field with neat white lines and new green sod.  It was grand enough for a World Cup playoff.  I could not spot a town, let alone a school.

Atatürk and Broken Toilets for Eastern Turkey

By sharp comparison, we often take our Mount Ararat climbing tours on cultural tours of the area surrounding Dogubeyazit.  A stop in a local primary school is a highlight for both the visitors and students who gather around to practice their English and have their photo taken.  In May 2011, Murat Şahin and I took our American visitors to visit Kazan Elementary School where Murat’s father attended school.  The children, eager to love and be loved, ran to the fields to pick wild flowers to present to us. 
Kazan Primary School in eastern Turkey, near Dogubeyazit
Kazan students give wild flowers to Amy Beam
Our visitors from Montana, Olivia Ximenes and Patrick Harrington, were so distressed to see the condition of the one-room school house that they donated a huge box of school supplies.

Kazan school inside
American visitors standing under Atatürk portrait inspect  Kazan one-room school 

Outdoor toilets at Kazan school, Agri                    

The teacher had a tiny table for her desk.  The toilets were outside in total dilapidation with no running water.  On the school room wall was a display of student reports on Kemal Atatürk.  The various photos of Atatürk were larger than the written reports.  Atatürk’s picture was plastered everywhere.

Atatürk nationalistic lessons in Kazan primary school
Kazan school had perfect attendance of its 16 students.  One reason why more parents do not send their children to school is because parents feel the Turkish-centered education is undermining their Kurdish culture.  Also, their children literally do not understand the Turkish language.  Kurdish is the predominant language spoken in this region. Many adults in rural areas do not know Turkish.

How Many Cobras to Build a School?

We returned to Dogubeyazit and met with an Agri government official who promised to repair the toilets and paint the school.  This was completed in September 2011 with government funds matched by donations from Murat Camping in Dogubeyazit.   But toilets do not make a school.

eager students at Kazan primary school near Dogubeyazit, Agri, eastern Turkey
Don’t the children of eastern Turkey villages deserve to have a computer lab and dedicated computer science teacher, just as much as the children in the remote Kackar Mountain villages?  The future of Turkey depends upon the education of all of its children.  Why is bilingual education so hard to accept?

How many schools could have been built for the price of the three AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters and Hellfire missiles that Turkey bought in September 2012 from the United States to annihilate the PKK?

In a visit to the small village of Gungore near Little Ararat, I spoke with two teenage girls attending school in Dogubeyazit.  They could count to ten and manage a simple conversation in English with me.  I encouraged them to keep studying English because it is their pathway to opportunity.  They giggled at my suggestion and corrected me, “No, we do not have time to study English. It is hard enough for us to learn Turkish so we can understand our teachers!” 

Unrelenting Vitriolic Hatred

One must understand the Kurds are not making up their demand for education in the Kurdish language just to be contrary.  It is truly difficult to learn when the teacher is speaking a language you do not understand.

The teachers in the schools of eastern Turkey are predominately from the west of Turkey.  If I may dare to distinguish them, they are mostly Turkish, not Kurdish.  Though this is a distinction that is banned under a strict government policy of assimilation, it is, nonetheless, how Turkish citizens voluntarily categorize themselves in Turkey.  Turkish teachers are required to teach in the east for two years.  I met one group of such teachers in Dogubeyazit who asked of me, “We know why we are here.  We have to be.  We cannot wait to leave.  But we cannot understand why you are here by choice when you don’t have to be.  You do not even represent an NGO.”

Herein lies part of the hostility between Kurds and Turks.  When an entire segment of the population is reviled and considered “throw-away,” this creates deep-seated resentment and bitterness.

In day 52 of the hunger strike, I turned to Twitter to read the tweets.  Fuat Kircaali, a Turkish businessman, tweeted:

@FuatKircaali  After more school bombings, Erdoğan to #Kurdishlawmakers: "You decide ! Either "parliament" or "blood" you can't have it both ways !" #PKK

I could not resist replying to his tweet:

@FuatKircaali If #Erdogan would let the #Kurdish parliamentarians out of #prison, maybe they would have a chance to decide. #PKK #kurdistan

Mr. Kircaali got the last word with his tweet:

@amybeam Erdoğan is a gentleman. I wouldn't send a single BDP #PKK lawmaker to prison, I'd execute the m…..f….rs.

I edited his vulgarity for the reader.  The point is that millions of Turkish citizens are in a rage at Turkey’s Kurds.  Kircaali’s tweet typifies the vitriolic hatred to be found everywhere: on the internet, in the newspapers, in buses, trains, restaurants, schools, and overseas.   How would you feel, what would you do if you were a member of a minority group subjected to such day-in and day-out unmasked hatred?   Would you want to be assimilated into the very group that detests you, rejects you, vilifies you, and limits your access to education, to learn in your own language, and to exercise basic rights of free speech?

The Question of Language Instruction in Kurdish

On the subject of language, I admit I am a purist.  I spent six years as an English teacher in the States, and I have always held a firm belief that language unites a people.  When I pass through Immigration at the Miami Airport, I resent having to ask the government employees to speak to me in English, not Spanish.  Guatemala and Nigeria, with over 30 different languages, not dialects, are stark examples of how language holds a country back from unification.   I held dearly to my cherished belief until one day a friend in Tucson, Arizona, who is married to a bilingual Mexican-American man, forced me to re-examine my logic.

A friend of hers complained about the Spanish-speaking population of Arizona, “Why can’t they go back to where they came from?”  My friend’s husband pointed out that they already are where they came from.  His parents, grandparents, great-grandparents were born on the same land as present-day Tuscon.  Arizona used to be Mexico in the 1840s and was conquered by the United States in the Mexican-American War.  In 1848, Mexico ceded to the U.S. the northern 70% of modern-day Arizona.

Like the Mexican-Americans, Kurdish people of eastern Turkey have been living on the same land for hundreds of years.  At the conclusion of World War I, the victorious Allies mapped out Kurdistan in the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres.  Kurdistan was to be a self-ruled homeland for 25 million Kurdish people who share one cultural identity and speak one language.

Article 147 of the Treaty of Sèvres dictated that Turkish nationals who belong to racial, religious or linguistic minorities shall enjoy the same treatment and security in law and in fact as other Turkish nationals. In particular they shall have an equal right to establish schools with the right to use their own language.     

The Betrayal of Kurdistan

The treaty was never ratified.   The re-conquest of these areas by the forces of Kemal Atatürk caused the Allies to accept the renegotiated 1923 Treaty of Lausanne which carved up the Ottoman Empire.  The Republic of Turkey was born with Kemal Atatürk as its leader.  Kurdistan was torn into four parts:  eastern Turkey, western Iran, Northern Iraq, and Northern Syria.  The Kurds became minorities in these new countries.  Atatürk immediately outlawed the teaching of Kurdish in schools and the use of the Kurdish language.  Under a policy of assimilation, it was forbidden to mention the existence of Kurds within Turkey.   Kurds were officially labeled mountain Turks and the land of Kurdistan was renamed Eastern Anatolia.

The promise to create a self-governed homeland for Kurds was broken.  Across nearly a century, the longing for Kurdish identity has not been extinguished.   

Kurds are not immigrants to Turkey in the same way that my grandmother emigrated from Italy to America.  The teacher sent my grandmother’s youngest son (my Uncle Ferd) home from school with a note reading, “Keep your child home until he learns to speak English.”  My grandmother diligently learned English and so did her children, including my mother.  In spite of being two generations removed from my Italian roots, when I was growing up in suburbia, USA, we had an American custom of asking one another, “What are you?” to identify our heritage.  I answered “Italian,” though I had never stepped foot in Italy, did not speak Italian, and am not Catholic.  Although I understood I was most assuredly American, I always answered “I am Italian.”  I knew what tribe I was from.

So how does it hurt Turkey for its Turkish citizens to honor their heritage and say, “I am a Kurd?”  Why does this throw Turks into such a blind rage? The Kurds in Turkey are already home.  It is a logical, reasonable demand for Kurds to wish to speak their mother language, express their culture, enjoy equal rights and opportunities, and participate fully in the affairs and politics of their own country: Turkey.   

It is not a forced common language that will heal the wounds of Turkey; it is love and equality.  The continuing atmosphere of vitriolic hatred and a policy of forced assimilation of Kurds and annihilation of the PKK is not the path to peace.  I call upon the leaders of Turkey to recognize the legitimate requests by the hunger strikers and avert the looming tragedy of their deaths.

Amy L. Beam, Ed.D., operates Mount Ararat Trek ( in partnership with Kurdish guides.  She is completing her book Climbing Mount Ararat: Love and Betrayal in Kurdistan, for 2013 publication.  She can be contacted at