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 Kurdish man walks from Germany to Kurdistan in “Demonstration for Peace”

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Kurdish man walks from Germany to Kurdistan in “Demonstration for Peace”  23.6.2012  

Ismael Atay, 45, decided to walk the 4,000 kilometers home instead of going by plane or car. Photo Rudaw.  See Related Links
June 23, 2012

COLOGNE, Germany, — A Kurdish citizen living in Cologne, Germany, is planning to make the journey home to İslahiye in Turkey’s Gaziantep province – by foot.

Ismael Atay, 45, decided to walk the 4,000 kilometers home instead of going by plane or car. His journey is to take four months.

Bypassing the Rhine River, Atay will head to south to the Balkan Mountains and the Turkish border. From there, he will continue onto Saxarat, the village of his forefathers.

Atay – who introduces himself as Lo Smaylo Saxarat – has been living in Cologne for 25 years. He was married to a German woman, but declined to become a citizen. He does not carry a Turkish passport either.

Now single, and with no children, Atay gave away all of his belongings to friends before starting out on his journey. He has decided not to return to Germany. There is a chance, however, that he may face imprisonment in Turkey as he never fulfilled his military conscription.

On June 3, in front of a church in Cologne, Atay took the first step of his trip surrounded by his friends and family members. It was raining. He carried an umbrella, along with his backpack, a small tent, some clothes, a laptop and a cell phone.

He wrote a farewell letter and explained the goal of his journey to Kurdistan. “This is a demonstration for peace,” read the letter. “I have already made up my mind and have reached this decision on my own. I do not want anyone to accompany me. It’s the fundamental right of anyone to live with dignity, wherever he was born.”

Rudaw met up with Atay just over a week into his journey, in Frankfurt. “The first day, both of my feet swelled up. I was very tired,” Atay said. “Wounds appeared on my body.”

Atay mostly sticks to the main roads. He carries a map and, when stopping for a break, he taps his route into Google. Via Facebook and Twitter, Atay is keeping his friends and family updated.

The idea of making this journey by foot first came to him two years ago. “I was a waiter in a restaurant,” Atay said, describing how he trained himself before setting off. “I would stand on my feet for 12 hours every day, and walk to and from work. I avoided eating sweet and salty food … and reduced my meals to one bowl of soup per day.”

His backpack weighs 15 kilograms. After the first day, Atay was grateful for getting his body into shape. “Fifteen kilograms might not seem like much,” he said, “but when you have a long trip, even one kilogram can cause difficulties.”

Atay was feeling confident about his personal safety, and had not alerted the media or police about his route. He said, “I trust humans. I’ve been meeting a lot of people on my trip and they greet me. I don’t think I will have any problems.”

No organization sponsored the journey, and Atay denied that any political party had encouraged him, saying he was simply a peaceful Kurdish Alevi and against militarism.

“I do not want to provoke any sensitivities with this trip of mine,” Atay claimed. “But I do want to be a voice for events that are taking place in Kurdistan. I want to be a voice for peace.”

He added, “It is, indeed, difficult. We, the Kurds, exist but are denied the right to existence.”

Frankfurt proved difficult for Atay due to the size of the city, and he had resolved to head towards Austria and Hungary directly instead of passing through Munich. Before leaving, he said, “Farewell to you all and greetings to those I am about to visit. You will always stay in my heart.”

It was still another 3,800 kilometers to Kurdistan.

By Mehmet Sabtali

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