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 Turkish Protests, Kurdish Indifference

  Opinion — Analysis  
  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author


Turkish Protests, Kurdish Indifference  10.6.2013  
By Kani Xulam


Turkish riot policemen clash with protesters at the Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul. Photo: AP
Read more by Kani Xulam
June 10, 2013

For centuries, the old Ottoman Turkish Empire ruled half the world. Is it rising again? Does the “Arab Spring” naïvely nurture the tyrannical seeds of a Kurdish winter of nightmarish despair?

The old Turkish imperialism was finally checked at the gates of Vienna in 1683. Three hundred years later, the Poles and Austrians still celebrate the defeat of “Terrible Turk.”

On June 1, 2013, the Turkish police withdrew from Gezi Park in Istanbul—the first time that police were checked by the power of people in Turkey. I immediately thought of Kurds, my people, and the beginning of their own liberation from Turkish tyranny.

But we seem hesitant. Although initially it was Sirri Sureyya Onder, a member of parliament with a Kurdish constituency, who stood in the way of a bulldozer—like the lone Chinese man who blocked a tank at Tiananmen Square in 1989—organized Kurds have been absent most of the time.

Do we not want to curb the power of sultan wannabe prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan?


Apparently not.

To be sure, the authoritarian leader of the Turks, for all his glaring faults, has been the only Turkish leader who has taken some “baby” steps towards the resolution of the Kurdish Question. On his watch, four duly elected Kurdish representatives were released from prison. But don’t raise your hopes too high—six new ones, born of June 2011 elections, have since replaced them.

As the world is finally catching up with his explosive tantrums, calling Twitter a “menace” and protesters “looters”—delighting Mubarak at Torah prison and Assad at Qasr ash-Shaab—we Kurds have been at our wits’ end to make him the “author” of at least some of our rights.

It has not been easy. In addition to his proverbial anger, the man is also highly emotional. On some days, he tells us he is going to send us all, no exceptions, to hell; on others, he reminds me of Boris Yeltsin, who told Tatars, apparently when he was not drunk, “Take all the sovereignty you can swallow.”

But the Turkish prime minister is a teetotaler. If I have to live under someone else’s clenched fist, give me Boris or Vladimir, but not Tayyip, the name means squeaky clean, but not his deeds. In Russia, minorities at least enjoy the right to education in mother tongue; in Turkey, they don’t.

When it comes to rights, no one has said it better than the emancipated slave Frederick Douglass, who might well have had Mr. Erdogan in mind when he mightily declared: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

In fact, he could have added, unless it is reined in by wisdom or checked by superior force, it is the very source of evil in the world and constitutes the real menace to peace, to borrow a word from the vocabulary of prime minister himself.

Mr. Douglass would not have been surprised to hear that on the very next day that the Kurdish representative stopped the bulldozer to uproot trees, on the 560th anniversary of conquest of Istanbul, the Turkish prime minister announced the construction of a third bridge over Bosporus and christened it Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge.

Twelve million Alevis of Turkey, six million of whom are Kurds, were dumbfounded. They had good reason to be. Yavuz Sultan Selim was a brutal butcher!

He beheaded some 40,000 Alevi Kurds and Turks and conquered most of the Middle East, including Egypt, bequeathing to posterity a name branded with infamy, but won accolades from Machiavelli.

But that did not bother Erdogan, with his aspirations of resurrecting a new Ottoman Empire, and calling Palestine a national security of Turkey.

When his party won the national election, he boldly declared: “Believe me, Sarajevo won today as much as Istanbul, Beirut won as much as Izmir, Damascus won as much as Ankara, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, the West Bank, Jerusalem won as much as Diyarbakir.”

Erdogan was, like Hitler did in Mein Kamp, plainly telegraphing his brazen intentions to resurrect the putrefying bones of the old Ottoman Empire.

And he wants to do it with weapons provided by the United States.

It is extremely interesting—and perhaps more than passing coincidence—that the last meeting American Ambassador Chris Stevens had, before he was murdered in a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, was with the Turkish Counsel General Ali Sait Akin who was there to discuss shipments of weapons to Turkey for use by Syrian rebels.

Even more interesting, a mysterious Libyan-flagged ship, El Antisar (The Victor), docked five days earlier in the Turkish port of Iskenderun, barely 35 miles from the Syrian border—reportedly bristling with weapons bound for Syrian rebels, who may wind up being mere tools for Erdogan’s grand Ottoman Empire resurrection designs.

We Kurds are seriously erring in placing our hopes in this man. He means to use us as foot soldiers of Turkish imperialism in the Middle East and maybe even Eastern Europe. That is what the Ottomans did when they reached the gates of Vienna. That expansionism was accompanied with a trail of tears, blood and death. The new adventure of the Turkish prime minister promises the same.

If anything, we should remember the old adage born of the Trojan War, but with a slight twist: “Beware of Turks bearing supposed gifts.”


As Jefferson splendidly reminded us: Man does not give us liberty. God does! And we must be eternally vigilant of man’s continual and relentless efforts to take our freedom away!


* Kani Xulam is a political activist based in Washington D.C. He is the founder of the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN)

Kani is a native of Kurdistan. He has studied international relations at the University of Toronto and holds a BA in history from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was recently awarded an MA by the International Service Program at American University. At the University of Toronto, he represented Kurdistan at the Model United Nations. In 1993, at the urging of Kurdish community leaders in America, he left his family business in California to establish the American Kurdish Information Network in the nation’s capital. He is the founder of the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN)

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