Turkey: Kurds belong in Gezi protests

June 12, 2013
The image of jailed Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan at Gezi Park.

During the early days of the Gezi protests, researchers from the University of Istanbul surveyed 3000 activists in the heart of the struggle around Taksim Square.

Seventy-one percent of respondents described themselves as “pro-freedom” with no affiliation to any organisation, most of them first-time activists. Only 7.1 % said they were a member or supporter of any group.

Barricades on the streets are nothing new to Turkish people. Barricades have been put up against the authorities many times.

But people kissing on the barricades is new. There have been many such “firsts” in the last two weeks in Turkey.

Even the 7% in Taksim Square that day who were members or supporters of organisations — environmentalists, nationalists and leftists — were not the experienced street fighters.

Although Istanbul is known as the “biggest Kurdish city in the world” due to immigration from occupied Kurdistan over 30 years of military oppression, there were very few Kurds in Gezi at the start.

Kurds are currently in a peace process with the Turkish government. Kurdish guerillas have been withdrawing from their positions to Iraq since early May in accordance with an agreement between Kurdistan Workers’ Party leader Abdullah Ocalan and the Turkish Government.

There is strong resistance to the agreement by Turkey’s secular, militarist anti-Kurd, nationalist movement — a movement that has been strongly represented in the Gezi protests.

Understandably, many Kurds have not wanted to stand with them. They don’t want the peace process to be derailed. The Islamist government detected this feeling quickly, and thanked the Kurdish Peace and Democracy party (BDP — the “Kurdish Sinn Fein”) for not attending the protests.

On the other hand, socialists in the red-green-Kurdish umbrella alliance, the People’s Democratic Congress (HDK), have argued that this new, strong social struggle in the west will make the Kurdish struggle stronger. (Turks are the majority population in Turkey’s west and Kurds in the east.)

Kurds have also changed their position quickly. BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas declared the party’s support for the Gezi demonstrations.BDP MPs who had visited Ocalan in prison announced his message to Kurds: “Do not leave squares to nationalists.”

We can now expect Kurds to be more involved in the protests.

The reservations Kurds have about Gezi has not mean they completely withdrew from the demonstrations. They attended Taksim gatherings carrying photos of their leaders. For the first time in history, Kurdish youth with Abdullah Ocalan posters and nationalist, anti-Kurdish youth with the Turkish flag chanted slogans shoulder to shoulder.

A picture of nationalist and Kurdish protesters shaking hands stormed social media. Some nationalists tweeted: “If this government does this violence to us, who knows what they did to the Kurds.”

The Gezi demonstrations are breaking down artificial divisions. The more Kurdish people go to Gezi, and the hundreds of Gezis around Turkey, the more prejudice will reduce.

[I Zekeriya Ayman is a Kurdish-Turkish socialist living in Melbourne.]

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