Graffiti showing a resistant woman resembling Saturday mothers and a sun with a human face and resistant expression.

War, peace, and the autumn

Taken in Buenos Aires, November 2018.

It was an autumn night in 2013. Most people were on holiday because of the Eid of Sacrifice. I was in Genç, a war-torn municipality in the small city of Bingöl. We were four young men sitting in a table. Two of the others were my cousins, the third was also from our village. All of us had studied or were studying in universities located in non-Kurdish cities of Turkey. I had just started my Master’s degree in political science. We were drinking tea and telling the stories we collected.

One of them starts telling the story of a Turkish nationalist from his university. This guy was very hairy and very ugly according to our storyteller in turn. ‘Something like a monkey’ he says laughing, trying to help us imagine this young man, who was a first-year student at the time. Then, our storyteller says, there is the pro-Kurdish movement at the university. It looks like they always invite first-year Kurds to their meetings. So, he says, with a contagious laughter, this guy was so ugly and so hairy that they thought he was a Kurd. We are all laughing at the table. The Kurds are good at laughing at themselves.

Apparently this first-year student wasn’t very bright, so he doesn’t understand what is going on. He is new at the university, a young woman he doesn’t know comes and invites him to a meeting at her house. I guess this must be college. Obviously, the guy shows up at a house full of pro-Kurdish material and posters. He is a Turkish nationalist in a room full of Kurds. He doesn’t know what to do, he is in horror! We are all laughing again. This student I have never met must be feeling what many young Kurds feel when they move to Turkish-majority cities to study. I haven’t been one of those Kurds since I grew up in Ankara, but I know many of them.

Everyone keeps telling their stories. One cousin responds laughing to a question: ‘No, I have Turkish friends too. Sometimes we talk.’ We all laugh. It is a direct reference to how some people defend themselves when accused of racism against Kurds. It was a warm evening. This was during the peace process, so Genç was probably the calmest it has been in decades. There was ample laughter and tea. I joked about everything being too silent and missing the helicopters. Exactly two years later, in another autumn in Bingöl, I was going to find out that there has been a suicide attack in Ankara rail station, killing 109 civilians, friends and comrades. The attack will target the pro-Kurdish ‘Labor, Peace, and Democracy’ rally and it will be the deadliest attack in the history of the Republic. The peace process will be failed by then. I had not seen this future yet.

I also didn’t know that shortly after the attack at the rail station, Tahir Elçi, the chair of Diyarbakır Bar Association will be murdered. This will happen in the same autumn, but I was going to be in Ankara by then. I will find out about this in the house of a Kurdish friend from the university. There will be a commemoration and protest meeting the same evening. It will be heavily raining. I will arrive at the meeting place completely soaking. I will see that almost everyone had brought their umbrellas and I will feel very angry. I will be angry at them because they were still worrying about getting wet in a day like that. That is what I will believe. I will not join the meeting. I will walk around the streets of Ankara’s city center under the heavy rain. I will realize years later that I wasn’t really angry at people for bringing umbrellas. I guess I had just sensed what is coming and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Maybe I still don’t. I didn’t know any of these on that autumn evening in 2013.

On that evening there was peace and tea. In Bingöl, at least. In Rojava, things were different. There, the Kurds were fighting against the Islamic State. Months later, many Kurds from Turkey joined the guerrilla, principally to defend Rojava against the attacks. My cousin with ‘many Turkish friends’ was among them. I haven’t seen him again.

In 2019, I was in Bogotá. I was in the third semester of my doctoral studies. The war in Kurdistan was continuing. There were unofficial Twitter accounts probably ran by members of the security forces. They were publishing the news and images of killed enemy combatants. There were many images of mutilated dead bodies on Twitter. My thesis subject was different, but I was also interested in these social media discourses. I was monitoring the accounts and subsequent comments to see if I write a research article. I found out about my cousin’s death during this monitoring. One of the accounts published that he had become ‘carrion’ (tr. leş). This animalizing term is frequently used in Turkey to define killed enemy combatants. Thankfully, there was no image. I think it was raining. I am not really sure, but it is very likely since heavy rains are frequent in Bogotá.

Some months later, I finished my first research article. I focused on two different cases of mutilation and humiliation of dead bodies on social media during the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. The cases were from 2015: Ekin Wan and Hacı Lokman Birlik. It was published next year in Media, War & Conflict. This article, along with other research products, got me into some trouble. Maybe one day I will also write about it.

I don’t know how good the article is, but I have never regretted publishing it. Mass dehumanization of Kurdish combatants during the conflict is a very important phenomenon and more people should study it. That is because a successful peace process will be possible only after the re-humanization of the dehumanized ‘others’, as I had argued in this seminar. I think it was necessary work.

My cousin’s name was Mesut. He was a journalism student. He was younger than me. He will never drink tea again. I have been meaning to write about him since 2019. It looks like I can’t. I didn’t know him that well after all. Instead, I wrote this one about myself. In a small bus in Mexico City, on my way to the university. I finished it in a cubicle in the library where I work. It is still autumn in Mexico. The year is now 2023. More than ten years have passed since that evening in Genç.

I guess that is it for now. I will get back to work.



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