In his column yesterday, our editor-in-chief, Murat Yetkin, narrated how he celebrated the Nevruz of 1992: A policeman’s 9 mm Browning on his right temple during clashes in Nusaybin (The Nevruz threshold for Turkey’s future, Murat Yetkin, March 21, 2013). Six months before “the worst Nevruz ever experienced in Turkey,” in Murat’s words, I was in a more peaceful part of the world: Haringey, North London.
“Try the coffee shop on the corner,” the Turkish owner of a grocery shop pointed to what looked like a coffee shop, kebab restaurant, pub and every other business. I and a classmate were looking for a place in the “Turkish quarter” where we could watch a football game between the Crescent and Star squad and a European team.
We walked into the coffee chop which, other than being also a kebab house and a pub, was also a snooker parlor and a broadcaster of Turkish TV channels thanks to a satellite dish. The game had already kicked off and an enthusiastic crowd in one corner of the shop was watching excitedly. We barely found two seats right in the middle of the crowd, smiled at each other with satisfaction and concentrated on the game.
About 20 minutes into the first half I realized two things: All of the walls proudly boasted big PKK
flags and a selection of Abdullah Öcalan posters; and some in the crowd had been distracted from the game and were watching these two young Turks. I subtly kicked Osman a few times but he was busy watching the game and did not want to be disturbed. I whispered to him: “Don’t even think of cheering if we score.” “What?” he said, “Are you crazy? We’ve driven 50 miles to cheer a goal!” I told him to discreetly look at the walls. He went pale. Later, we would learn that we had chosen the PKK’s locale to watch a game of the Crescent and Star.
I thought about sneaking out of the shop but we were in the middle of a pack of men, some of whom were examining our looks, which were in a state of excitement until a few moments ago. At that moment the Crescent and Star scored.
The next few minutes looked surreal. There was thundering applause and cheers, whistles of celebration mixed up with Kurdish slogans of which I only understood “Long live Turkey!” We were frozen. Until a Kurd in the PKK’s trademark khaki uniform tapped me on the shoulder and asked: “What’s wrong with you? Are you sorry that we scored?” We?! I was perplexed, still suspecting a trap. But a hundred Kurds could not have set the stage in the expectation that two silly Turks would show up for a nice beating.
At the end of the game, “we” won, but the scene after the final whistle was more surreal. We and our “PKK friends” were drinking Turkish lager to celebrate “our” victory. The shopkeeper gave us a good discount and, as we waved good-bye to our new friends, one of them said: “A war is a war, but this is about football. Come again, lads!”
On our way home, we did not speak for about an hour. “It was a good game,” I said. “I missed Turkish lager,” he said. “Maybe we should go there again.” We did. And it wasn’t about football only.
Seventeen years after that football game, I would write in this column: “Militaries always fight wars, symmetrical or asymmetrical; it’s their raison d’etre…Turkish fighter jets and attack helicopters and artillery can always bomb suspected PKK
bases. Turkish soldiers can always exchange shots with the PKK
units... There can always be casualties on either side. The Turkish military can lose one helicopter gunship or more, and can always buy new ones. New conscripts will always join the army; new recruits will always join the PKK. The PKK
may metamorphose into a more political and less military structure. Or it may totally disappear from the scene; or give birth to new organizations inspired with the same romantic idea (A losing war for all, Feb. 27, 2008).”
Perhaps it’s time for a winning peace.