The Nevruz threshold for Turkey’s future

The Nevruz threshold for Turkey’s future

I was trying not to make a single move as the policemen literally kicked blood out of my legs as I felt the cold tip of the barrel of his 9mm Browning on my right temple. I knew that any move might result in a “leaned on me” kind of excuse to be told to my colleagues after what could happen to me.

I was in the last car of the convoy carrying white flags on our way from Cizre, bordering both Syria and Iraq, and the convoy was stopped as we were driving by Nusaybin, a town divided by the Turkish-Syrian border with its twin, Qamishli, on the other side. There was a clash along the outskirts of the town between security forces and militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); we could see them and hear them as they exchange sporadic fire with Kalashnikovs on both sides. As I opened the boot and moved to open the zip of my bag, an awful clash began and the policeman immediately drew his gun, pointed it at my head and started kicking me as he shouted, “Bloody bastards, it’s all because of you people.” He thought that the press coverage of the incident was working as propaganda for the terrorists. All I cared about at that moment was staying firm and not making a single move. Almost a minute later, which was like a lifetime for me, the driver of the car realized what was happening as much as he could see from the mirror. He got out of the car, begging the policeman, “Please boy, let him go.” He was beaten up by the policeman and perhaps saved my life. Perhaps I owe my life to the driver of our car, Mehmet Cizrelioğlu, that day, because the death toll of the clashes in Nusaybin that day rose to 14 as we entered Diyarbakır airport to go back to Ankara in a few hours time.

It was March 22, 1992, and I learned the next morning with an urgent bulletin from the Anatolia news agency that one of our colleagues and a friend, photo reporter İzzet Kezer, who had been shot as he was trying to cover a clash in Cizre a day before, could not be saved in the hospital. On Nevruz day, March 1992, in Cizre, eight people were killed and the total figure was at least 22 including causalities from neighboring towns. That toll did not include the bodies, I had counted at least two village guards that had been hung upon lamp poles by the road with bank notes put in their mouths as we were entered Cizre in the early hours of the morning two days ago.

Cizre 1992 was the worst Nevruz ever experienced in Turkey.

The oldest-known sacred day in the world, Nevruz, the New Day, marks the equinox and was declared the Kurdish national holiday (despite being the national holiday for Iranians, Azeris, Turkmens and Kyrgyz already) when the PKK needed a folkloric image on which to peg national Kurdish identity as a means of gaining popular support for their armed campaign for an independent state in 1984. That armed campaign has cost some 40,000 lives so far. Neither the PKK nor the Turkish governments managed to win an outright victory. That is the reason why the Tayyip Erdoğan government has initiated talks via its National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the founding leader of the PKK Abdullah Öcalan, who has been held in the island prison of İmralı south of Istanbul since 1999, when he was arrested in a joint operation by MİT and the American CIA.

The only point in common that the government and the PKK could find to symbolize hope in finding a political solution to this painful problem happened to be Nevruz Day.

Osman Baydemir, the Mayor of Diyarbakır from the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) said yesterday that March 21, 2013 was the “Most important Nevruz of the history of the Republic.” It might be a bit more than that. Everyone is still very cautious, but if Diyarbakır passes the Nevruz test today, a big threshold for the future of Turkey could be considered passed.