MEMORIES, THE PRESENT, THE FUTURE
"Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance." ~ Woodrow Wilson
I have been reading and thinking about the latest news of Dr. Kamal Sayed Qadir and the more I read and think, the more disturbed and disappointed I become. For reference, see Charles Chapman's excellent post about the situation on his blog. Charles is beginning to explore the future of Kurdistan by questioning freedom of expression in the South and what the effects of Dr. Kamal's situation might be for the North. More information can be found by Piling at Roj Bash! and at KurdishMedia.
I made my first trip to South Kurdistan this year. One of my friends in the North had recently returned from there, and when I arrived in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan, his trip was one of the first things we talked about. I asked him what he liked most about South Kurdistan. "All the soldiers and police are Kurds," he replied without a moment's hesitation. This is a significant thing for a Kurd under Turkish-occupation to say, because it is an acknowledgement that there is a place on earth where Kurds wield the power of the state. Instead of foreign troops--yes, Turkish troops in North Kurdistan are foreign; they come from west of Kurdistan--the Kurds of the South are policed and protected by Kurds.
Now, this discussion with my friend gave me intellectual knowledge of what South Kurdistan was like, but crossing the Habur/Ibrahim Khalil border gave me experiential knowledge. The difference between the two sides of the border can best be compared to the difference between night and day. On the side of Turkish occupation, there are Turkish soldiers and police, guardtowers, throngs of people, crisp one-hundred US dollar bills on the counters to ease the necessary stamp into the passport, controlled chaos. . . yes, controlled chaos. It is all orchestrated by the official Turkish bureaucracy to keep everyone off balance, to maintain control of the "restive" Kurdish population, to keep those addictive little greenbacks flowing into the pocket of the official who decides whether or not you will cross.
On the Kurdish side, the soldiers are gone as are the guardtowers. There are no greenbacks on the counter in front of the Kurdish officials. It is quiet and much cleaner. Everyone bustles about, tending to their own business.
But what I really noticed in the South, what was so amazing to me, was that I was free to speak. I no longer had to worry that my words would get me, loved ones, friends and their families, into trouble. I did not fear police or pêşmerge. I did not feel a sense of dread at checkpoints and roadblocks. No one feared these things, and the police and pêşmerge did not fear the people. Each moved freely in and around and among each other, on the streets, in the bazaars, outside of public buildings. Eventually, I ceased to pay attention to the authorities because they did not present themselves as a threat. Even the pêşmerge guarding the border with Turkish-occupied Kurdistan were not a threat. Instead, they warned me not to go too close to the fence on their side of no-man's land or the Turks would surely shoot me. Of course, I already knew that.
In the North, it isn't like that. You watch your mouth, you watch the police, the jandarma, the intelligence types in civilian clothes. You are always aware of them and where they are when you are in public. You get a distinct sense of uneasiness when you see a roadblock looming ahead of you on the highway, out in the middle of nowhere. You get annoyed with them when they appear out of thin air thirty seconds after you have arrived in a village. They always ask the same questions. Who are you? Where are you from? Why are you here? On the other hand, you know how to feign just enough stupidity to annoy them in return.
Dr. Kamal's case is the latest in a series of recent events in South Kurdistan that cause me to wonder if we are witnessing a trend in the way state power will be wielded in the future:
In August, there were reports of PUK security shooting at Rojhilatî Kurds in Silêmanî. They were protesting against the Teheran regime's brutal repression of Kurds in Iranian-occupied Kurdistan.
In September, a peaceful protest in the town of Kalar, over a lack of water and electricity, ended up as a riot when the PUK authorities tried to break up the protest.
In October, there was a riot in Akre over lack of public services and fuel. The KDP refused to allow media coverage of the riot. Random arrests over this incident continued into November. It was also in October that Dr. Kamal was arrested.
In December, there was an attack on the Kurdistan Islamic Union. It was reported that the KDP was involved with certain incidents surrounding the attacks.
Are these events simply coincidental or do they indicate a trend? Is Dr. Kamal's detention incommunicado and secret trial simply coincidental or is it the latest in the trend? Orhan Pamuk is only one out of 50 or 60 other writers or journalists currently being tried in Turkey under Article 301. I wonder how many others have undergone detention incommunicado and secret trial in South Kurdistan, others about whom we have not heard AND whose voices we shall not hear for another 30 years.
The memories of the freedom I felt in South Kurdistan, combined with the fear that there may be a trend against the freedom of expression there, are the sources of my deep disturbance and deep disappointment. In many ways, South Kurdistan has come a long way since 1991, even though there is still a long way to go and many problems to be solved. I wonder if the Kurds of the South will learn to hate and fear those whose job it is to police and protect them, just as they have hated and feared foreign oppressors. I wonder if they will begin to dread the checkpoints and the roadblocks. I wonder if they will learn to watch their words in order to guard their lives.
The memory of Kurdish şehîds deserves better than this. The Kurdish people living today deserve better than this. They yearn for freedom, have fought for it and cling stubbornly to it . . . in all parts of Kurdistan. They know that the history of liberty is the history of resistance.