I remember as a child how afraid I was when my mother spoke Kurdish in public.
When I was seven, I needed to go to the hospital every week because of an accident. When the doctor would ask my mom a question about my health, I would quickly answer before my mother. My mother’s Turkish was not good. I was afraid of her speaking Kurdish.
As a child I thought she could be punished. Kurdish was forbidden. In schools, on televisions and in public areas, we were given the perception that to use Kurdish was bad. I remember thinking “but we exist.”
As the years passed, it was not easy for us, as Kurdish children to accept our identity, our language and to be proud of using Kurdish without fear and shame. Today millions of Kurdish people in Turkey do not know their mother tongue because of the years of language oppression.
Last week, when the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Osman Baydemir was punished for using the word “Kurdistan” in parliament, my childhood memories came back to me.
In his speech, Osman Baydemir said:
“As a son of the Kurdish people, as a representative coming from Kurdistan I see my role as being this: this roof should encompass both Kurds and Turks.”
When he finished speaking, Deputy Speaker Ayşe Nur Bahçekapılı asked him where Kurdistan was. “In here,” he replied, pointing to his heart. Baydemir was then thrown out of the chamber under a rule that bans insulting government officials and using terms that run counter to the “indivisible unity” of the country. Baydemir was suspended from two sessions and fined 12.000 TL. ($3,108).
No true recognition of Kurds, not yet.
Until the end of the 1990s our existence was not accepted in Turkey. In Turkish media and schools we were the “mountain Turks” whose name came from sound of walking through the snow —“kart... kurt...”
Some Turkish people even believed that we had tails. I remember one of my friends who grew up in Konya, a central Anatolian city. One day he undressed himself and ran through the school playground to show the other children that he did not have a tail!
In the last decade, things began to change. In 2005, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then the prime minister, but now president, visited Diyarbakır, the biggest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. Erdoğan said he recognised there was a Kurdish issue. This was followed by the “Kurdish Opening Project” in 2009. During that time there were some positive developments. Private Kurdish courses were legally permitted. A Kurdish channel TRT-6 was launched on state television, which was followed by the opening of Kurdish language departments in some universities.
The talks between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) finally led to a ceasefire in 2013. During those “peaceful” years, Erdoğan also used the word “Kurdistan” in one of his speeches.
Opposition members of parliament, he said, “shall read the first official records of parliament. They will see that the word ‘Kurdistan’ is in those records. When they look to history they will see that eastern and southeastern regions are the Kurdistan state of the Ottoman Empire”.
After two years of talks between the Turkish government and Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK, the Dolmabahçe Agreement was announced. On 28 February 2015, millions across Turkey watched as a list of agreements between the Turkish government and pro-Kurdish lawmakers was announced at Erdoğan’s Istanbul office at the Dolmabahçe Palace.
But the peace process between the state and the PKK collapsed in July that year, just after the HDP received more than 6 million votes in the general election and for the first time passed the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament.
In August, clashes erupted in Kurdish city centres and the state began declared curfews in Kurdish cities. Parts of many Kurdish cities have been demolished and millions of people have become homeless.
After the July 15th coup attempt in 2016, a nationwide state of emergency was declared and things got a lot worse in the mainly Kurdish region. State administrators were appointed to replace elected mayors in dozens of pro-Kurdish municipalities. Today, 94 of 102 Kurdish municipalities are run by state appointees. Almost all Kurdish media, even the Kurdish children’s channel were shut down.
Two months ago, I was called to the Anti-Terror Department of Diyarbakır Police Station. When I arrived with my lawyer, I learned that an investigation had been opened against me due to my articles and social media posts. One of my articles is under investigation because I used the word “Kurdistan”. The police officer asked me where Kurdistan was.
Our heart is Kurdistan.
Kurdistan, the home of millions of Kurds was divided into four parts 100 years ago. Since that day, Kurds have lived under the authority of four cruel states. One hundred years have passed with massacres, killings, chemical bombs and executions.
Kurdistan, the home of Kurds and sprawling mountain ranges, peppered with Spring flowers, waterfalls and hidden caves. Kurdistan, where the sun burns hot and the rocks remember. Kurdistan, where the people have suffered greatly and yet remain after hundreds of years.
Kurdistan is not only a land anymore. It lives in the heart of her people. Our heart is Kurdistan. We are Kurdistan.
We exist, Kurdistan exists!