Friday, June 13, 2008

Serhado & Books as Bombs

I love this video. This is exactly how life is in Diyarbekir. For people who don't know, the guys in the white car are "civil" police, which doesn't mean they are civil, just that they are ubiquitious in their nasty pursuit of civilians: they follow, photograph, eavesdrop, "investigate" the most ordinary interactions. One time I was with a friend in Diyarbekir and she started to take photos of man sharpening knives in front of a Kebab shop. It was such a funny innocent scene. Suddenly we were surrounded by 15 FIFTEEN civil police demanding our ID and barking questions at us. We-- two middle aged American women were baffled... what had we done to provoke such an outpouring of the Turkish Emergency Defense Forces? Then one of them asked why we were taking picutres of a police station. We turned and yes, behind us half a block away, there was an ugly nondescript building covered with barbed wire. Only after my friend showed picture after picture on her digital camera, of her family, her dog and a few shots of the Kebab seller did they relent and release us but only after running our ID and questioning us for a half hour in the street. I remember one of these goons seeing a book sticking slightly out of my bag.

"What book is that?!"

He barked as if he'd found the crucial evidence of an imminent attack against the state. I pulled the book out of my bag. It was "Turkish Grammar".

"Why are you studying Turkish?"

"Uh, because I am traveling in Turkey. Merhaba."

Books are treated like bombs by the police. Here's another item from Info-Turk:

Gift Book Became a source of trouble for Beşikçi

Sociologist İsmail Beşikçi spent months to receive a box full of books sent from Sweden. Books were first sent to the Security Centre, some books were confiscated. Beşikçi wanted to take the rest then the post office asked to produce a receipt. Books were a present to him so he did not have a receipt. Beşikçi convinced that he would not able to get the books wanted to send them back to Sweden yet he was told that the two books were missing so the post office could not send them back.

Beşikçi’s two readers from Sweden sent sociologist İsmail Beşikçi around 80 books. Beşikçi received a note from the post office on 19 February. Beşikçi went to the Post office to collect the box but the workers opened the box in front of him and seeing that there were books in it decided to send the books to police to see if they were banned. Two weeks later he was called from the PO and was asked to collect his books.

Beşikçi was told that two books were confiscated but he could take the rest but was asked to produce a receipt for them. As he did not have a receipt he could not get the books and he was told that he could not send them back since two of them were missing. It took Beşikçi two months to get the books sent back to Sweden. (, June 10, 2008)

To read some of Beşikçi's brilliant writing check out Hevallo's blog.

The first time I ever went to Turkey, in 2004, things seemed so hopeful for the Kurdish situation. In that time, people wanted to believe that things were getting better. I met a Kurdish carpet dealer in Istanbul who was earnestly telling me how much things had improved. His example was this: The photographer Susan Meiselas had sent this man her book "Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History" as a gift. The man never got his book though, instead, the police came to his door in the middle of the night and took him to the police station. They interrogated him, why did he have this book sent to him? He had to prove to them that he did not ORDER the book, but it was sent without his knowledge. He told me he had to call Susan Mieselas on the phone and have her tell the police she had sent the book as a gift, he hadn't known she would send them, hadn't requested a book with the word "KURDISTAN" in the title. After the police heard her say this, they let him go home. "You see, they did not beat me, they did not keep me in jail. Things are better. But today I wish I had that book!"

I have heard endless stories of villagers who were used to burying their books and cassettes on a regular basis to hide them from the Jandarma. Word would come that the jandarma was approaching the village, and the scramble would be on to bury any item that could cause a problem. Books, Kurdish music cassettes... these things had to be buried. The army would come into the houses and "make terror", going through everything. Even an extra bag of flour, or extra tennis shoes were suspect.

When I look at this Serhado video, it is so true, the people in it are not "actors" although enlisted to act. The Kurdish mother looking out the window, wondering if her son will come back-- the smallest expression of life, of identity, provokes an overwhelming reaction of violence from the authorities. When I hear people talking about Turkey as the "model Muslim democracy" I know they haven't got a clue about reality. No "democracy" fears books, punishes people for their thoughts, punishes people for their language.

Its been claimed that Turkey will allow 24 hour broadcasts in Kurdish as an effort to appease the EU. I'll believe it when I see it. This is a state that has never stopped lying for 80 plus years. But of course, I want to have hope.

Kurds welcome Kurdish broadcast bill
Sezgin Tanrıkulu - Nebahat Akkoç
The adoption of a bill that allows full-time state broadcasts in Kurdish has been mostly welcomed by Kurdish activists and intellectuals, but they say it is hardly enough on its own.

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