It was in the days of the Kobani protests in Diyarbakır, early October 2014, that I was in Suruç, the town in Urfa Province right on the border, neighboring Kobani. I remember being torn: stay in Suruç, or hurry back to Diyarbakır to report about the protests that had turned violent? I stayed in Suruç. Refugees were coming over the border. There was this family with a young girl, maybe seven, eight years old. Pink shirt, half length dark hair. Sweetest voice ever, soft but clear, and she sang this song, ‘Ax Kobani’. Straight to my heart it went, and I felt the symbolism of it all. And now that the ‘Kobani trials’ are about to start, next week, I feel it again.
Some people who don’t follow Turkey and especially Kurdistan closely, may not fully understand what I am talking about. Kobani protest? Kobani trials? What is this all about? Well, remember when ISIS besieged the Kurdish town of Kobani in North-Syria and the Kurdish forces of the YPG fought like lions to defend it? It was during that battle that the alliance started between the Kurds in Syria and the US to crush ISIS. Long story short: the Kurds fought, the US bombed, and the advance of ISIS was, for the first time, stopped. The Kurds’ victory in Kobani became a turning point in the defeat of ISIS.
But that victory only came in January 2015. In October 2014, it was all unclear. What added to the anxiety, was Turkey’s support for ISIS. In the villages alongside the border, Kurds from Turkey gathered to follow the battle from as closeby as possible and to express their solidarity – that’s what I was reporting about those days. Then, the HDP called on their voter base to take to the streets to express solidarity with Kobani. Especially in Diyarbakır, people did. Unfortunately, things got out of hand. In the violence that erupted, at least 37 civilians died. Three nerve wrecking months later, Kobani was eventually saved.
Kobani became an icon of resistance. But an icon of Turkey’s stance towards the Kurds as well. In a way, you could compare Kobani to Roboskî, the town on the border with Iraq where Turkey bombed 34 of its citizens to death in December 2011. I investigated that massacre and soon realized that by explaining what happened in Roboskî, I could explain the whole Kurdish issue in Turkey (which I did, in this book). It was an intense journalistic journey to figure out what happened, and especially why that had happened.
When I visited Roboskî for the first time, the villagers told me it happened because they were Kurds. And after all my research, I had to draw the same conclusion, and could explain to my readers exactly why that was. How everything that makes Turkey Turkey is radically opposed to allowing the Kurds to exist.
The same played, and plays, in Kobani. Explaining in detail what happened there, what the history of the town is, which dynamics were in play during the battle, why Turkey opposed and continues to oppose Kurdish autonomy more than ISIS at its border, how Turkey has behaved ever since towards the autonomous regions in Northeast-Syria (occupation, unleashing jihadist mercenaries
that loot, torture, rape, kidnap), it all paints a painfully accurate picture of Turkey’s genocidal tendencies towards the Kurds.
The trials that start on Monday are fully in line with this. But in a way, it is worse now than it was during Roboskî. The state is prosecuting 108 HDP officials, including the co-leaders of those days who are now both jailed, Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş, for the murder of the 37 people who died in the violence in Kurdish cities in Turkey in early October 2014. The state said they incited violence when they called on people to take to the street. They didn’t – they explicitly called for peaceful protest.
What not many people may know, is that the HDP has asked time and again in parliament for a thorough and independent investigation into the Kobani protests, but the AKP and its coalition partner MHP have consistently voted against it. For obvious reasons of course: the state is responsible, it’s state security forces that did the killing, as they always do. The state never independently investigated the Roboskî massacre either, but it didn’t go as far as prosecuting Kurdish officials for the 34 boys and men who died. Now with Kobani, it does. The state is prosecuting the HDP for the murder of its own supporters, while it is abundently clear already that this is not what happened.
Kobani is a symbol of resistance, a symbol of solidarity, a symbol of the strength of ideology in battle. A symbol of sacrifice. And now, it is also becoming a symbol of Turkey’s fully politicized judiciary. Literally thousands of years imprisonment will be demanded for those on trial. A grotesque magnification of the absurdness of the state. If I could have been in Turkey the last couple of years instead of being banned from going there since autumn 2015, I’d write a book about it.