The banner ‘Dersim 1938 – Roboskî 2011’ was drawing my attention when I first walked into the village of Roboskî (often referred to as Uludere), a couple of days after the Turkish army’s bombing in which 34 Kurdish civilians were killed. I knew the basics of the massacres that the state had carried out in the Kurdish-Alevi province of Dersim in the 1930s, but only after investigating Roboskî and digging into the state’s history of violence against Kurds, I could see the bigger picture. This week during an interview in the Netherlands, a parallel was drawn between a current scandal in the Netherlands and the country’s colonial history. These historical connections are insightful, but void if we don’t act on them.
The interview was about the so-called child benefits scandal , in which close to 40 thousand parents were unjustifiedly labelled as fraudsters by the Dutch tax authorities. The majority of the parents were single moms working hard to make a living, and many of them had a dual nationality, like Turkish-Dutch, Surinamese-Dutch, Moroccan-Dutch, Nigerian-Dutch or you name it, but tellingly not French-Dutch, or Canadian-Dutch. Institutionalized racism is real, that much I knew already, and it’s rooted in the Dutch colonial and slave trading past.
One of the women I interviewed was Moluccan-Dutch. The Maluku Islands were part of the ‘Dutch East Indies’. During the colonial wars that the Netherlands started to try to reverse the independence that Indonesia had declared in 1945, Moluccan men of the KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army) fought on the Dutch side. After the war, they were taken to the Netherlands ‘temporarily’ (exactly seventy years ago this year) and were promised that the Netherlands would help them become independent of Indonesia. Surprise: the Netherlands didn’t keep its promise, the Moluccans never returned to their islands and were robbed of their dignity in the Netherlands. The Maluku Islands still suffer from Indonesian occupation and repression today.
The woman I interviewed said that the Dutch prime minister since more than a decade, Mark Rutte, is basically the successor of the Dutch commanders that carried out massacres in Indonesia and elsewhere in the world. Rutte may not carry weapons, the humiliation, suffocation and supression of people who have no institutional power under the guise of bringing ‘law and order’ is leading to the destruction of women, mothers, fathers, families and children. It is destroying lives beyond repair.
The crime is of the child benefits scandal is ongoing. People, especially women and children, continue to suffer tremendously. That the first investigation into the scandal didn’t cover the racist nature of it, reminded me of the parliamentary investigation into Roboskî massacre, of which the blunt and void conclusion was that the F16s killed the people. Even digger deeper into the roots of the problem as a very first step towards removing those roots isn’t on the table.
Rutte – whose father was a tradesman in the Dutch East Indies and served as a KNIL-luitenant – and his government stepped down because of the child welfare scandal. But guess what: he is well on the way to become the PM again in the next government, the fourth under his leadership. The audacity! Rutte is not the root of the problem, but the problems can definitely not be solved with him in charge.
The Netherlands is still a colonial country, which hasn’t even begun to decolonize yet, which the child welfare scandal clearly shows. Rutte has taken the neo-colonial mindset to new levels with policies that have destroyed peoples’ lives, and the welfare scandal is by far not the only example that was built under his rule.
Oh the similarity with Erdoğan is just striking. Turkey will not * poof * be a democracy as soon as Erdoğan is out of the picture, but dismantling all of what’s wrong with him in charge is never going to happen. Him stepping down is the bare minimum to even start considering repairing the damage done. To start protecting lives again.
I saw a different kind of power too during the interview this week. The same sort of power that I have encountered in Roboskî, and in general in Kurdistan. The power of people who support each other in their quest for justice, the power of solidarity, the power of the love of these women for their children and the generations that come next, for whom they keep fighting. May that be the power with which we nourish a new humanitarian future, both in the Netherlands and in Turkey and Kurdistan.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.