On social media, somebody attacked me for calling security officers at Erbil airport, (who didn’t allow me into the country and put me on a plane back home), ‘jash, or: traitors.
An absurd claim. This is literally the first (and the last) time in my life that I have ever typed that word, and it has never rolled from my lips. The word is not in my vocabulary, and besides that, I think it’s a dangerous term. It plays into the hands of those who want to divide Kurds by implicitly branding some Kurds as ‘not real Kurds’. Turkey likes that.
I do admit I was angry when it turned out that I wouldn’t be allowed to grab a taxi to the city and spend a week or so with the delegation from Europe that came to try to de-escalate tensions between the PKK and the KDP. And I do admit that I told the security men in the ultra-posh office between the passport desks and the luggage belts that they should hang a portrait of Erdoğan next to the portrait of Massoud Barzani on their wall.
It’s Turkey’s interest they are serving, after all. Turkey holds the KDP in such an iron political and economic grip that it feels it has no choice but to play along. The KDP can break this toxic relationship and switch to Kurdish unity, but that would harm the material interest of those holding power in the party, so they don’t.
Now that I think of it: considering calls for de-escalation and peace as a threat for public security is something right out of Turkey’s playbook to begin with.
But did I call them ‘traitors’? No, I did not. That word suggests that these security men wouldn’t be ‘real Kurds’. They are. Just like PKK members are ‘real Kurds’, and not ‘traitors’ because they don’t strive to establish an independent Kurdish state.
It reminded me of a series of interviews I did more than ten years ago, trying to find out what a ‘Kurd’ actually was. That sounds like a silly question but let me explain. Back in the early 1990s, when I came fresh from journalism academy, I was a volunteer writer at the youth magazine of Amnesty International in the Netherlands. We had a ‘call for action’ for two Kurdish teenagers in Diyarbakır, who were kidnapped by the state because they distributed the illegal Kurdish paper ‘Özgür Gündem’. I wondered what had become of the boys and tried to figure out.
One of them was still involved with Özgür Gündem, but now as a graphic designer. The other had moved to Istanbul as a boy with his family. He owned a jewellery shop now and didn’t want to have anything to do with his Kurdish identity anymore. He didn’t want to talk to me, his family members who had remained in Diyarbakır told me after they had called him.
If you distanced yourself from your Kurdish identity, were you still considered to be a Kurd?, I wondered. One academic I talked to, said you couldn’t just erase your ethnicity and cultural tradition, but that, then again, you weren’t obliged to live it either. Another researcher, a Kurd herself, made it simple but very enlightning. She said: “A Kurd is somebody who calls himself a Kurd.”
Just as Turkey can’t tell Kurds that they are Turks, a Kurd cannot tell another Kurd he is not a ‘real’ Kurd. It would be more fruitful to see the current dynamics as a corollary of the state Kurdistan and the Kurds are in. A nation influenced by the oppressive structures in which they have always lived in Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Restricted by increasingly militarised borders that aren’t theirs. Used by dictators and autocrats to gain or hold onto power, or to expand their sphere of influence.
Claiming that PKK-supporters are traitors because the PKK doesn’t want a state, is absurd. And it becomes malicious when you claim that the PKK and Turkey are working together to weaken the Kurdistan Region because the Region does want independence. Saying that those who love the Barzani dynasty are traitors because the KDP works with Turkey, disregards the clans’ control over life in the Kurdistan Region and the historically strong loyalties. Equalling love for the peshmerga to support for the capitalist interests of the KDP and the PUK nullifies the sacrifice of common peshmerga in, for example, their resistance against Saddam.
A Kurd is somebody who calls himself a Kurd. You can have a million more friends than the mountains if you include all others who call themselves Kurds, however different your aspirations for the future of Kurdistan may be.
Uniting against the real fascist force in Kurdistan, which is Turkey, will literally help the Kurds to survive. Because who else is going to wholeheartedly resist the intra-Kurdish war that Turkey is trying to trigger if Kurds see each other as ‘traitors’ for whose life they can’t really care?
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.