The commemoration of Roboskî massacre, ten years ago, had barely ended when the news came in that a man injured two people with a knife in a HDP office in Istanbul. Two people were slightly injured. What struck me, was a picture I saw soon afterwards of a small plastic bag, in which the knife that was used was secured, and the cup in which the attacker was offered tea before he attacked. “Kurds are too naive”, a Kurdish friend of mine said with a sigh. Are they?
One of the things I remember from the many HDP offices that I have visited in my life, is that they function not just as offices but as sort of community centres as well. It’s often busy, people sit down to have tea and discuss politics or personal matters, and help with whatever work needs to be done. There is security at the door of some of the offices, like the one that was now attacked in Istanbul, but that is not the case everywhere. However, not having security at the door, doesn’t mean no precautions are taken. The movement is huge, but at a local and neighbourhood level, people know each other. New faces will draw attention.
According to news reports, the man who attacked in Istanbul initially claimed that he wanted to become a member. He was offered tea, then threw the tea at the man who had offered it to him and said he had come to kill. The HDP people acted swiftly, took the gun from the man and then also his knife, and secured what they confiscated in a bag. That is security too: be prepared always, react fast, secure evidence. And, not to forget: don’t react with violence. Violence is outside the ideology. Offering tea to everybody, and especially to people who are guests for the first time, is part of the culture.
Security is, I guess, finding a balance between being as safe as possible on the one hand and not violating the ideology you believe in on the other. You can’t distrust everybody who comes to your buildings, your demonstrations, your commemorations, your press statements, your celebrations and your funerals. If your movement and ideology is built on being open and accessible to everybody, if your goal is to build a democratic society with everybody who wants to invest in it regardless of their background, how suspicious can you be?
Let alone the practicalities. You can’t put a metal detector at the entrance of every building – who would have to go through it, and who wouldn’t have to? If everybody has to, how much will that heighten the threshold to come to the party at all, and when will that start affecting the function the building has as a community centre? And if not everybody needs to be checked, where do you draw the line? How familiar does your face have to be to be fully trusted? I can’t not help but think of the triple murder in Paris in January 2013 (yet another commemoration approaching…), in which also PKK co-founder Sakine Cansız lost her life: the murderer was acting on behalf of the Turkish state, but had taken his time to seemingly become part of the movement.
In all the years I reported in Bakur (the part of Kurdistan occupied by Turkey), I have only been approached with a lot of suspicion once. It was in July 2015, after the Suruç massacre, in which more than thirty young people were killed by an ISIS suicide bomber. I was reporting for several media, also on the day several victims would be laid to rest at the local graveyard. A large group of people walked to the graveyard, and suddenly a very agitated young man came to me and demanded me to let him search my backpack. Some others said they knew me, that I was a reporter based in Diyarbakır and trustworthy, but the man insisted. He said: “We are being murdered and we have to take our safety into our own hands. I just want to make sure what’s in that bag.” I let him search it, he found nothing but clothes, pens, notebooks, a laptop, wires and a toothbrush, returned my bag to me and we marched on.
When you are in a long time political and social struggle, you can’t always be agitated and suspicious. It’s totally normal that agitation rises when new trauma deepens traumas already lived and opens wounds earlier inflicted and unhealed, but the struggle requires trust and unity as well. What an incredibly difficult balance to maintain. And how incredible of this movement that it manages to do this, that it keeps being so razor sharp about who to deeply distrust and direct their anger to (the state, and those holding power in it) and who to welcome, even at a risk.
It is exactly this deeply human character of the movement that will lead to its victory.