Tension remain high in Sweden despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan’s acceptance of their accession into NATO following July’s summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. https://medyanews.net/nato-says-turkey-sweden-find-middle-ground-in-implementation-of-pkk-clamp-down/ Many activists continue to protest what they see as Turkey’s meddling in Sweden’s government, particularly limiting freedom of speech and expression – at least when it comes to what Erdoǧan interprets as expressions of ‘support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This weekend saw increased protest, for lack of a better word, against the Turkish president.
On Saturday, 5 August, an insulting effigy of Erdoǧan resurfaced at Stockholm’s Pride event.
The same effigy was previously seen at the start of 2023 when it was hung upside down in the style of Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, outside of the Stockholm City Hall. The hanging of the effigy is attributed to the Swedish Solidarity Committee to Rojava. Rojava Committees and Queers Against Fascism were seen with the effigy at Pride.
Following the incident, Flamman, an old socialist publication in Sweden, seized the opportunity for publicity and scandal by announcing a bargain campaign where subscribers are given the choice to receive one of two posters satirizing the Turkish president. One poster shows Erdoǧan violently consuming what appears to be a Kurdish fighter, in a mood, if not style, reminiscent of Francisco Goya’s famous painting ‘Saturn Devouring His Son.’ The other shows the simple design of a burning Turkish flag.
The campaign was announced with the slogan: “Make Erdoğan the angriest man in Ankara – get a satirical poster into the bargain!” (I would like to point out that I doubt whoever wrote this slogan lives in Ankara, or has much to fear from Erdoǧan other than irate words, in contrast to Kurds living in Sweden who fear extradition to Turkey, or Kurds in Turkey who already live under Erdoǧan’s hateful and oppressive rule.)
I suppose those at Flamman see their poster campaign as a push for freedom of expression, and as a real act of protest against Erdoǧan’s violent and authoritarian rule in Turkey. But I have trouble swallowing that when I see the difference in both methods of protest, and how they are received in areas closer to Kurdistan as opposed to Sweden.
On 5 August, the same day people in Stockholm laughed and joked at their Erdoǧan effigy thinking they are championing the cause of free speech, a Kurdish female political prisoner sewed her own mouth shut in a horrific and brutally potent act of protest. The woman in question, Soheila Mohammadi, was arrested due to suspicions of her connection to The Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), an armed Kurdish left-wing group. She sewed her lips together as part of a hunger strike, an act of protest frequently used by Kurdish groups, in response to a three-year-long denial of her right to parole. Mohammadi has had so much taken from her by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) but still manages to keep and express some part of her bodily autonomy and her power, not by opening her mouth, but by keeping it closed.
She is not alone in suffering under Iran’s brutal crackdown of Kurds and protesters, 17 men have been executed by the Iranian regime, and hundreds arrested since the beginning of protests sparked by the murder of Kurdish woman, Jina ‘Mahsa’ Amini, at the hands of the so-called ‘Morality Police.’
In Turkey, the Saturday Mothers continue to gather in Galatasaray Square in Istanbul constantly facing police repression and frequent detentions. The Saturday Mothers are a group renowned for their use of civil disobedience, they meet every week to protest ‘disappearances,’ and political murders of their relatives, often children. The group has been active since the mid-1990’s. Consistently staging ‘sit-ins’ to remind Turkish authorities their loved ones are not forgotten, will not be forgotten and they will continue to demand justice. Many of those remembered by the Saturday Mothers were ‘disappeared’ in connection with accusations of affiliation to the PKK. The evidence behind those accusations often boils down to nothing more than being Kurdish, or an advocate for Kurdish rights. Freedom of speech and expression means something different in a country like Turkey, where people are arrested or even killed for saying the word ‘Kurdistan’ or using the Kurdish language.
It is hard for me to see similarities in the provocative, and in my opinion juvenile, approach towards political protest we have been seeing in Sweden when compared to the decades long tradition of resistance used by Kurds through the four parts of Kurdistan and beyond. Some actions taken in Sweden against Turkey, have even been condemned by Kurds in Turkey. For example, the incident in January of this year when a far-right activist set fire to the Quran (Islamic Holy text) outside of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm. The Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party immediately denounced and distanced themselves from this event, calling it ‘unjustifiable.’ This is one of two occasions that the Quran has been burned in Sweden in 2023.
Puppets, effigies, satirical posters and burning a religious text are simply acts of provocation – seeking attention, creating a temporary burst of shock and rage with little apparent long-term goals (other than to make Erdoǧan the angriest man in Ankara, of course). The Amini protests, hunger strikes, the civil disobedience of the Saturday Mothers, these are just a few examples of actions which require an immense amount of patience, dignity, sacrifice and commitment towards a goal. Goals such as building a better world for Kurdish people, and not only freedom to use your speech to create outrage but freedom to speak your own language without fear.
I don’t mean to limit number of forms protest can take, but I would like to take this opportunity to invite those in the West who aspire to act in solidarity with the Kurdish movement to learn from their history of sacrifice, patience and dignified resistance against all those who try to silence, assimilate and destroy them.