Kur­dish teens drawn to rebels’ ranks; new gen­er­a­tion fills PKK ranks

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Ni­cholas Birch

DI­YARBAKIR, Turkey — At least 150 teenagers from this city in south­east­ern Turkey have joined the rebel Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party in the past year, il­lus­trat­ing a mag­netic pull that many of their el­ders find baf­fling.

Since the jail­ing of Kur­dish na­tion­al­ist leader Ab­dul­lah Ocalan in 1999, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Ankara has taken ma­jor steps to ad­dress Kur­dish griev­ances. Their re­gion is now free of mil­i­tary law; the use of Kur­dish names has been le­gal­ized; Kur­dish-lan­guage broad­cast­ing is per­mit­ted for one hour a day; and, for the first time in a decade, Kur­dish na­tion­al­ists are rep­re­sented in par­lia­ment.

The Turk­ish mil­i­tary, mean­while, has waged a highly suc­cess­ful bat­tle against the PKK — as the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party is re­ferred to by its Kur­dish acro­nym — at least in tac­ti­cal terms. As many as 75 PKK mem­bers have died since mil­i­tants at­tacked a Turk­ish pla­toon on Oct. 21, killing 12 sol­diers and cap­tur­ing eight — all of whom were re­leased over the Nov. 3-4 week­end.

Pres­i­dent Bush added to the pres­sure on the rebel group on Nov. 5, promis­ing Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan in Wash­ing­ton that the U. S. will of­fer intelligence and other help in bat­tling the PKK.

“The PKK is a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion. They’re an en­emy of Turkey; they’re an en­emy of Iraq; and they’re an en­emy of the United States,” Mr. Bush said at a press con­fer­ence af­ter talks with Mr. Er­do­gan.

Nev­er­the­less, as Turkey’s No. 2 gen­eral con­ceded re­cently, Turkey has been “un­suc­cess­ful” in dis­suad­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of Kurds from join­ing the mil­i­tant or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Mil­i­tary intelligence last year re­vealed that 40 per­cent of the es­ti­mated re­ported 3,000 Kur­dish mil­i­tants in north­ern Iraq had joined since the start of a PKK cease-fire, which be­gan in 1999 and lasted five years.

In Di­yarbakir, lo­cals say at least 150 teenagers en­listed this year. In Yuk­sekova, a city of 100,000, six have joined in the past month.

In towns and vil­lages across the re­gion, the story is told in pho­tos on the walls of homes like that of Ir­fan Gur, a slen­der man whose face is wrin­kled from years of sun and lo­cally grown to­bacco.

There is a pic­ture of his fa­ther, long dead, the top of his por­trait cov­ered in lace in ac­cord with lo­cal tra­di­tion. Lace also cov­ers the fea­tures of a much younger man, Mr. Gur’s son, a PKK mil­i­tant who died fight­ing the Turk­ish army in 1994.

Mr. Gur points to an­other pho­to­graph. “My youngest son,” he said. “He went to join the group in July. I haven’t heard from him since.”

Many Kurds say they are sur­prised by the PKK’s con­tin­ued abil­ity to at­tract re­cruits, es­pe­cially since the rebels dropped their sep­a­ratist de­mands to call in­stead for “demo­cratic con­fed­er­al­ism” — a con­cept that few Kurds un­der­stand.

Part of the ex­pla­na­tion can be found out­side Mr. Gur’s front door.

A decade ago, his neigh­bor­hood con­sisted of fields slop­ing down to a river. Now it’s a slum, streets full of grubby chil­dren, some bare­footed, leap­ing over open sew­ers and piles of rub­bish.

Places like this ex­ist through­out south­east­ern Turkey, filled with vil­lagers forced from their homes by Turk­ish se­cu­rity forces dur­ing the 1990s.

Di­yarbakir’s pop­u­la­tion, 350,000 a decade ago, is now nearly 1.5 mil­lion. Ninety per­cent of the fam­i­lies in some dis­tricts live be­low the poverty line.

“What fu­ture do th­ese chil­dren have?” one lo­cal jour­nal­ist asked. “Crime, the PKK, rad­i­cal Is­lam.”

Lo­cals say it was poverty and a sense of ne­glect, rather than or­ga­nized PKK ac­tiv­ity, that drove a re­cent riot in Di­yarbakir, in which 11 per­sons, mainly chil­dren, were fa­tally shot by se­cu­rity forces.

Poverty, though, is not a prob- lem unique to south­east­ern Turkey. What makes it ex­plo­sive here is the frus­tra­tion that has grown since PKK leader Ocalan was cap­tured in 1999.

De­spite the steps by Ankara to ease re­stric­tions on the Kur­dish lan­guage and cul­ture, na­tion­al­ists point to a flood of crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions against Kur­dish politi­cians since elec­tions in July. The latest came two weeks ago in re­sponse to calls for a re­vi­sion of Turkey’s uni­tary struc­ture.

When four po­lice­men shot a 12year-old boy 10 times in the back at close range in 2005, on the other hand, a court de­scribed it as “self-de­fense” and freed the po­lice­men.

Noth­ing irks Kurds more than what they see as the par­tial­ity of the Turk­ish press and television. When a TV re­porter en­thu­si­as­ti­cally de­scribed a re­cent mil­i­tary at­tack that killed 30 PKK fight­ers, stu­dent Semdin Du­mankaya com­plained, “He makes it sound like a [soc­cer] match.”

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