Category: Facebook Posts

On Australia Day

(Australia Day re-post)

 

A few of my fellow Kurdish Australians raised objections to celebrating this day in terms of relations with indigenous communities.

History could have unfolded differently, for the better as well as for the worse for indigenous Australians, since 26 January 1788. No one can deny the history of violence, dispossession and racism towards the indigenous communities in Australia since the start of the European colonisation.australia-day3

Should that be a sufficient reason to mark Australia Day with national grief instead of celebration? In my view it is not. That this great nation was built upon the sweat and toil of 1000 social outcasts sentenced to death, however, is a good reason to celebrate.

Continue reading “On Australia Day”

The Return of Muqtada al-Sadr

I first heard of the Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr soon after American forces occupied Baghdad in 2003. His men were implicated in the stabbing murder of Sheikh ‘Abd al-Majid al-Khoi, who was a custodian of a Shia holy mosque in Najaf. Soon after, Sadr’s men launched attacks on the US forces as well, and the occupation authorities issued a “kill or capture” warrant for Sadr that was not enforced or pursued with conviction.

To me, Sadr represented what was wrong with the ‘new’ Iraq. Though his father was murdered by Saddam Hussain, Sadr and his supporters never waged a war against the regime, unlike other opponents like the Kurds or, in the case of the Shia, the Badr organisation which had a few hundred armed men in the PUK-controlled territories of Kurdistan. Sadr was late to the party and picked a fight with the wrong guy.

Continue reading “The Return of Muqtada al-Sadr”

From Kobani to Raqqa

Remember the jihadi selfie at the gate of Kobani? How times have changed! This is me writing on 16 November 2014 when the battle was raging on inside Kobani:

“There is still a long way to go in this battle. Once the Kurdish Stalingrad is completely liberated, the YPG and allied forces will begin to expel ISIS from nearby villages and the country side until the entire Kobani canton is also freed from medieval barbarian invaders. This war will not end until the forces representing life, liberty and modernity march into Raqqa, and destroy the forces representing medievalism, death and darkness in their place of origin.”

raqqa kobani

On Newroz

 

17362636_10212694349143718_5288903149413333688_n

The myth has it that 2600 or so years ago there lived on the outskirts of Zagros Mountains a people ruled by a cruel king named Dehaq. King Dehaq was a supernatural evil as evident in the two snakes that grew on his two shoulders; snakes that demanded special delicacy for food. Thus, two children would be plucked from among his subjects, and their brains fed to the snakes.

 

Below the darkness of the evil king’s castle lived an ironsmith named Kawa. Kawa had sacrificed all his children except one. Dehaq ordered for the last one too to be brought for his snakes. Kawa, with the help of the king’s cook, tricked him by offering a sheep’s brain instead. Thus, his child and other children were saved and were sent high up in the mountains where they lived free and grew into a small army.

When the time came, Kawa led the small army in revolt, broke into the king’s castle and smashed Dehaq’s head with his hammer. The people were freed and the news was spread around the kingdom by fires lit on the mountain tops. A new day, Newroz, was declared. And those saved children who led people to liberation became the ancestors of Kurds.

Happy Newroz! Newroz piroz be!

 

On Australia Day, January 26

A few of my fellow Kurdish Australians raised objections to celebrating this day in terms of relations with indigenous communities.

History could have unfolded differently, for the better as well as for the worse for indigenous Australians, since 26 January 1788. No one can deny the history of violence, dispossession and racism towards the indigenous communities in Australia since the start of the European colonisation.


Should that be a sufficient reason to mark Australia Day with national grief instead of celebration? In my view it is not. That this great nation was built upon the sweat and toil of 1000 social outcasts sentenced to death, however, is a good reason to celebrate.

Continue reading “On Australia Day, January 26”

Bearing Witness to Bambi

Here is a sad story that I wanted to share since I contacted my family on Facebook 2 years ago.

Meet Bambi. I met her once too on the stairs of my Department of Housing building in Lilyfield some time in the early-2013. We had a brief eye contact and exchanged smiles; I said Hi, she said Hi, and we walked past each other.

bambi

A month later, I asked my neighbour who that pretty girl was. “My ex-girlfriend”, he said. “Lucky man! Are you back together?” “She is dead”, he said. Bambi had committed suicide. She was 36 years of age.

Any young person ending their life, for whatever reason, is sad enough, but the more I learned about this girl the deeper my heart sank for her and her family and the more intensely I reflected about my own. It is important that I talk about her because there are other untold migration stories in hers.

Continue reading “Bearing Witness to Bambi”

On Barbaros Sansal controversy

Barbaros Şansal is a Turkish fashion designer who calls himself a “tailor’s apprentice.” He is a cultural critic, TV host, producer, performer, and a university teacher. He is charming as well as abrasive; controversial while also entertaining. He is a flamboyant gay activist who was expelled from Turkey’s LGBT “Pink Life Association” for transphobic comments.

pjimage-3

On new year’s eve, Sansal posted a video on social media from Turkish Northern Cyprus, where he was holidaying, to his fans in Turkey. Following a short rant about the country, he ends with, “drown in your own shit, Turkey.”

Yesterday Sansal survived a lynch attempt in Istanbul airport after Turkish Cypriot government expelled him for insulting Turkey. Today he was arrested and is to face the court on “incitement’ charges.

This is the speed of turnaround for AKP government opponents now. From ordinary Facebook users to famous fashionistas to seasoned journalists, nobody can say they can speak freely in Turkey anymore. Criticism of the ruling power is considered an insult to the whole nation and may land one in jail, if not in hospital, within a short amount of time.

This particular controversy also proved convenient to the government as it deflected attention from ISIS-claimed Reina club attack in Istanbul. If only the police, not to mention lynch mobs and vigilantes, were as quick and eager to round up known ISIS supporters as they were with Sansal.

 

This article offers more and a roundup of reactions to Barbaros Sansal video, including one from a conservative commentator that this should be a “lesson to keyboard warriors and terrorist lovers.”

resized_817fb-f386e89dsansal

What is noteworthy also is the Atta Turk portrait in the still image used for the piece, reportedly lifted from Twitter. It is not clear whether it was on Sansal or in the hand of an assailant, or whether the photo was altered later. It does not appear in the video.

Here is the comment that got Barbaros Sansal in hot waters (my translation):

“Of course of course. There is no question. 2017 has entered all of you. Happy new year! Enjoy it. Now take a deep breath, lie down to your side, and pull one knee to your stomach, relax your body, and pretend you are strained.

Can you write for me the name of the misery? While so many journalists are under arrest, while so many kids are subjected to abuse and rape, while corruption and bribery are running headlong, while bigots spread filth in the streets, are you still celebrating the new year?

Do you know what I am going to do now? I am going to drink all the alcohol in the bar and at home; all of it, all of it! I am not going to leave you a drop. I am going to transfer all my dollars to Switzerland; I am not going to leave a penny behind.

Moreover, I am in Cyprus. Turkish Northern Cyprus entered the new year -under pressure from Turkey- at the same time as Turkey did. There is another hour before [Greek] Cypriot Republic enters the new year. Soon I am going to Nicosia. I will celebrate it there once more. I will drink there too. All of it! No kisses for you. In the midst of so much scum, disgrace and misery, you go on celebrating too.

Drown in your shit, Turkey.”
.

On Istanbul Attacks

Istanbul is Turkey’s most beautiful, modern and cosmopolitan city. Prime spots are along the Bosporus, where Turkey’s wealthy elite and the city’s old-time establishment reside in expensive historic properties that in the past used to be reserved for Ottoman government’s high-ranking officials. There is precious little space open to public along the coasts of the straits. Those lands and buildings not in private hands are usually educational institutions, some of which are used as setting to shoot soap operas.

The best of the coastline, and hence the schools by location, are on the cosy, tree-lined, Ciragan Street that stretches for 2 km from Besiktas to Ortakoy. There, midway between the two districts and opposite of the main entrance to Yildiz Palace & Park, is a seafarer’s Technical High School, now called Ziya Kalkavan Anadolu Denizcilik Meslek Lisesi. That is the school I boarded and studied for three years from the age of 14 to 16. I almost forgot my Kurdishness and became assimilated as a Turk in that school, hence my strong mixed feelings about the latest attacks.

istanbul

Last month, during a football game in Besiktas, twin attacks claimed by highly secretive Kurdish militant group TAK, an off-shoot of the PKK, killed 40 members of the security forces. It was in retaliation for the destruction and massacres wrought in Kurdish towns and districts in 2016. Today, in the early hours of the new year in a prominent night club in Ortakoy, 40 revelers were gunned down and as many wounded by men wearing Santa costumes. Only one police officer was killed. Let’s see if and when ISIS claims responsibility for this carnage against secular-minded civilians in the name of jihad.

Secular Turks, the vast majority of whom continue to kowtow to the racist fascist ideology and legacy of Turkey’s founder Atta Turk, in response to the AKP government’s slide towards Islamism, will again refuse to evaluate and accept the distinction between the nature and the reasons between two attacks and the parties behind them. It is safer to accept the AKP government’s lumping of them both as terrorists who cannot be negotiated with and must be fought off with greater military force. If anything, Kurds are the biggest threat to them because Atta Turk said so, as do Erdogan now.

The reality is a lot different. The war engaged in by the PKK and its off-shoot TAK is, in Clausewitz’s famous words, “politics by other means”. They respond in kind because Turkey refuses to accept that Kurdish parties are rational political actors representing legitimate demands and grievances of a large repressed minority population. Like it or not, the PKK’s cause against Turkish security forces is that of an admissible national liberation struggle, not unlike that of Kosovo against Serbia and that of Iraqi Kurds against Saddam. Successive Turkish governments have failed, and will fail again, to completely rout Kurdish fighters from the country, a la the mortal blow Sri Lankan government inflicted on the Tamil Tigers. Negotiation and a political solution is inevitable if Turkey wants to end the conflict with the PKK.

The same cannot be said of ISIS. The so-called Islamic State is not fighting for political settlement in a world of nations; its ideology, aim and fight are for world conquest. Even if the loony ISIS jihadist dream of bringing all the lands from India to Turkey to Andalusia under Islamic rule turn into reality, they will seek to invade lands from China to Argentina to spread the religion to those infidels who have not yet heard the word and wrath of allah. Islamists have no limits, know no boundaries, recognise no laws and admit to no conventions not found in Koran. They cannot be negotiated with in good faith or even reasoned with. With the promise of paradise in the afterlife, living or dying is a win-win situation for the Islamist terrorist.

Turks fail to acknowledge the sharp differences in the their threat assessments between the two. While retaliatory Kurdish militant attacks on security forces are condemned swiftly and loudly, ISIS attacks are acknowledged belatedly and in a more muted fashion. For example, according to T24 internet newspaper, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said, “there are signs but we can’t say which group did it.” Meanwhile the country’s pro-government newspaper columnists are blaming the night club owner: “If you expected an attack, why did you open the club for customers?” Turkey’s unaccountable religious leaders were declaring Christmas and New Year celebrations as apostasy, and there was a bizarre video footage of racist fascist Turks with Islamist hues first circumcising and then stabbing a Santa puppet in the final days of 2016.

Currently, the lead story on the web page of the pro-AKP government Yeni Safak is a criticism of the renowned Turkish affairs correspondent Amberin Zaman who tweeted, “will the [Turkish] attacks on the most effective anti-ISIS forces YPG [Kurdish ‘People’s Protection Froces’] and the SDG [Syrian Democratic Forces] continue I wonder?” Yeni Safak responded with “she defends terrorist against terror.” The Islamist paper refused to not only speculate that ISIS could be behind the latest atrocity in Istanbul, but saw no distinction between Western-backed groups and ISIS.

For the last few years, international observers mocked the spectacular collapse of Turkey’s ‘Zero Problems with neighbours policy in Syria and Iraq. Turkish soldiers are now in the north of Syria trying to block a corridor linking Kurdish cantons around the town of al-Bab. In so doing they have found themselves combating three sides also staking claim on the town: US-backed YPG/SDF, Russia-backed Assad regime, and Turkey’s friend-to-frenemy ISIS.

What should be of great concern now is whether the instability Turkey has caused in Syria and Iraq will blow back into Ankara’s face. The signs are there; a clear ideological divide between Kemalist establishment and the new Islamist current, mass-casualty attacks, a failed coup that cost hundreds of lives, mass purges of high ranking government officials from generals to judges of Constitutional Court on the claims that they belong to yet another alleged terror network in the Gulenist movement, a police force that shouts ‘Allahu Akbar’ while firing in the air, the arrest of many pro-Kurdish rights HDP parliamentarians and the push to ban legal Kurdish politics all together, and, most recently, Muslim preachers denigrating Christian symbols and calling for assassination of Kurdish figures. The country is slowly simmering for a major internal multi-faceted armed conflict under AKP’s leadership.

This morning I cast my mind to the two spots that were attacked within a month by ISIS and TAK in Ortakoy and in Besiktas. Like many Opera House walks that I make under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in many weekends during my high school years, I would walk on Ciragan Street to the western pylon of the Bosporus Bridge, where the ISIS-attacked night club is now located, and from there I would walk back towards Besiktas, often alongside playing grounds of my football team where TAK blew up a police bus. Having lived there for three years as a teenager, I feel a great deal of affection for that refined, historic city with many centuries-old buildings. Now, it is slowly metamorphosing into a war-zone like Beirut and Baghdad. That is sad to see.

On My Father Mehmude Ehmede Qezze

 

My father passed away 7 years ago today. He was 81 years of age. I was not there with him when he died. He didn’t even know if I was alive.

Readers here may know that I was out of contact with family for more than a decade and that, after 27 years in Australia, I made a bitter-sweet journey home to Mersin, Turkey, for my sister’s wedding last April/May. Finally, I got to visit my father’s grave too.

4

My plan was that, after we drive from the airport in Adana to home in Mersin, we would have lunch, freshen up and go pay my respects to my father the first thing on that very day. My sister’s henna night (pre-wedding celebration) was two days away on Sunday, 24 April. There were too many visitors and too much was happening, and the visit to the cemetery did not happen.

Instead, hours before the henna celebrations were to begin, my elder brother Kadri said let’s go visit Dad. The cemetery was 20 minutes drive away in the north of Mersin. I demurred; there was not enough time. My brother insisted and, against my best wishes, we left home for Guneykent necropolis.

At the first sight of my father’s grave, my heart sank. Memories flooded forth. Guilt and shame took over for not being there for him in his old age. Grief finally caught up and tears began to roll down from the corners of my eyes the moment I touched his headstone. I kissed and placed my forehead on his headstone with respect and in reverence.

My father was born in a village 20 kms to the west of Mardin in Turkey’s Kurdish southeast in 1928, although his birth certificate shows him 4 years younger. He was the eldest of four brothers and three sisters. My farmer grandfather died early and left all the burden of raising the family on my father’s teenage shoulders. He worked the field alone with a single plough and a draft animal until his siblings grew up to help him.

Following his 2-year compulsory military service, during which he learned Turkish, literacy and numeracy (he loved crosswords), he returned to the village and got married. His first son died as a toddler. Soon after, he divorced and moved to the big city of Diyarbakir. There, a friend of his introduced him to his wife’s 17 year-old sister, and my 35 year-old father got for himself my mother for a young bride. His life turned around for the even better as he also landed a job as a security guard in a state-owned company. He worked there until his retirement.

He fathered 4 boys and 3 girls with my mother. One girl died in infancy, the rest survived him. I am number 4 with a brother and a sister younger than me. As children grew up and life got tougher especially after retirement, he consulted the whole family and decided that it was best for us to move from Diyarbakir to Mersin. It was a fortuitous decision, and just in time as the war was about to break up in Kurdistan. Mersin became our new home as well as his burial site.

In the cemetery, my brother Kadri handed me a plastic cask we brought from home and I carried three rounds of water from a nearby tap to his grave. I watered the flowers planted on his grave. By his tombstone, the family had planted an olive tree because my father loved olives. I watered the parched soil beneath the small tree too. “Now let’s go home,” my brother said. I wished to stay on longer than 10 minutes. But guests were going to pour in home for the night’s celebration, so he drove off without me.

Cemeteries can be eerily silent. Sometimes, birds chirp and fly by low. Wind ruffles the leaves on the trees. Occasionally, a person or a family walk by, with their voices and the sound of pebbles under their feet, crisp in the air, could be heard from afar. There, for an hour in the late afternoon sun, I was alone with my father in quiet remembrance of our times.

One of my favourite memories was from when I was 6 or 7 years of age. I was with him in a tea house far from home near some woodlands that families would go for picnic. I was sipping on a fizzy drink and slowly dying of boredom before we took off for home. The way back was mostly country side. It took one hour’s walk to see suburbia again. Half-way through, the road split: one was a quiet way back home, the other was a little more busy with occasional vehicles passing by. My father asked which one we should take, I chose the one that had cars.

A short time later we came across a party of 15-20 people, mostly women and children, riding on and walking by a horse carriage. They were my mother, sister, neighbours and their children heading to the woodlands for picnic. They were all immersed in a merry atmosphere, happy and laughing as though going to a fair. My father spoke with them for a few minutes and just as we were to part he asked me if I wanted to go with them. I was a kid, how could I say no to this party having insane fun. My father lifted me up and placed me on the horse cart.

Then we headed in opposite directions. I surveyed the joyful crowd around me. Every kid I played with was there. There was going to be food in the outdoors, and ball games. Yet, for some reason I could not share in their merriment. I looked back at my father and realised why: I had abandoned him.

There, in the distance, was a man walking away in the open country. He was all alone and he kept getting smaller and smaller as we moved away. I looked back and forth to the crowd and to the man as I faced the earliest moral dilemma in my memory. That lonely little dot far away was not just any man; he was my father.

I jumped off the cart and ran towards him. “Baba! Baba!” I called after him ignoring the crowd calling after me. “Baba! Baba!” He heard me and looked back. The joy on his face as he saw me running towards him was one that I will never forget. Between a crowd going for fun and a lonely man in the middle of nowhere, I had chosen to go with him. “Why did you come back,” he asked anyway. “Baba,” I said and held his hand to never leave it until we reached home.

Who knows perhaps my father wished some peace and quiet for himself that afternoon. My boredom set in again and I began to regret my decision. I was alone with my father at home and no neighbour kids I could play with outside. He knew that, and he did not cease smiling all day and tried to keep me happy and engaged without much luck. I died of jealousy when the merry crowd returned from picnic.

It is moments like this that makes one their parents’ favourite child, as I should shamelessly admit to being my parents’ favourite until I flew away from home years later. And now I was back, 27 years on, sitting by his grave remembering him. He once asked on the phone for how long I would be away in Australia. I promised him that it would be “no more than 10 years.” The sadness in his voice said it all: “Son, do I have a warranty from god that I will last that long.”

Now I was alone by his marble grave and wiping away dirt and dust on the stone. Not happy with that effort I got up and carried more and more water to thoroughly wash his grave. I took my handkerchief from around my neck and with it tried to wipe the marble shiny and spotless. It was the nearest thing to the ritualistic bathing of the dead body that I have come to doing, yet not near enough to cleanse the sins of this son.

My eldest brother Behcet came to pick me up. He didn’t say a word but It was time that we got ready for the henna night celebrations. I had a rosary with wooden beads with me. My father always had a rosary. I put mine on his tombstone, took several pictures and placed the rosary on the body of his grave near the headstone. My brother and I exchanged no words until we arrived back to his shop 20 minutes away; it was as though our father never existed.

My father was self-educated, rustic, and often traditional. He was a practicing Muslim, although he was secular. He never drank a drop of alcohol all his life. He did not have any vice except the occasional tobacco. My mother probably had more to complain about him than any one else did in his life. He was the patriarch of a large extended family, he was well-known in the neighbourhood, and he was admired for his honesty and integrity by all and sundry. I am told that his passing drew huge crowds in commiseration.

The day before I left Mersin, I paid a farewell visit to my father’s tomb. This time I was alone and spent another hour watering and washing his grave. I noticed that the rosary I had left there 4 weeks earlier had disappeared. A couple of young kids aged 11 or 12 turned up to offer the Muslim prayer al-Fatiha after the dead. I gave them 5 Turkish liras in baksheesh and asked about the missing rosary. “Allah strike me dead if I have taken it,” they both swore. No drama. Fortunately, I had brought another rosary with black stone beads exactly like the one my father used to have. This time I buried the rosary under two inches of soil.

It is said that man don’t come in to his own until his father dies. That is a bit of an exaggeration for in my opinion a man comes, must come, in to his own when he becomes a father himself. Those of us who have not yet achieved that sacred rank, we are the ones who must continue to live in our fathers’ shadow until they are gone. Sadly, my father’s shadow rarely fell on me since I left home as a teenager; that is why I feel like half-the-man that he was, now that he is gone.

My father died on 6 December 2009, surrounded by the rest of his loving family. He was a good virtuous family man. I bow before the memory of that good man. Rest in peace, Baba.