It was getting to be time to grab dinner, and a dusky glow was already starting to illuminate the narrow stone streets of the old city of Urfa. Danielle, Fabio and I were hungry from a long day of exploring the city, in all it’s ancient glory, so we decided to grab a quick dinner of pide and lahmacun at a cheap restaurant we passed the day before not far from our pensiyon.
The night was still early, and few Turks were out eating at all when we slowly approached the glass fronted restaurant with a grill that spilled out onto the street in front. As soon the restaurant owner saw us, he passionately herded us down to sit at a table on the sidewalk in front of his small establishment. Business must have been slow that night, for, except to shepherd a few other customers into the restaurant or to give instructions, he spent the entire night by our table, earnestly explaining his situation.
“This is our soil, our soil, you understand?” He fervently expounded to us, over tea. “This is Mesopotamia, we’ve always been here. This land belongs to the Kurds, you know? If we have to, we should fight for it! The PKK,” he was shouting, but quickly took stock of the fact that he was in the street.
Leaning in, he would begin again whispering. “The PKK,” a Kurdish militant group, “are not terrorists. No, they are freedom fighters. Look at us! We are being assimilated. We are being assimilated on our own soil, in our own land.”
“So do you want your own country, then?” I asked, with goading from Fabio. The idea of dividing Turkey, of the nation losing even one inch of its soil, is abhorrent to the vast majority of Turks.
“No! No no no,” the shop owner began insisting quickly. “We Kurds, we view the Turks as our brothers. We have always been brothers and partners. We fought together during the Ottoman times, and we helped fight off the British at Çanakkale. All we want is to preserve our culture, our way of life! We want…”
Again, he realized he was saying too much, too loudly. He quickly stood up away from us, and walked back towards his shop, where he, with a graceful flourish, began to court new customers and issued orders to the çay boy inside to bring us more tea. Slowly, he wandered back over to us, speaking softly.
“We want a federation, like in America. We want to be able to manage our own affairs, use our own language, dress in our own cultural clothes. We don’t want a country, we just don’t want to be assimilated! We want our own schools, and we want to save our culture.”
“Can you do that politically?”
“Yes, of course! Politics is very important. We try to have political parties, and we try to push our goals. It has gotten better in recent years, of course. We can speak our language without being arrested. But still, until Apo [Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK] is released from jail, we must fight. That is what the PKK does for us. They fight so that we can be ourselves in our own soil!”
“But isn’t violence of any kind horrible?”
“Yes, of course,” he said, now sitting down at our rickety wooden table on the street. He drank from his glass of tea, and then staring straight into our eyes, continued.
“Violence is horrible, but we must fight for our rights.”
“And you, you must all help!” He was excited again, standing up, talking fervently. “Tell everyone in America and Europe about our struggle, about our assimilation! The more people know, the more they can help us with international pressure! Please, tell everyone the PKK needs your help!”
Poor guy. I don’t know if he knows, and we didn’t have the heart to tell him, that the PKK is designated a terrorist organization by both the US and the EU.