It's a War!
May 6, 2016
A Turkish family sits down at the dinner table with Fox Haberler (Fox News) on the television. Fatih Portakal, the famous anchor of the evening news block, recounts the day's news - a car crash in Thrace; new agreements on the new Turkish constitution; more football protests. The norm - at least, the Turkish norm.
Then, with his renowned expressions and famous manner of speaking, Fatih cites the latest body count in Turkey's civil war. Headlines like '30 Terrorists Killed in Şırnak Raid' and 'Two Soldiers Martyred in Hakkâri Province' are a commonplace for the Turkish people.
Today's news features an amateur video of PKK combatants preparing suicide bombs in an undisclosed location. The militants are captured dancing and singing and making jokes about where the bombs will end up.
The mother of the family takes control of the remote and changes the channel to a popular soap opera.
On route to a school in the mountains outside of Malatya, Turkey. Along the highway is a military base with razor-wire fence and guard towers stretching a few kilometres. On the opposite side of the road, a military checkpoint stops cars entering the city.
In the classroom, a teacher explains advanced Turkish grammar concepts to her group of ninth graders. The mountains outside the window are brown and their peaks are shrouded in clouds.
And then the rumbling starts.
The sound of fighter jets, headed for PKK positions in Northern Syria and Iraq, overpower the teacher's voice. She stops lecturing to let the jets pass. The class, who used to crowd around the window to watch the jets fly by, now sit silently in their desk after becoming uncomfortably accustomed to the noise.
The unit of jets pass over the mountains and into the distance. The teacher takes a deep breath and resumes teaching.
A bar in the university city of Eskişehir. Students and young people gather over beer and popcorn, discussing their latest lectures or recent political news.
On the terrace, I stand with a communications professor and local activist in Eskişehir, discussing the current civil war.
"We used to reject the Syrians," he says. "They came to Turkey to flee their civil war, and we resented them for it. Now we're the refugees."
He looks gloomily out onto the streetlamp-lit street and flicks his cigarette butt away.
"See that girl?" he asks, pointing to a waitress inside the bar. "She's from Diyarbakır. She has family there, friends there. How do you think she feels, always waiting for a phone call which says her parents were killed?"
He takes a sip of his beer. "Really, how do you think she feels?"
The previous scenes were experiences I've had across Turkey during the most recent conflict between the Turkish Army and the Kurdish Worker's Party, or the PKK for short.
After terrorist attacks on Kurdish cities in June 2015, the latest ceasefire between the Turkish security forces and the PKK - which lasted just one year - fell through. Since then, casualty estimates as high as 1500 Turkish security forces, 3000 PKK combatants and 300 civilians have been reported, along with a quarter of a million people displaced.
The war, which by-and-large had been contained in southeastern Turkey, struck the heart of Ankara twice in 2016 alone, killing over fifty people. The attacks were perpetrated by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons - an offshoot of the PKK with similar goals - who made English-language statements warning about future attacks and dissuading tourists from coming to Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's 2014 campaign involved a peace process with the PKK - a peace process which has reached its lowest levels in the the last decade. As more terrorist attacks unfold and more PKK militants take up arms, Erdoğan is shifting his policies - from peaceful resolution to the destruction of the Kurdish armed group.
The war has been escalating amidst a parliament which is largely held by Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP). The mainstream Kurdish party - the HDP - has been accused of supporting and encouraging the PKK by the AKP and other parties in the government, and as the AKP roll out more new terms of the new constitution, the Kurdish minority of Turkey are expecting lesser representation in the Grand National Assembly in Ankara.
The war is not expected to end soon and may increase in ferocity and in body counts if the AKP's regime continues to degrade the Kurdish minority of Turkey. Plus, with the recent establishment of an independent Kurdish state in northern Syria (joining Iraqi Kurdistan in northern Iraq), the PKK and the Kurdistan movement have acquired momentum for their cause.
In all, the people of Turkey will continue to suffer under an armed organization largely considered as a terrorist group. The end of this conflict - or even a peace treaty - is not within sight - more terrorist attacks will occur; more soldiers will be killed; and more mothers will cry tears of grief for their dead sons - Turkish or Kurdish.