Geopolitics

What Does Erdoğan Really Think About The Kurds?

A veteran Turkish reporter travels to a Kurd stronghold to gauge reaction to Erdogan’s recent anti-Kurdish rhetoric ahead of the Prime Minister’s expected victory for a third term on June 12.

A recent gathering in Diyarbakır, southeastern Turkey's largest city and a Kurdish stronghold.
A recent gathering in Diyarbakır, southeastern Turkey's largest city and a Kurdish stronghold.
Sedat Ergi

Diyarbakır - "Don't take sides against me. I am a citizen. I am the people. Any leader who takes sides against the people is bound to lose," says Mehmet Özgül. "So far all we have heard are harsh words."

I was sitting on a stool, chatting to 57-year-old Özgül, as we sipped tea in front of his shoe shop in Diyarbakır. I had come to this predominantly Kurdish capital city of southeast Turkey to talk about the reelection campaign of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the country's future.

Özgül owned a shoe repair shop before the 2001 economic crisis, but the crisis forced him to sell. Although he graduated from the Istanbul Education Institution, he chose to become a tradesman instead of a teacher. His daughter is a university graduate and both of his sons are in high school.

Like the majority of Kurds in Diyarbakır, Özgül complains about the insolent attitude the Prime Minister has displayed lately in his campaign for reelection. In recent campaign speeches, Erdoğan has sharply backtracked on the pro-Kurdish stances that distinguished his early years in office, and even called the main Kurdish political party ‘terrorists'.

Yet Özgül is still optimistic that Erdoğan might return to his more conciliatory ways after the election on June 12, when he is widely expected to handily win a third term.

Fear of the abyss

"Dialogue is always a possibility. These elections are not held for nothing. Everything needs to be openly discussed, every demand needs to be raised," says Özgül. "People living here don't want to take up guns, they want pens."

Despite his optimism, Özgül says he can also see the risk of an "abyss' in relations between Ankara and the Kurdish people, though he believes neither the Prime Minister nor the Kurdish BDP party wants to see that.

After leaving Özgül, I walk down the main Melik Ahmet street. About a half-mile down the road I come across a burning tire. Around it is a circle of stones. A bunch of kids are playing near the fire. A boy comes along with another tire in his hand, probably they will set that on fire too. Cars passing by swing right or left to navigate around the burning tire and the stones surrounding it.

The shops on the street where the tire burns are shuttered, many of them just closed. I assume that they closed down soon after the kids started to play. All of a sudden, the kids start running in different directions. There is something extraordinary about the situation. Two armed police Scorpion vehicles arrive on the scene. One parks on the right side of the street, the other on the left. Plainclothes policemen wearing sunglasses step out of the back doors, moving with cold-blooded toughness. One is carrying a pepper gas gun.

One boy, possibly one of the earlier gang, moves close to the gun, examining it carefully. The police leave within 10 minutes and the kids return as soon as they are gone. Now I have the chance to watch them closely. One of the kids is wearing a Galatasaray soccer shirt, another of rival squad Beşiktaş. One of them carries a blue ball. They might start a new fire or begin a football game. Its a thin line between playing and rebellion. Where does the game end and the protest begin?

There are three other people on the street corner where I am, watching what's going on. I find out that they are the shopkeepers who closed for business when the kids started burning the tire. They are angry with the kids. They would like to open their shops again and get back to business as soon as possible.

The chat I had with Mehmet Özgül, his words ‘It's long way down from here," linger: the shops closing down because the kids are burning a tire, the kids scattering as police vans arrive... all of this happens in the course of one hour, within a 100-meter radius.

The walk I took down Melik Ahmet street is like entering a laboratory of information, showing how complex and difficult the Kurdish issue has become.

photo -wgauthier

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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