He asked me where I came from. “Kurdistan of Iraq,” I replied. “Kurdistan? No Kurdistan. Iraq,” he said curtly.
This is the broken-English reply I got from an airport taxi driver the moment I landed in Turkey. The fact that this K-word offends is beyond offensive to me, or any Kurd. It was not as if I disowned my country Iraq, but that I chose to highlight my ethnicity – which I cherish and take pride in.
My blood started boiling and my limbs were cringing. Two long layovers and now this! I was aching to argue and let him have a piece of my mind – in all to most civility, of course. But I refrained from arguing and kept silent for the sake of my parents whom I was sharing the ride with.
When we got off the taxi and paid the driver his fair price (no tips) I went up to him, took out my keychain that has “KURDISTAN” inscribed in bold letters, and held it up to him. As he was looking from keychain to me, lost for words, I grinned and held up two fingers forming the V-shaped peace sign, the unofficial hand gesture of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Then I turned around and left the still lost for words man, in a bit sassier fashion than I intended to.
Truth was, this whole ordeal left me more jetlagged than ever. The damage had been done.
It was not my first time in Turkey, but something like the fifth. From past experiences and from everything I have heard, read, and written about Turkish-Kurdish relations, I should not have been surprised at the cabbie’s comment. Yet there is such blatant cruelty about looking discrimination in the eye. It is like being shot at from pointblank range. Again and again… I swivel and twitch, less alive at every shot.
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I also swivel and twitch as I see my people silenced and my culture still banned in Turkey. Kurdish musicians, storytellers, peacemakers, and our would-be cultural heroes are outlaws in Turkey. Traditionally prosecuted and labeled as “Turks who have forgotten their language,” the Kurdish people in Turkey demands basic ethnic rights, not undue luxuries.
They demand fair price, not tips, often through acts of protests, diplomacy, and armed resistance. But it is all downplayed and hushed up under the red banner and white crescent of Turkey. The nation’s integrity is supreme and anyone who does not clap for Kemal Atatürk is a traitor; a filthy separatist who will most likely join the mostly Kurdish-populated jails of Turkey.
These Kurdish inmates, most of who are political prisoners, recently went on a hunger strike that lasted 70 days to demand rights of self-determination. The hunger strike was undermined and ignored by the Turkish government, a government that was first to criticize Israel’s silence toward the Palestinian hunger strike earlier this year. Not hypocritical at all!
In the same way it is not at all hypocritical that Turkey is the biggest investor in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, but allows no official Kurdish business inside its borders. As South (Iraqi) Kurdistan opened up for business and investment thanks to its vast oil reserve fields, it welcomed Turkey as a major business partner. But in return Turkey did nothing to relieve its suffering 22 million Kurdish population.
To this day hundreds of Turkish companies suck dollars out of Kurdish markets in what appears to be nothing but a parasitic symbiosis. If we allow Turkey to get rich off our markets and resources, why are we still not friends?
Why do they still outlaw our cultural heroes and why does the K-word still offend them?