A Desperate Refrain

By Zach Selekman

An urgent plea echoed among those of the Makhmur refugee camp with whom CPT met with recently, “We just want peace.” We met with nearly thirty family members of the camp’s peace delegation, a good faith gesture toward the Turkish Government’s supposed “opening up” of the “Kurdish issue” last October. After at least one million people welcomed the twenty-six-member delegation, along with eight PKK members, back to northern Kurdistan (southeastern Turkey), they were detained, released, under surveillance, and now Turkey is sentencing each of them to fifteen years imprisonment. The family members were of all ages, male and female, and everyone who wanted to speak was given the opportunity. It was a testament to how relations in the camp function.

“We knew that they might be arrested or killed,” one young man told us, whose father is a member of the peace delegation. An older man, who had tears in his eyes as he was sharing said, “We are tired of Turkey’s war against us.” One woman asked, “Is it too much to ask for
our basic human rights?”

Among the charges against the members of the peace delegation are “spreading propaganda for an illegal organization” and “praising crime and criminals.” It seems that under the Turkish legal system that any plea for dignity or rights is a threat to the state. In fact, Mayor Selim Sadak of Siirt was recently sentenced to 1 year and 10 months for using the term “Kurdistan” to a journalist, an act that earned him the charge of “spreading propaganda for the PKK.”

“Tell your governments to stop their support of Turkey,” the group said. The Turkish Government’s silent war against the Kurds has gone on long enough. “We just want peace,” they told us, clearly tired of the persecution that drove them from their homes 18 years ago.

In February of this year, lawyer Ibrahim Bilmez quoted his client Abdullah Öcalan at the 6th International Conference on EU, Turkey and the Kurds, saying, “What we aimed for with the arrival of the Peace Groups was to show that despite all their suffering the Kurds were ready for peace… This was disregarded. The State has no respectability here. There is a war and humans are dying, Statesmen need to prepare for peace like they prepare for war.”

Outside of the building in which we met, there was a statue of a woman carrying a baby. When we asked about the statue’s meaning we were told, “they died while fleeing from the Turkish army. We tried to stay in six places before Makhmur. It was winter and many people froze,
dying on the way.”

May those in the Turkish Government, and all of us, listen to the desperate refrain, “We just want peace.” May we be willing to risk everything, as the Makhmur camp’s peace delegation did, for justice and dignity.