|Kurds: Survival first, independence
By Zamira Eshanova
SILOPI, Turkey - Most of the 30,000 people
living in Silopi, a town on Turkey's border with Iraq,
are Kurds. Located at the foot of long, snowy Mount
Judi, part of the Ararat mountain range, Silopi's
geography has in large part determined its fate.
The mountain rising above Silopi and neighboring
towns was home to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK),
founded in 1973 by Abdullah Ocalan with the aim of
controlling the Kurdish populations in the villages
below as part of an independent Kurdish state.
Beginning in the 1980s, Silopi found itself
wedged between fierce opponents: Turkish troops and PKK
militants. Thirty-year-old Hashim, a shop owner, said he
will never forget those days. "People [in Silopi] were
living in constant fear of bombings and fighting," he
said. "It was a nightmare. We were like a small river
between two mountains or like a mouth between moustache
Hashim added, "During the daytime,
we were interrogated by the Turkish military as
supporters of the PKK. At night, we were tortured and
robbed by Kurdish militants as collaborators. None of
them were sympathetic to us. Many people's lives turned
to ashes because of this war."
residents say that life in the region has changed
dramatically since Ocalan was arrested in February 1999.
Shops and restaurants remain open all day, and people
say that they feel reasonably safe and secure. But even
though Turkey's war with the PKK has ended, life in
Silopi is anything but normal, as residents fight
Ibrahim is the owner of a
car-repair shop, where dozens of unemployed men gather
each day to exchange stories and news. He said that he
hasn't made a single sale over the past month. "In every
family, there are at least eight to 10 people. You just
talked to a kid who said there are seven children in his
family. Everybody around you is the head of a big family
like this. But if you look in their pockets, you won't
find more than 2-3 million lira [$1.50 to $2]. You can
imagine the life of their families," Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim's companions agreed. "The war with the
PKK was not our war," one of them said. "Today's war in
Iraq is also not our war. Our war is a bread war. If we
have our bread, we don't do anything to anybody. But
when our bread is gone, then we will definitely make
Life is miserable for most people in
Silopi. Before Turkey's war with the PKK, locals were
primarily engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry.
But once the war took hold, the region's only option for
survival was trade with Iraq. Nearly 90 percent of the
male population became truck drivers, carrying goods to
Iraq as part of its oil-for-food program. But complete
closure of the border two years ago has stolen their
sole remaining source of income. Nowadays, in and around
Silopi one can see numerous so-called "truck cemeteries"
where more than 50,000 trucks sit unused. For the men of
Silopi, their only hope is to see the border reopened.
Frustration is mounting in Silopi, where
residents like Hasan, a former truck driver, say that
they feel ignored and abandoned. "We were bringing crude
oil from Iraq and making good money until the Turkish
government closed the border." He said the feeling seems
to be, "Whatever bad things happen, they should happen
to southeastern people; only southeasteners should
Despite such bitterness, these Silopi
residents say that they have no dream of creating an
independent Kurdish state. They see their future as part
of Turkey, and they want to be given a chance to make
their life better by having the border with Iraq
Ibrahim expressed a sentiment often
heard in Silopi. "What will change if there is an
independent Kurdish state?" he asked. "What benefit
would it bring to our lives? We don't want such
independence. It has nothing to do with our identity.
Everybody here [in Turkey] has the same identity: We are
There are no Kurdish-language
schools in Silopi or in other towns of southeastern
Turkey. Adult men speak Turkish, as do the children
attending Turkish-language schools. Only the region's
women, primarily housewives, continue to speak Kurdish
and promote other Kurdish traditions. But even this may
change with the times. For the past several years, young
girls have been attending school for the first time.
This is yet another trend, residents say, that will
dramatically change life in Silopi over the next 10 to
Copyright (c) 2002, RFE/RL Inc.
Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio
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