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Is Şırnak one of the 81 cities of Turkey?

14.06.17
4 min

I am in Şırnak, one of the Kurdish cities that was under curfew for 8 months, between 14 March-14 November 2016 . 70% of the city has been totally destroyed. 8 of the city’s 12 districts do not exist anymore. The streets that I walked on before, the parks, the main square of the city, Cumhuriyet Meydanı, where I met together with the Şırnaqi youth years before, none of them exit. There are no streets left. One of the biggest districts, Bahçelievler, with a population of 12.000 has now been flattened. It is hard to believe that there were houses, shops, parks, schools and life before. It is hard for me to believe that I am in Şırnak.

There has been huge destruction in other Kurdish cities; in Cizre, Nusaybin, Yüksekova and Sur as well. None of them are like Şırnak.  Think about a city, that no longer has a city center! 

While looking at the remains of Şırnak, the HDP parliamentarian Aycan İrmez said to me: “Most of the city was destroyed after the operations finished on the 3rd of June. More than 10.000 houses were ruined. The property of Şırnaqi  people  were distributed like prize goods of a war. The state did not allow people to enter their own houses and to save their belongings.”

A woman now living in a tent told me how she entered her house:

“I snuck into the city with my husband and my 2 kids one night. I entered my home and tried to take the air conditioners, but we couldn’t move them. Then we quickly moved to the kitchen and tried to remove the boiler, but there was water inside and we couldn’t manage it either. Suddenly, a man saw us. He was from the company, responsible for demolishing Şırnak. He said “Stop! You can’t enter your house. As a company we won the contract from the state, which includes all your belongings.  He had big guns. He took us to a bus where there were other people, like us, who tried to enter their homes. The bus took us outside the city. I was only able to take my umbrella from my home” 

Another Şırnaqi man said: “We entered our houses like thieves.”

“Şırnak is a Turkish city”

To enter the city is a different kind of hard work. It is worse than passing into another country. There was a line of cars more than one kilometer long. I waited in the car for half an hour, before deciding to walk.  I walked to the control point. What I saw was,  a control point like that of  a border! Hundreds of police, army, tanks and barbed wire fences… After the barbed wire fences there were four booths like at the borders. The policemen were checking identity cards inside the booths. After passing another barbed wire fence, I finally entered Şırnak 1.5 hours later.  

When I had visited the city 2 months before, there was a big plaque at the entrance of the city, which said: “Şırnak is one of the 81 cities of Turkey”. Now the writing on the plaque has been changed to simply say:  “Şırnak is a Turkish city.”

Şırnak, one of the main Kurdish centers was burnt in 1992 by the state. Hundreds of people died, more than 20,000 people were forced to migrate. After 24 years, in 2016, Şırnak was again   destroyed by the state.  Before the curfew, the population was 64,000. Now the population is 30,000.  50,000 people are homeless. There are no residential areas left in Şırnak. Thousands of people live in tents and have migrated to rural areas, while others are left to live in overcrowded conditions, several families living together in the few houses that are left standing.

I have learned that the state has blocked all kind of aid to Şırnak. There is no interest from NGOs , aid organizations, media and international organizations in Şırnak. The city is totally isolated from the outside world, left alone with it’s ruins and pain.  

I can’t help but wonder: Is Şırnak really one of the 81 cities of Turkey?

15.02.2017, Şırnak

Turkey, a modern day soap opera

14.06.17
5 min

Last week, I met with my Canadian friend who lives in Turkey. She told me about a Turkish soap opera that she watched that morning.  In the soap-opera, the young women gave a bunch of flowers to her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law threw the flowers to the floor and stomped on them. My friend said, “this is too much, too dramatic!” I laughed and answered, “No, this is not too much for Turkey. Turkey is a modern day soap-opera!”

Just 3 weeks ago, the cafeteria manager of Cumhuriyet newspaper said that he would not serve tea to Tayyip Erdoğan. He was immediately taken into custody after the police raided his home. Authorities said that he was arrested for insulting the president.  In Turkey, insulting the president is a crime punishable for up to four years in prison. There are more than 1,800 cases against people including cartoonists, school children, journalists and writers all accused of insulting Erdoğan. 

President Erdoğan and members of the government often make statements that “you should report the people who insulted Erdoğan”. Last month, a taxi driver recorded the voice of his passenger who “insulted Erdoğan”. He sent the recording to the police, who raided the home of the passenger. Moreover, just a few days ago the village headman (muhtar) of the Cemilli Village in Mersin, a Mediterranean city, filed a criminal complaint against 18 villagers for “insulting Erdoğan”. Investigations have been opened against the villagers.

It is not surprising to hear court cases like: “I killed my wife because she insulted Erdoğan”, “I killed her because she was a member of FETÖ” or “I want a divorce because my wife does not like Erdoğan”,“my wife is supporting PKK terrorists”.

The parliament is one of the main characters in this soap-opera.

Last week, a parliamentarian from CHP, the opposition party, called the Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım “Cin Ali”, a popular cartoon character in children’s books, due to his speech about the constitutional change. During the constitutional change process parliamentarians have fought with fists, but last week, during these fights, one of the AKP’s parliamentarians claimed that his leg was bitten by an opposition parliamentarian. The other day, AKP parliamentarians hung up papers inside the parliament which had written, “dogs cannot enter”. A few days later, a CHP parliamentarian who is also a doctor gave a detailed medical speech with x-ray films and claimed that the bite was not a human bite but a bite of a horse! 

Yesterday, we watched the drama of this soap opera unfold.

The AKP party has been pushing for constitutional changes to bring about a presidential system, likely to be put to a public referendum in early spring. During the parliament sessions regarding constitutional changes, an independent parliamentarian Aylin Nazlıkaya, handcuffed herself to the speaker’s microphone. She challenged the MHP parliamentarians to change their position and vote against the upcoming presidential system to protect the republic of Atatürk. After many hours, Nazlıkaya remained standing. Women parliamentarians from the AKP party came to remove the handcuffs. Unable to do so, they removed the microphone. At this point, physical violence broke out. CHP and HDP women parliamentarians stepped up to protect Nazlıkaya from these beatings. Two of these women were sent to hospital.

The country is like a dark comedy. The most useful term of this dark comedy is “terror”. Everyone uses this term for their own interests. Just 4 days ago, Erdoğan said the Turkish economy is also under a “terror” attack. He said that “there is no difference, where aims are concerned, between a terrorist with a gun and bomb in his hand and a terrorist who has dollars, euros and interest rates”. He also asked citizens to continue selling dollars and euros to counter the threat. 

After Erdoğan’s speech against the boost of the dollar value,  a group of village headmen in Adıyaman protested the dollar by cleaning their noses with dollars and burning them. 

The other day, Aziz Yıldırım, president of the Fenerbahçe football association, asked for Erdoğan’s help to punish the football referees who he claims are terrorists! Everyone is a terrorist in someone’s eye! “Terrorist” is also a very useful term for covering the criminals: “My neighbor is a FETÖ terrorist”, “I killed my wife because she is a FETÖ terrorist”, “the football referee is a terrorist”, “people who have dollars are terrorists”, “I raped her because she is a PKK terrorist…”

The destructive language that the political leaders are using is causing tragic consequences on the society.

Just a week ago, Alper Engeler, a famous psychologist was killed by a local shopkeeper. Engeler had built a small house to protect the cats from cold snow. The shopkeeper and Engeler quarreled, resulting in the shopkeeper killing Engeler. Last year, journalist Nuh Köklü was killed  by a shopkeeper after a snowball accidentally struck his shop window. In his many speeches to local shopkeepers, Erdoğan stated that “when needed do not hesitate to use guns”.

As a consequence of crazy politics, we now have a crazy society in Turkey! We are living in a fishbowl where people are ready to kill each other, blame each other, and assault each other while bombs explode in streets, at the hearts of big cities, on the roads…

Turkey, maybe worse than a soap-opera!

20.01.2017, Diyarbakır

Nurcan Baysal
People

Nurcan Baysal is a writer and an op-ed columnist in T24. She is the author of the O Gün (That Day), Kürdistan’da Sivil Toplum (Civil Society in Kurdistan, co-authored with Şeyhmus Diken) and Ezidiler: 73. Ferman (Ezidis: 73rd Edict). She is a committed activist and has recently been active in making the voices of people heard in demolished cities of Kurdistan.

Nurcan partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

not the point

14.06.17
1 min

not the point 

you listen a ballad, sing along, “which vinery do you guard?” 

not an affinity bearing love but that’s not the point 

however that’s not the point, you singing along, love or nightmare

it’s very late, one’s nine years old wail, body and fever 

all these years i was thought a few alphabets, one arabic one cyrillic

hammer and sickle sociology of oppressed people,

pedagogy of the oppressed and manuscripts of 1844

your name is not zîn, mine neither mem nor tajdîn 

my name is not in a song, yours not in a poem 

you never sang to me on a november night 

i may be mem û zîn to you on the fourth of november 

if i may, like that poet, i’m fond of turgut uyar, i’m not 

i’m not an emigree, nothing of the maghrib nor do i know of the mashriq 

not brave enough to refuge, a state of poetry

kürdistan est un mot cool.

your coffee-coloured hair is on my mind. 

and that coffee has a colour. the smell of coffee 

too. 

yet that’s not the point. 

Mehmet Said Aydın
People

Mehmet Said Aydın was born in Diyarbakır (1983), spent most of his life in Mardin and İstanbul. The author of realities and tales of his homeland, which stayed unsung for centuries, Aydın’s poems and short stories are best known for its neo-realist texture. Aydın’s mother tongue is Kurdish and he studied Turkish Language and Literature.

Published in 2011, his first book of poetry Kusurlu Bahçe by 160. Kilometre was honoured with “Arkadaş Z. Özger First Book Special Award”.
In early 2014, Sokağın Zoru was released and his two poetry books were reprinted 7 times. In 2017, Sylvain Cavaillès translated his first volume of poems Kusurlu Bahçe into French as Le Jardin Manqué. He’s currently working on a novel and new volumes of poetry to be published in 2018.

He translated two books from Turkish to Kurdish together with Süleyman Sertkaya: Murat Özyaşar, Bîr (Doğan Publishing, 2011); Aziz Nesin, Zarokên Niha Çi Jîr in (Nesin Publishing, 2012).

His column “Pervaz” appeared first in BirGün, then in Evrensel newspapers every week since 2013. He currently writes weekly for the Duvar Newspaper. Aydın expresses the political conjuncture with a delightful sense of humour using his childhood memories and similes.

He hosted a radio show on Kurdish Literature aired by Açık Radyo, every 2 weeks for 2 years. This program was popular among circles of interest that he was proposed hosting a TV show Keçiyolu which was broadcasted in 2015 and 2016.

He makes a living as an editor for Everest Publishing House in İstanbul married to Selin Fişek Aydın. He experiments with language and methods of translation. He’s a member of Amnesty International Turkey and Journalists Union of Turkey.

Mehmet partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

Nora Amin
People

Writer, performer, choreographer, theatre director and educator, Amin is a founding member of the Modern Dance Theatre Company at The Cairo Opera House (since 1993) and the founder of “Lamusica Independent Theatre Group”, where she directed and produced thirty-five theatre, music and dance productions since 2000. She has published four collections of short stories, three novels, a poetry audio book and two books on theatre methodology. She is the author of the first Arabic book on theatre and human rights, “The Egyptian Contemporary Theatre: The Art of Claiming our Right”, published by CHRSI in 2003, as well as of a book on theatre as a medium for healing and transformation for trauma survivors, “Theatre For Change: From the Internal to the External”. In 2009, she launched the independent initiative “Our Stories” to encourage personal storytelling in popular neighborhoods. In 2011 Amin founded “The Egyptian National Project Of Theatre Of The Oppressed” and its Arab network. 

In 2015, Nora participated in our 60pages Longform Workshop in Cairo, her book “Migrating the Feminine” is an outcome of this workshop. It has been published in English and Arabic and soon in German. 

Alia Mossallam at the 60pages Cairo Workshop
Alia Mossallam at the 60pages Cairo Workshop

Rawi

by
Alia Mossallam
12.06.17
180 min
Longread
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Our Friends at Mada Masr

Georg Diez about the Egyptian crackdown against free media
08.06.17
3 min
Post

Sometimes I wonder: Does anybody care? And: Was it always like this? Only now I realize it?
Or, on the other hand, is the world just okay with authoritarian regimes all over taking away the basic freedoms that make humans human?
Like: Freedom of speech and opinion, freedom of press, freedom to assemble. It seems total control all over, and it does not help that there is an authoritarian crack-pot in the White House.
Still, among all the bad bad news we heard in the last year or two, the news from Cairo about our friends at Mada Masr was as unsurprising as it was shocking.
We, Murat and I for 60pages, had been in Cairo in 2015 for an extraordinary workshop about longform non-fiction writing with some of the brightest and bravest of the journalistic profession that I have ever met.
I am grateful for everything they talked about and shared, among them Alia Mossallam and her friend Lina Attalah, the editor-in-chief of Mada Masr, the independent online-medium which was one of our partners at the time.
The closing and finally the tearing down of the gallery space where we met was the first step that we witnessed; our friends in Cairo of course had lived through far worse, Alia Mossallam talks in her soon-to-be published text about some of the despair.
There were constant reports of threats and harassments by the military regime which is tolerated or openly supported by to my knowledge all of the Western governments; it is better to have stability than human rights, that’s the rationale.
But now, it seems there is another level of systematic purging of dissenting opinions: On May 24, Mada Masr – together with Al Jazeera and HuffPost’s Arabic website and others – was blocked by Egyptian authorities.
Then the government of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi effectively banned foreign NGOs – a move described as a “catastrophic blow” by Amnesty International, a “death sentence” for human rights groups in the country.
Nancy Okail recently detailed what it is like to have to leave your country because you believe in and work for democracy: “We have no choice but to work for a better Egypt. We did not give up under Mubarak when the entire world was backing his oppressive regime, and we will not give up to the current one. We hope that the world won’t give up on us either.”
These are hard times, in a lot of places, for our friends in Egypt and in Turkey where we went for another workshop in March of 2017. Our friend, the German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel is still in prison there.
Again, really, how did we get here? In a way, I feel, all we can do is publish texts that matter.

Alia Mossallam
People

Alia Mosallam is a thinker, often weaving her thoughts in writings that range from letters to graduates theses, but also in different other acts of organizing, advocacy and mobilization. Her main academic inquiry has been centered on how history, especially of resistance, can be re-imagined and re-written through the ranks of the verbal, the sung and more broadly, the popular, the vernacular. Her PhD thesis covered the period between 1956 and 1974, which marked formative post-colonial struggles and their most contemporary embodiment in the Arab-Israeli wars. But her PhD thesis was only one form of mediation for her key epistemological inquiry, which she took to different spaces of production: artistic, pedagogical and more. She conceptualized and led workshops with young writers and historians on unearthing untold histories of an anarchist and socialist Alexandria in the north of Egypt and a resistant Nubia and Port Said, south and east of the mainland. She provided the research backbone for theatrical productions on key moments of dissent in Egypt, namely 1919 and 2011. She wrote for influential local and international publications on revolution, imprisonment and resistance, where argumentative rigor met poetics to create powerful and engaging texts. She brought all these processes, of thinking and producing, to classrooms, both in formal institutions she taught at like the American University in Cairo and alternative ones like the Cairo Institute for Liberal Arts. While unearthing alternative histories and understanding resistance and dissent have been her main intellectual preoccupations, Alia has been invested in different educational back ends that can make these inquiries possible. She was a curriculum developer for an annual creative Arab youth camp organized by the Arab Digital Expression Foundation and was a child protection officer with UNICEF. Her thinking, writing, conceptualizing, teaching, mentoring and facilitating have been paralleled with other acts of engagement with the surrounding socio-political environment, particularly in times of revolution: from marching in squares of dissent, to participating in campaigns around the popular writing of the Constitution, to contributing to advocacies for minors in military prisons. She is a wife and mother of two: Taya (the rock?) and Rawi (the storyteller). To her family, she brings all of the above, and through motherhood, she is learning new things about presence, resistance and telling stories about them.

Learning from Cairo

Georg Diez about about our first 60pages writers workshop
17.05.17
4 min
Voyage | Cairo

This was an experiment. We were going to Cairo for a workshop on the art of longform writing, with the generous support of MiCT and at a time of new tensions between the government and the press. The workshop was hosted by Townhouse Gallery, not far from Tahrir Square. Sep 1–3, 2015, morning, afternoon, dinner, tea and talk in between. 25 writers, activists, journalists. We wanted to talk about what stories need to be told and commission five to eight of them and publish them.

We always believed that part of today’s problems, both politically and journalistically, was a limitation of scope and perspective. What Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra called “the West and the rest” turns into a true liability if it comes to describing this world and how it changes. The West looks at Egypt and sees first an uprising, violence, a revolution; then change, the end of the old, the beginning of something; democracy? The election turns out differently. The Muslim Brotherhood is not what the West bargained for. So when the new president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took over, there was a very loud silence from the part of Western governments.

It has been a rollercoaster ride and we came to listen and learn. Probably the most fascinating thing somebody told me in the last two days here in Cairo, the thing with the most far reaching implications, spanning the private and the political, the family and the state, regression and aggression and an overall unease with the way men are, was Egyptian writer, performer and director Nora Amin who said that Egyptian men are so spoiled by their mothers, so doted upon, so smothered with love that they go through life expecting this to never end.

Would the Middle East be a different place without these men? Probably. Is there a chance of that happening? Probably not. Do they care? No. Do they know? I guess not. Nora’s text was the first one that we published, it was a strong, moving, vulnerable text about rape and Tahrir and the everyday sexism of the Egyptian society. It was also about survival.

“Migrating the Feminine”, Nora Amin’s text, was published just after there were attacks by supposedly refugees on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve of 2015/2016. Her text was like a commentary to everything that went wrong in the German debate after the events, the blame, the prejudice, the xenophobia and islamophobia that was growing more and more at the time. We were proud to publish this text, and the German newspaper “taz” picked it up as well.

The next text was Youssef Rhaka’s very daring essay on “Arab Porn”, a provocative and mindful examination of the fundamental changes the Egyptian society is living through as seen through the prism of sexuality and home-made porn — it is also a questioning of the self-understanding of protest and activism about producing change versus the change that is happening anyway, away from the streets, apart from the news.

We will publish two more from the Cairo workshop in the coming weeks. One is by Alia Mossallam who tells the story of loosing friends in the Arab Spring, of torture and fear of oppression and the deeper story of migration across the Mediterranean — all channeled through her very difficult and painful childbirth; only this pain, it seems, allowed her to access the other pain.

The final text by Amr Ezzat will be the most genre-bending, an account of a double-life, to say the least, the life of a member of the Muslim Brotherhood turned activist in the Arab Spring movement — without telling his father about it. It is a story about the basic contradictions that run through every society, but those in particular where religious fanaticism is ruling; the basic contradictions that run through every family, but those in particular where the fear of the open and the other is cultivated to a degree that encourages lying.

What can we take away from all of this? There is so much we don’t know. It is best if we just come to learn and listen.

Is Şırnak one of the 81 cities of Turkey?

14.06.17
4 min

Turkey, a modern day soap opera

14.06.17
5 min

not the point

14.06.17
1 min

Rawi

by
Alia Mossallam
12.06.17
180 min

Our Friends at Mada Masr

Georg Diez about the Egyptian crackdown against free media
08.06.17
3 min

Learning from Cairo

Georg Diez about about our first 60pages writers workshop
17.05.17
4 min