Just days before Sunday’s elections in Turkey, the people of the small, southeastern village of Kocaköy, had gathered to commemorate the death of one of their sons. Renaz Karaz had been his nom de guerre, but his mother remembered him as Muhammed. He was only 21 years old when he died on Oct. 30, 2014, in Kobane, where he was helping with the defense of the town against attacks by the so-called Islamic State group.
Muhammed’s mother, Rukiye Şık, walks around shaking hands, kissing cheeks and providing comfort to her guests. There’s a sparkle in her eyes, and her face is beautified by a smile that only occasionally disappears. It’s hard to understand how someone who has endured such a loss can still find the power to comfort those around her.
When asked how it is possible for her to maintain a smile on her face, her answer provides a unique insight in the Kurdish mind in these critical times:
“I have so much pain in my heart, but I’m smiling, I’m laughing, because I’m going to win this battle by smiling, not by being sad,” she explains herself. “I have all the power to win this battle. I’m going to stay here, to be living in my country, to be eating my own food. He’s the one [President Erdoğan] that comes to my country and asks me to leave. He’s the one.”
“But,” she continues, “this is my country, and so I’m going to stay here. I’m not going anywhere. God willing, I’m going to stay here, and I’m going to smile. The Kurds’ numbers will increase, and we’re not going to lose anymore. We’re going to win. We’re going to stay in our country and smile until he loses the battle.”
The results of Sunday’s snap elections came as a shock to many, but especially to those who had bore the brunt of the AKP’s anger after the party had lost its majority in parliament for the first time in thirteen years.
The five months between the two elections were marred by violence in which hundreds of people had lost their lives, including soldiers and guerrillas, policemen and citizens. Two of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Turkey’s history killed almost 140 people, and dozens of people were reportedly killed when security forces attacked neighborhoods and towns were militant youths had picked up arms to protect themselves from the state’s violence.
Just after the closing of the ballot boxes, cars could be seen driving around Diyarbakir, honking their horns with people hanging out the windows, waving flags of the HDP, the leftist party with its roots in the Kurdish freedom movement. Some premature celebrations were livened up by bright fireworks, and slogans of ‘Biji biji HDP!’ (‘Long live the HDP!’) could be heard in the streets.
And then, the first results were released. These showed an unexpectedly large victory for the AKP, who by the end of the evening seemed to have gathered close to 50 percent of the votes. The HDP only just passed the 10 percent electoral threshold, and lost around 1 million votes compared to June’s elections.
Hope turned to anger. Euphoria to disappointment. “How can the people reward them for all the corruption, the killings and the repression?” was an often-heard credo on the streets of the de-facto capital of Turkey’s Kurdish region.
But, after a brief night of mourning and a few isolated clashes between excited youths and the police, Diyarbakir woke up the next morning to a bright blue sky and the warmth of the Mesopotamian sun. People were still angry, disappointed, sad and indignant, of course, but this is something the people of Kurdistan have dealt with all their lives. And they weren’t about to give up hope just yet.
“We don’t focus on these elections, we focus on the struggle,” Süreyya, a 33-year old district manager in one of Diyarbakir’s most impoverished neighborhoods had explained a few days earlier. “We’re fighting against patriarchy and we’re fighting in our daily lives. Not just in politics.”
“The individual struggle is important,” she stated, while chain smoking in a small room of the neighborhood council’s building. “But even more important is the communal struggle. If we want justice, we have to change the entire system. Whatever happens [on Sunday], we’ll keep working towards our future.”
The general post-election mood seems to be one of honorable defiance, as if the people won’t allow Erdoğan and his lackeys the pleasure of seeing the Kurds walking around with their heads down, defeated. A shrug of the shoulders and the struggle continues. With a smile, because that’s how battles are won.
Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based political analyst and writer with an MSc in Political Economy. He is an editor for ROAR Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter via @Le_Frique.
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