Oct 20, 2008

Jewish Molly Crabapple in northern Kurdistan

When you were 18, you were briefly detained in a Turkish jail for sketching in Kurdistan. What did you make of the region? And as a Jew, were you sympathetic to the Kurds� longing for their own homeland?

I love the Middle East generally, and Kurdistan specifically. I studied Turkish and Arabic for years being just fluent enough in Turkish to get me into trouble, though not fluent enough to get me out of it. I dug the relaxed Kurdish take on Islam, their language, their raw, throaty music, the wild green hills near Dogubeyazit with the silver roads that went from nowhere to nowhere, how you could walk around, and within a few hours, women would invite you over for food, and how easy it was to talk to anyone. I even liked the guns and tribalism and sulfur whiff of violence.

But Southeastern Turkey five years ago was very recently a war zone. The Turkish government, despite being moderate by Middle Eastern standards, is no ideal democracy. Since Ataturk, the official party line is that minorities don't exist. Kurdish language and music were banned. Textbooks referred to Kurds as "mountain turks." "How Happy is He Who is a Turk" was written in thirty foot letters on the side of mountains.

I stayed with people who had posters of Ataturk in the front rooms, and Kurdish nationalist posters in the back. I spent a long time in a village called Hassankeyf, all ancient and honey-colored, which the government was flooding to build their new dam. Of course, they didn't make any provision for the folks living there. You can check out Amnesty International for Turkey's dismal human rights record. Police in the East also constantly hassled me for talking to locals.

While I'm not sure about splitting Turkish Kurdistan off to make a Kurdish homeland (for one thing it would be vastly poorer than the more modernized West), the Turkish government could learn a lesson about multi-cultural tolerance from the Western democracies whose trappings they try to emulate.

1 comment:

Emmunah said...

Thank you so much for this blog.

I just found it.

I love Molly Crabapple too!