The forbidden word and common denominators
By: Adil Al-Baghdadi

Kurdistan Observer, MI
June 1 2005

June 1, 2005

What do a Turkish immigration officer at Istanbul airport, a Turkish
tour guide in Diyarbakir and a Turkish student at a college in Istanbul
have in common?

Apart from the obvious fact that they are all Turks, the answer is
that they all can resort to violence if they hear the word Kurdistan.

Sadly, intolerance and willingness to use violence seem to be common
denominators in many strands of Turkish society which have been
deliberately, and for far too long, misinformed about the history of
nations and regions within their midst.

Many Kurds who travel to South Kurdistan through North Kurdistan can
recite many stories about the way they were harshly dealt with by
Turkish passport control officials at Istanbul airport.

One story is that of an Ezidi Kurd who holds a British EU passport
with the word Kurdistan written as the place of birth.

Handing over his passport for inspection, the transit passenger,
who had planned to visit his family in South Kurdistan after decades
of exile, was unaware that his long-awaited journey would turn into
a nightmare.

Seeing the forbidden word, the Turkish passport officer unexpectedly
rose up from his chair and slapped the unsuspecting passenger across
the face, who then was taken to custody, kept overnight and deported
back to Britain.

There was also the case a British Kurdish family including two
children who were roughly handled and treated by Turkish airport
officials upon seeing the banned word on their passports. Their case
was widely reported in British dailies and was investigated by the
British Foreign Office.

Another story of how emotions run deep and are highly charged in a
society which has been made to feel unnerved and unsettled upon hearing
or seeing the forbidden word, is that of many Turkish tour guides.

On a sunny day in Diyarbakir a tourist group from the Far East were
being told about the history of the region by their South Korean
tour guide who let it be known to them that they had arrived in the
Kurdistan region.

Next, all the tourists saw was a Turkish man, who as it turned out was
a guide for another group, pouncing on their guide and then landing
many punches and kicks on the hapless South Korean.

The assailant was later taken to the police station but immediately
released once he told arresting officers that because he understood
the Japanese language he had over heard his colleague uttering the
forbidden word to the tourists.

Another example of intolerance and potential violence within the
Turkish state that may have caused alarm within the EU concerned an
Austrian lecturer at Saint-Georges College in Istanbul.

Gerhard Pils, a professor of biology, was describing to his Turkish
students a trip he made with his family to the North Kurdistan region
of Turkey.

At this point two students rose up and shouted that they would kill
anyone who said the word Kurdistan.

The 50-year-old lecturer was then reported to the authorities by the
parents of the students and subsequently had his work permit and visa
cancelled. He was ordered to leave Turkey at once, on the pretext of
being a threat to national security.

That such incidents are still frequent in Turkey is an indication of
Turkey's unwillingness to embark on a campaign to truly implement EU
adaptation packages.

It is also evidence of how much work needs to be done by human rights
groups and liberal elements within Turkey in order to undo and break
taboos of more than eight decades.

The fact that Turkey has been forced to look into its not-so-glamorous
past, vis-a-vis the genocide of the Armenians, is perhaps a sure sign
that the country will also be forced into removing all sorts of bans
on North Kurdistan.

Freedom and tolerance towards others is the cornerstone of modern
European entities, which have also long forgone racial prejudices
and discrimination.

It is high time for Turkey to adhere to EU club's rules and