|The Musa Anter Peace
Joking about how we had just become
multi-millionaires through changing our money, we stepped out of Istanbul's
Ataturk Airport into the heat. Violently the centre of the crowd opened
apart while a man seemed to dance and jerk horribly. Throwing himself with
all his weight onto the jagged concrete he split open his head, ripping
his eye with his broken glasses . He was having an epileptic fit. He was
not breathing and his teeth were jammed tight shut and impossible to open.
Blood was pouring from his mouth and pooling on the ground from his eye
and head. Eventually we got him breathing and he lay on his side gurgling.
Taking them away from his head my hands were scarlet with blood. The others
looking after him put him in the rescue position. Welcome to Istanbul.
After that things got worse.
When we got to the hotel MIM we
turned on the TV in one of the bigger rooms. The channel was HBB, soon
renamed fascist TV. They had footage of the airport, five or six camera
crews had appeared instantly; they had been waiting for something to happen.
Although HBB is complete propaganda it still affected us with its barking
declarations that we were all 'terrorists' and that one of us, the man
who had the epileptic fit, was 'drunk': and that it was obvious what happens
when you let terrorists into the country--bloodshed, see that blood well
there's going to be more of it if they try to go to Diyarbakir. And we
sat there while they made other thinly veiled threats.
The Musa Anter Peace Train was an
initiative by Hanover Appeal, a German human rights organisation. The largest
immigrant population of Kurds live in Germany, where they contend with
a similar oppression to that experienced in South East Turkey. The original
idea was that a train would travel from Brussels through most of Europe
and eventually end up in Diyarbakir in the heart of Kurdistan, where we
would all attend a Peace Festival. The German government, seemingly on
their own initiative, decided to ban it going through their territory and
cancelled the railway contract, action which is possibly illegal on a number
of points. They did this over the weekend--one or two days before the train
was due to set off. The organisers decided to proceed, flying us from Brussels
to Istanbul and then travelling by a convoy of buses to Diyarbakir, a journey
taking well over 24 hours each way.
Most European countries were represented
with around 150 people, including MPs, camera crews, human rights activists,
journalists and just seemingly normal people of a range of ages from about
18 to 70. The British contingent was comparatively small, consisting of
Joe Cooper and Paul Delahunty, from Liverpool, who planed to video the
journey for a future TV film; Arti Dillon and Alan Brooke who are members
of Socialist parties; Julia Guest who is a freelance photographer; Hüseyin
Çakar who was our illustrious interpreter (and who bears an astonishing
resemblance to Al Pachino) and Miranda Watson from the Kurdistan Information
Centre in London. That was the kind of 'core group' but we were also invaluably
joined for the journey by Andy Keefe (whom I would describe as a political
activist--but was here as an interpreter/co-ordinator) and Francis D' Souza
of Article XIX. Bruce Kent and Christine Blower (of the NUT) joined us
briefly at the Hotel, Lord Rea I never laid eyes on.
It quickly became apparent that
we should carefully follow whatever advice might be given us by HADEP the
Kurdish organisation giving us assistance. They were very brave and kind
people, but it was difficult to grasp their advice at all times, what with
the fog of our own reactions, conflicting opinion and the general confusion
of events and language. So (even at the worst of times) we only had an
abstract notion of what was ahead: possibly a lot of people had not fully
grasped how 'serious' the situation is in Kurdistan: I know I didn't.
Because of the change of plan we
had a few extra days in Istanbul within which various visits, events and
meetings were arranged, most of which I took no part in because of sudden
severe illness. Julia suggested food poisoning, at the time I thought I
was dying and lay for a day in a delirious soaking sweats having the most
disgusting weird nightmares.
Around about midnight, after trying
to get to sleep with the entire football supporting Turkish nation driving
through the streets honking their horns (including the one that plays 'Dixie'),
Miranda skulked up to our room. The plans had apparently been changed.
The Hanover people had decided in the foyer that the main and over-riding
objective was to arrive at Diyarbakir, thus, they determined, in an effort
to reach that goal a small amount from each 'delegation' would fly there
early tomorrow. The others would follow on by bus as planned. According
to Miranda the situation in Diyarbakir would be a "heavy bitch". There
seemed to be no plans for getting back--a minor point I stumbled on out
of curiosity. As it stood it looked like Alan, Arti, Julia and myself were
being offered the chance to go. Joe was at the meeting and according to
Miranda seemed "worried about losing all their camera gear". The fact that
Joe didn't like it struck me as somewhat backing up 'rule number one':
that we should all stick together. Alan had joined us by this point, sheets
over his head like a pretend messiah. We agreed to discuss it early in
the morning, and we called it a night. The distinct impression that this
was some late-night spontaneous meeting in the hotel foyer led by organisation
junkies easily circulated round by throbbing brain amongst the other assorted
In the morning the plan turned to
nothing. Only a couple of people from the German delegation had been actually
pushing for it while the French and Swiss delegations had pressed heavily
for the convoy sticking together: "Bang on!" I said. Joe, leaning over
into my breakfast laughs with me into my ear: "Beware of Germans preaching
Stalinism." We are more optimistic than we were after the paranoia of last
night. We have very little on our side: solidarity--i.e. staying together
and watching over each other; a message of 'peace'--i.e. non provocative
action and organisation--i.e. listening to the people who know the territory.
The future would rely on instinct, split second reactions in difficult
irrational situations. Trying to pretend to be relaxed I have a word about
the "decision making procedure" with Julia. "This is luxury, this is clockwork
compared to some of the delegations I've been on. I just want to get on
with my work."
Most of the delegations attended
their respective Embassies to inform the consulates of what we planned
to do. Press reports seemed to have mellowed slightly, as in this example
from The Turkish Daily News, August 28th : "Foreign Minister, Sermet Atacanli...
made it clear that the travellers who were going on to Diyarbakir would
not meet with any difficulty and those who are not forbidden by law to
enter Turkey would be met with tolerance." We asked Neil Frape, the Vice-Consul
for Press and Public affairs, whom we would later become better acquainted
with, what he thought of this and what his impression of the climate was.
There was very little he could tell us. Owen Jenkins, another Embassy man,
had reported the situation in Diyarbakir as being 'very tense', the 'State
of Emergency' being of course very much in place. Mr. Frape provided us
with a letter on Embassy note paper, which we imagined would somehow help
us in a difficult situation. It did strike me as peculiar that a bunch
of 'activists' like ourselves should go crawling to the State for help.
Well, using the Civil Service for what it is intended--for any prospective
advantage--seemed like a good idea at the time. The photographers amongst
us were also worried about getting their material out of the country and
were hoping for the old diplomatic bag. Mr. Frape seemed honestly sympathetic:
it must be something of an insight into the smooth running of a democracy
to work as a press officer in Turkey, where journalists go missing, papers
are closed down in the night and lies and corruption go rampantly unchecked.
Earlier that day Joe and Paul had
caught something of possible future significance when they filmed an interview
with Mr. Imam Gassan Solomon, a South African ANC Member of Parliament
(Justice and Foreign Affairs), this is worth quoting at length:
"We thank the Turkish Government
and the Turkish people for their sympathy towards our struggle, but we
would also like to offer our assistance to the Turkish Government and the
Turkish people to assist in the problem which they have with the people
of Kurdistan. And I might as well tell the Turkish people and maybe the
rest of the World Community that President Mandela has given an indication
that he is going to step down in 1999, that we have a very short time in
order to make use of his good offices. And he will be available to assist,
and I think he would be the best person to assist, to solve this problem
peacefully in Kurdistan."
Still ill I didn't make it to the
visit of The Mothers of The Disappeared the next day. It is some indication
of our times that a term such as that will be understood by most readers
without further explanation. They meet every Saturday (and are also known
as the Saturday Mothers) and are treated with inhuman, disgusting, violent
contempt by the police--constant harassment and beatings. This is a perfect
indication of how far out of control the slide is in Turkey. The eventual
repercussion of 'counter-insurgency' is that young men in uniform are made
to turn on old women; women who could easily be their own mothers, who
themselves are forced to go begging on the streets for information on other
young men and women who could easily be the young cop wiping the blood
off his truncheon. Another of the South African MPs put it quite well later
on that evening, this was Mr. Ahmed Gara Ebrahim who said: "Attending the
Saturday Mothers demonstration in Istanbul today reminded me of the anguish
of the Mothers, Sisters, Brothers and Fathers went through in our own liberation
struggle. One of the fundamentals of human rights is the right to live
and the right to feel secure. As long as these Mothers, Sisters and Brothers
do not know what happened to their relatives and loved ones, basic human
rights in Turkey will remain violated."
At breakfast, on the morning we
planed to set off, we were visited by top Istanbul secret policeman, who
gave out some 'final warnings about any form of protest' to Miranda and
Francis D' Souza, who had the stomach to listen to him. As we gathered
to leave, the Italian barmy army1
of Communist Party MPs and members began to noisily sing their full repertoire
of anti-fascist songs, eventually they are weakly told to shut up by one
of the Hotel fat boys. Just two buses took us to our first stop. With all
the crush I ended up at the big window at the front as we wove out of the
vastness of Istanbul and its homicidal traffic. We gradually picked up
a bit of a police escort but they knew were we were going: Kadaköy.
On its outskirts the police presence grew to enormous proportions, armoured
vehicles and the extensive apparatus of 'crowd control': they became too
many to count. Halting in the middle of all this we got out and walked
in more or less single file through the police lines and machine guns into
an even more astonishing sight--a massive rally of thousands of Kurds who
were risking life, limb and liberty to welcome us and see us off.
The organisers estimated that about
10,000 people who had tried to travel on every conceivable form of transport
had been turned back. As we walked in we were hugged and kissed like long
lost Sons and Daughters, we shook and held hands and just looked into the
eyes of everyone we passed--so many people. In utter emotional dizziness
we walked into the huge body of Kurds. Joe, Paul and Julia snapped into
action with their cameras while I mumbled inanities into my tape recorder.
Standing on a car bonnet when we lost someone I got to see the enormity
of it: furious speeches were still being pounded out of the P.A. by Union
leaders to be met with deafening responses from the crowd. One uncomfortable
memory is accidentally looking up at our 'special guests' as Miranda kept
calling them, who had climbed on top of a van which was acting as a platform
for the speakers. They went up there presumably to be cheered. Seeing Bruce
Kent's fat chubby face and cringing at what buffoons they seemed, taking
all that applause with silly paper 'Peace Train' hats on their heads--far
better, I thought, to be down here and try to talk to some people. But
we had started to be directed towards the seven buses which would take
us to Diyarbakir and we moved off through the waving crowd and extremely
What the hell was I doing in this
country, what the hell did I understand about what it was like to live
here? All anyone could do was look people in the eye and show them some
respect: we would soon zoom off, but these people were staying; to soon
be battered senseless for turning up. At least, I thought, with all its
failings, the Peace Train might, in some small way, bring some international
attention and recognition of the reality of the Kurdish situation. Undoubtedly
the Kurds were more than happy to applaud our efforts. I could not help
feeling that we imported something of the class system within the British
contingent, which is our problem; but there is something peculiar about
a member of an un-elected upper House of Lords, Lord Rea, lecturing a country
like Turkey on 'Democracy'.
Up in the mountains, well out of
Kadaköy, we were stopped at about six in the evening on the pretext
of a passport check, although we hadn't left the country. At the checkpoint
people began to get off--those with video cameras and so forth gathering
round any potential disturbance, but we were only delayed for about two
hours. Paul later let slip that he had been told by a soldier that if he
didn't stop filming he would be shot.
The journey was long but our spirits
were kept up by Yasmien--the Mother of the Bus--who would perfume us with
rose water and at one point when the darkness outside was creeping in,
actually went round kissing us all. She also led the singing. Kurdish songs
are quite similar to Bulgarian folk songs with that open throat, which
becomes so charged with emotion. We also had a Kurdish band on board one
of the buses who would start up playing practically anywhere and at any
time. Their pounding slapping drums and strange reed instruments sprung
into action among the flashing blue lights in several God forsaken service
stations, where one could obtain the worst food in the World. Food so bad
in fact that Julia and I couldn't eat it for laughing about how we had
jumped the massive queue, to get at it first.
I think most people were sleeping
when we came into Kurdistan. High Mountains were to the left and right
of us with a low mist filling the desert ground of the valley. Higher and
higher into the mountains and about eight in the morning we were stopped
at a military check point at Gazi Antep2,
near the Syrian border. Previously we had heard of deportations from Diyarbakir
including Musa Anter's widow and daughter, several HADEP party members
and our 'special guests'. They had also stopped us entering Ankara and
driven away the people who had gathered to meet us, so there was no telling
how things would go: from here on in we were in the Emergency Zone, under
Martial Law. At the checkpoint, the soldiers start to take off one of the
'Musa Anter Peace Train' banners and set fire to it in front of all our
cameras and all of us, obviously in an effort to get some kind of reaction
thus 'justifying' some bloodshed. Eventually after they have had their
fun they let us proceed.
As the people along the way, in
greater and greater numbers, wave us on with peace signs; we could also
on occasion see them being harassed by the police. At about ten thirty
we are escorted into a large and notorious military compound at Urfa and
more or less held under arrest. The organisers and MPs and so forth start
to negotiate with the Army while the rest of us wander around the compound
trying to find shade from the radioactive sun. It is beginning to look
like a dead end, but I arrange a bet with Francis D' Souza of 1,000,000
Turkish Lira that we get to Diyarbakir, just for the sheer hell of it.
A few moments previously Francis told Joe she was going to find out if
we were free to go out of the compound by slowly walking out the main entrance
and seeing what happened. He agreed to film her. No sooner had she set
one foot in the open space when the click of machine guns signalled that
this was a bad move and she quickly turned back. Inadvertently Paul and
I began talking to one of the Turkish soldiers, a huge guy obviously in
Special forces or something: he is armed with about ten fragmentation grenades,
a powerful machine gun with a grenade launcher attached. I notice a little
Turkish flag on the butt of his automatic hand gun--nice to see a bit of
individualism flourishing, but it turns out to be quite common. He looks
down at us and quietly asks us why we have come to Turkey: "Why not Bosnia
or Palestine or..." "Ireland," I interject. "Yes Ireland" he murmurs, "why
don't you go there?" "I've been" I reply. "All we want is peace" Paul tells
him, and gradually the conversation tails off. It is a bit tricky talking
to man who is equipped to annihilate all of us without breaking into a
Mr Solomon informed us that what
they were doing here was the oldest trick in the book, he had seen it many
times in South Africa. The purpose of this stop was to enable them to set
up men and machinery down the way. Eventually after two and a half hours
we are let back on the buses and move slowly towards Diyarbakir An announcement
on the bus tannoy tells us that "the Governor of Diyarbakir said the buses
could not come in due to a public safety law. He advised the organising
committee to turn back but will allow us to proceed into Diyarbakir Province."
Joe and Paul are running out of film and batteries. Standing up and looking
at the numbers of the Army, Paul turns to Joe : "Looks like we're going
to need another two Scousers."
I don't know what time it was--I
was asleep; possibly about four--but we abruptly stopped and an urgent call
came out for all press to get up the front. The road to Diyarbakir is a
mere two lonely lanes, and as far as the eye can see everything is wilderness
and the odd animal skull. No cover, no nothing. Our bus was number five
so we couldn't see very much till we got to the head of the convoy on foot.
Two huge tanks blocked our path, a huge semi-circle of soldiers at a three
metre spread surrounded us, fondling their machine guns. We can see what
looks like Diyarbakir about a mile away in the distance but all that long
way was lined by hundreds of soldiers and more tanks.3
Everyone is off the buses now sittingt
down in front of them and in front of the tanks. Chanting and singing began
with "Peace" in Kurdish accompanied by a furious hand clap. Two Kurdish
women from within the circle of protesters made a passionate speech to
the soldiers, until fraught with emotion one of them threw the bouquet
of roses she was carrying up into the air and crashed to her knees weeping.
I later found out she was the widow of an MP who was murdered--kicked to
death--in Diyarbakir, the flowers were perhaps intended for his grave. People
started singing the Kurdish National anthem (a frail but relentlessly determined
song and no doubt illegal), and 'Ciao Bella' an old Italian anti-fascist
Partisan song, together with chants of "Internationalé Solidarité!"
The soldiers were beginning to look pretty edgy as people put some of the
scattered flowers on the tanks.
There was some confusion as the
organisers debated with the military what would be the next move. A huddle
of press people developed around them, whatever was been decided was in
Turkish and then in German, off to the side I eventually found a translator
who was making an announcement in English, looking understandably dazed
and confused he said: "you see we are stopped here, they don't let us to
finish our peace ...eh...trip. So we decided to turn back here. Now we
sit down here for a while and we sing some songs but now it's time to turn
back. We are going to Sali Urfa and we'll have a rest there, then we'll
speak about what we'll do and how we'll do it. Now please everybody get
on the buses, thankyou." I knew there had been a bit more to it than that,
from what I could pick up from everyone else but we all slowly drifted
back towards the buses. The sun was on its way down as a military helicopter
landed in the field and then took off again after instructions
I wandered past the Kurdish band
who were out playing alongside their bus and tried to talk into my tape
recorder while I gathered a handful of pebbles. I was still curious as
to what was happening and bumped into Miranda, I still had the tape running
as she tried to speak over the noise of the helicopter:
"There's been about 1,000 arrests
[in Diyarbakir] because of us going in. HADEP, IHD--and the organisers of
the Peace Train, just now in a coach meeting said that, well, it was suggested
that the Europeans take some kind of action--because the worst that could
happen was a detention or deportation or maybe a ban. That might cripple
solidarity work in the future--with no return to the country; that's something
to be considered. On the other hand for our Turkish and Kurdish friends:
they said they're willing to die for they're political beliefs, so therefore
any action we take, they take the consequences. Now the most serious thing
which was suggested--and of course is not a possibility--is that everybody
walks en masse to these barricades. There would be overhead firing, they'd
fire into the crowd and then there would be mass arrests. That's not an
option for anyone, also it would be damage to the whole process." The italics
here express a tone which I think came into her voice due to the look of
abject horror on my face. Miranda carried on: "Other suggestions are to
go to Urfa and protest the arrests, then possibly just the Europeans go
back here to the barricades. The problem is this area belongs to a Tribal
Warlord. You know that car accident we talked about--the Beauty Queen was
killed, an MP and a Police Chief and a Mafia guy wanted by Interpol? Well
the one who survived has a Contra-guerrilla army and this is his territory,
his jurisdiction. So the Germans think it enough to go back and have a
'something', the Italians want something more." I did not like the sound
of what Miranda was saying, and started to imagine what this place would
be like if we came back here in the middle of the night. The buses moved
It is becoming obvious, once we
can judge the size of the police/military escort we are picking up, that
we will not be allowed to stop. The convoy is travelling very fast and
through red lights. As we pass various small towns the police and army
in large numbers seem to be lining the route . When the buses stop at a
junction or a roadblock, riot police immediately run alongside the bus.
This is by no means over. We are told to keep our seats by Yasmien. We
can barely travel one hundred yards without seeing massive groups of soldiers.
It is about seven thirty, and there
is an announcement over the bus tannoy: "everyone who tries to enter Diyarbakir
the way we went will probably be killed." To be honest I was quite happy
to be run out of country, and I mention this to Andy who is sitting next
to me. He tells me that the police escort will probably diminish once we
have been put out of the Emergency Zone. Miranda is on the phone to the
British Embassy trying to find out what happened to Bruce Kent and the
others who flew into Diyarbakir; where--the latest news tells us--about 2,000
people have been arrested and they are using the schools as temporary prisons.
At about 11 o'clock another announcement suggests that we try a sit down
protest at the next stop: "The purpose of this association is to provide
support for the mass of refugees--the mass that wants peace the most--they
are the victims of the war and they want peace the most. In Turkey it's
one of the most dangerous things to strive for: peace. Thankyou."
The confusion and paranoia reached
a crescendo when they let us stop at a service station for petrol. As far
as we knew we would be ran all the way to Istanbul and people were tired,
hungry and thirsty, so there was something of a mad scramble. This was
complicated by the organisers telling us not to buy anything because this
was a fascist place. Somewhere in all this I heard that a Kurdish guy got
his arm broke by the police for attempting to get on the bus, I think he
was trying to join the convoy, we could also see some kind of disturbance
at the Italian bus. Things almost get completely out of hand, but we manage
somehow to get back on the road.
Most of the police escort must have
left us at some time in the night as there are only two or three police
cars, but we have also lost the rest of the convoy. We join up again at
about ten o' clock. The headlines in the Turkish press are calling us "Peace
Terrorists" which causes a bit of laughter on our part. As the day proceeds
it looks like the authorities are trying to force us on to the road to
Istanbul rather than Ankara, where we plan to hold a press conference and
meet up with Embassy officials from each country. The buses are forcibly
stopped at the Motorway turn-off for Ankara and we all get out and up front
A sit down protest in front of the
buses in the middle of the Motorway is already in progress as we arrived
with the press gathering. To one side of the buses it is a quiet little
wood with birds chirping, on the other side the police are bringing up
heavy reinforcements and redirecting the chaos of the traffic. Two water
cannon tanks come rolling through all the police cars and a helicopter
circles in the sky. A Military General and the First Secretary of the Police
Section and the leader of the Jandarma are putting their heads together
and barking out the orders, off at the back of the convoy I notice the
riot squad vans pulling up and the men getting out with their shields,
helmets and batons glistening in the sun. All the delegations get on their
mobile phones to their Ambassadors in Ankara. The German Embassy "declined"
to attend and told them to "piss off" in German, the Belgian said that
"it was all their own fault and they shouldn't have come." One of the South
African Ambassadors talked to one of the top Secret Policeman, protesting
about being blocked access to his Embassy, the policeman replied that "he
didn't care who he was". Things are beginning to look bleak, when our own
Ambassador, John Benjamin arrives. He is not what we expected: long curly
hair, about five foot two and obviously only wearing a black suit and tie
for his job. He immediately asked us if we want to be evacuated out of
the situation, an offer we decline. Once appraised of the situation he
begins to talk with the Secret Policeman--who refused to give his name to
anyone--apparently directing operations. I could see the exasperation on
Benjamin's face as he tried to be 'diplomatic', but through his and the
negotiations of the others the situation turned in our favour. I noticed
the riot police get back in their vans and we return to our buses. Despite
the precarious nature of the situation there is a little man out there
who has turned up to sell Turkish doughnuts, and people are buying them.
Although the organisers agreed to
abandon our plans to go to Ankara, and we are now proceeding (with our
police escort) to Istanbul, this felt like a slight victory in that we
had averted a beating and who knows what else. Yasmien makes an announcement
to the bus: "We are always ready to welcome you here, even if Turkey isn't.
One day we'll welcome you in Kurdistan." She then asks us if we will come
At another, uneventful stop later
in the afternoon we are able to buy some of the Turkish press. The Interior
Minister is stating that we never met with any disruption and that anybody
could go anywhere in Turkey. According to him the Turkish Authorities "didn't
tell us we could not go, it was [us] who didn't want to go." According
to the Justice Minister: "nothing happened." And this little nugget: "Anybody
who is for peace is able to drive over anybody who is against it." We will
never know how many arrests were made in Diyarbakir, nor the horror each
individual went through. To my knowledge, no 'International' press were
in attendance, but we were very close and our information was good. And
the many reprisals will go un-noticed: it took a potential 'international
incident' to draw out Reuters and AP, who turned out for the Ankara turn-off.
The Kurds would have held the festival in Diyarbakir anyway, it is difficult
at this stage to assess what, if anything, we have achieved.
With Andy interpreting I spoke to
a Kurdish man who is involved in an organisation which aids refugees, I
asked him if he had anything to say to Kurds living in exile in the UK
and Scotland in particular:
"We understood oppression would
go on during International Peace Day--important for us--it could make a more
important demonstration. I want you to come back. The importance of the
delegations is that they put pressure on the state. Kurdistan is under
fire, we're suffering under oppression. Wherever there are Kurds in the
World--our solidarity and salvation depends on them. We're expecting help
and support from them. Without help from the rest of the world the problem
will not be solved. Wherever in the World there are Kurds they can be involved
in the struggle--it's international." Looking around, his voice tailed off
as we ran into a roadblock at a motorway toll.
Here they split the buses up with
a mobile roadblock. Mostly it was plain clothes policemen running around
and alongside the buses with the Jandarma hanging back in the wings. Standing
up at the back it is difficult to find out what is happening without eyeballing
the cops outside the window, but we watch one guy getting dragged off and
beaten up. It looks like people on one of the buses (probably the Italians)
are getting off and fighting back, here I think two Swiss MPs were arrested.
Some idiot suggested that we all get off the bus. Francis D'Souza makes
a speech to try to quieten everybody down, people are understandably becoming
increasingly panicky as it becomes evident the police are coming on the
buses with a view to arresting people, mostly the Kurds and anyone who
reacts. Yasmien was arrested and dragged off at the front of the bus on
the pretext of having phone numbers on a napkin. People are ripping up
cards and pieces of paper they do not want to be caught with as the police
move up the aisle of the bus. We had sat our Kurdish friends up the back
of the bus with us on the outside seat. When they got to us foolishly I
caught the eye of the secret policeman and kept staring. He was nervous
and asked to see my passport. As I handed it over he mumbled something
about Turkey being a democratic country and that he was just doing his
job and all that. Meanwhile I could see out the window behind him that
his colleagues were kicking the shit out of someone. They started to collect
all Peace Train material, plucking paper rosettes off people's lapels.
After what seemed like hours the buses carried on (with a heavy escort)
and we ended up back in the Hotel MIM.
We decided to contact the Embassy
to inform them of what had happened to us. This is a transcription of some
the conversation we all had in one of the hotel rooms with Shane Cambell,
the Vice Consul involved with British people in distress. He told us he
"was not involved with the political situation."
Miranda Watson: "We've got to explode
the myth of what exactly is going on here--where is the rule of law?"
Shane Cambell: "I live here I have
an intuitive feel of what the Turk thinks I'm not surprised...This is Turkey."
Francis D'Souza: "Well we've got
to inform the group with the European Parliament..."
Cambell: "It seems paradoxical--they
want in the EU but..."
D'Souza: "The government are not
in control, we need to uncover this--the Turkish Ambassador in London said
'we're not in control.'"
Cambell: " I'm meeting the Prison
Governor and the Chief Prosecutor--they're in control."
D'Souza: "But not when disappearances
occur, not with forces working by proxy."
Joe Cooper: "Journalists are still
Cambell: "If they want to be difficult
they can be, if they want to stop stuff they can."
There was not much point in carrying
on with our conversation with Mr. Cambell. Rumours were flying around the
hotel as indeed were members of the Turkish Secret Service (who all seem
to drive Renaults for some peculiar reason). We heard that the police had
arrested most of the bus staff, which was a private company. There was
no news of Yasmien and the Swiss MPs are being held "in isolation" at some
political prison. Exhausted we drift off to bed.
In the morning we discuss plans
for leaving early, but the organisers seem to want us to stay. Francis
D'Souza and Andy Keefe flew out because their tickets were booked, while
the rest of us will stay for the next few days. We are somewhat trapped
in the hotel and seem to have been informed that all press conferences
have been banned. We are under complete surveillance with countless weird
individuals creeping around the hotel. We learn of the publicity in the
European press which is all front page news: the Luxembourg Government
have already protested about Turkey's possible inclusion in the EU. It
is not making much impact in the UK because of the overwhelming press coverage
of "The Death of the Century."
The delegations felt that it was
necessary to make an announcement clarifying that the Peace Train was not
organised by the Kurds in HADEP who were arrested; as was the assertion
of the authorities in their charges against all those arrested, which could
easily mean long prison sentences or worse. An announcement of this was
planned for three o' clock and we contacted Neil Frape, the press officer
at the Embassy. Julia, Joe and Paul also planned to give him their film
The announcement, which of course
would be viewed as a press conference by the Turkish authorities, took
place in the hotel bar, which curiously enough, considering what was about
to happen, was decked out in a Mexican style with Wild West type wooden
swinging saloon doors. Neil Frape turned up about 3 o'clock and he had
heard all about the journey. The representatives from the delegations had
assembled themselves on the platform of the bar and began introducing themselves,
the biggest applause going to Mr. Soloman from the ANC. Julia was upstairs
sorting out her camera equipment when I went up to tell her things had
started, I left her to it and walked back into the bar. When she arrived
she told me that she thought the place was about to be busted and asked
whether she should inform Neil Frape, who by this time had all their film.
The police were gathering round the saloon doors, as various delegates
introduced themselves. Frape went to leave then turned back nervously laughing
because when he had told them who he was and asked to leave, they had said
"no." So much for diplomatic status in Turkey. I tried to concentrate on
what was being said on the platform and as I went to tell Joe what had
happened there was a scream from the foyer and sounds of outrage and a
scuffle. Most people moved to see what was happening, Paul and Alan were
up ahead and when I ran out into the foyer, leaping over the couches, neither
Frape, Julia, Paul or Alan were there. The scream we heard was Julia. My
momentum took me right out to the front of the hotel and as I skidded to
a halt at the plate glass windows I realised I was inches away from who
knows how many riot police, whose buses were blocking the entrance outside.
At the revolving doors somebody shouted out "English journalist!", meaning
Julia and the rest had been arrested. I quickly turned and about half way
to the bar saw the riot police assembling for a charge. I shouted for everyone
to get back to the bar. As I walked backwards the snatch squads were grabbing
their targets and the riot police were coming in through the glass revolving
door, which they proceeded to smash to pieces.
I witnessed the bravery of the men
of the Turkish police: it takes three of them in full riot gear, with guns
as back up, to arrest an 18 year old, five foot nothing female, Maria from
They were arresting anyone and those
who defended them and dragging them out through the wrecked door and mountain
of glass. Most of us got into the bar, myself and Arti just making it.
A girl standing next to me was grabbed by her long hair and pulled out
screaming through the swing doors. I did nothing.
We sat in fear and loathing. I told
Joe and Miranda that there was no sign of Paul, Julia, Alan and Neil. It
seemed only seconds away from them coming in and finishing off the job.
But they had halted outside. In walked the Deputy Police Chief of Istanbul,
Mehmet Caglar, who told us in Turkish that we were all under arrest and
that press conferences were illegal in Turkey. He reminded us that he could
do more or less whatever he wanted with us, stating clearly that if we
tried anything even remotely resembling this kind of thing again; that
would be that.
Probably round about that time,
outside the hotel one of the ANC ambassadors arrived late. This was I think
Mr Ebrahim : a very large man who has obviously seen a thing or two in
his time. When the police grabbed him he turned around to them and said:
"If you arrest me, when you let me out I will fly back to Praetoria and
personally beat the shit out of the Turkish Ambassador." They let him go.
Mr Cagler left, seemingly satisfied,
and we tried to put the pieces together. Paul and Alan walked back into
the bar with big grins on their faces. They had seen Julia and Neil arrested
and quickly dived up the stairs to Paul's room. By an amazing co-incidence
Alan was phoned by BBC Radio Leeds and did a live interview when everything
happened, holding up the phone to let them hear all the glass smashing
and the mayhem. Neil had phoned the Embassy himself, while in the back
of the bus with Julia and all the others some of whom were very badly injured.
Two British Ambassadors arrived and we quickly filled them in.
We huddled up into one of the rooms.
Lists were being passed round of all the missing and the total came to
about 25 not counting the day before. It was HBB time and sure enough they
had footage of everyone being violently flung into the riot police buses.
This footage was brutally montaged with old library scenes of 'terrorists'
i.e. piles of machine guns and what looked like packets of Semtex, with
blindfolded culprits all handcuffed together. They just ran the two things
together time after time: Peace train/guns, bombs, terrorists, Peace Train/guns,
bombs, terrorists as our stomachs churned. We heard that all manner of
things were possibly being planted in our luggage by the police who were
wandering about the hotel, but there was no evidence of this. We were told
that the authorities had cancelled our reservations at the hotel and that
we had about half and hour before we would be removed. I should say that
humour kept us going here--at one point I laughed so much I thought I was
going insane: but it was black, black humour.
After a thorough inspection we gathered
our things and met in the bar with another man from the Embassy who offered
us another hotel. On hearing from the organisers that we were all being
moved together on a couple of buses we decided to stay with the group.
We walked out of the shattered MIM hotel through the gauntlet of two lines
of armed police, we had been given instructions not to make any symbols
or gestures. Under police escort we were driven to the tourist area and
a walled holiday camp in whose driveway we stopped. But they didn't want
us and we stood around outside the buses as the police blocked the entrance.
It was about midnight. It was here we met a journalist from one of Turkey's
better but no doubt soon to be short-lived papers4.
Arti knew her from a previous visit and told me she was a "mad bastard",
and she was right. One minute she was standing outside the gates with the
police, then she slinked inside like a cat, then she moved closer and closer,
then the quick sprint and she was on the bus with us, completely un-noticed.
She stayed a couple of nights with us when we eventually found a hotel,
although we got split up from Joe and Miranda in the confusion.
The next day we got information
on Julia. The prison was as bad as we imagined it to be. One woman nearly
bled to death. The first night must have been appalling: the men and women
were split up with the women being constantly tormented and sexually harassed
during the night, particularly Maria. They were also left without food
and water for most of the time. All those arrested were deported or given
"assisted passage" as it is called. Julia was last to leave and spent a
day there on her own. At one point they planned to put her into one cell
with about 100 prostitutes, but due to the huge Moslem demonstration every
Friday, and the huge amounts of arrests, the jail was getting to bursting
point and she was moved to an office upstairs. One Spanish Film crew were
taken to the airport with guns pointed to their heads.
We could do very little for Julia
but we were helped by Sanar Yurdatapan, a Turkish composer and activist,
who was also arrested in the hotel. I was interviewing him just after Caglar
had made his creepy announcement. As I tried to hide my tape recorder,
he just casually stood up with the policeman hovering over him and said
: "excuse me but I have to leave, they probably want me as an interpreter
or something." He has been arrested many times before.
For the remaining few days we were
instructed by the organisers to do nothing, "just act like tourists." The
Turkish press had come over to us and our work was finished, anything else
could easily become counter productive. We were reunited with Julia at
the airport and got the hell out of the country. This has obviously been
a personal account. This is the last entry in my notebook:
As tears well up in your eyes there
is a fleeting moment when, if you are as short sighted as I am, the tears
make a lens and you can see with perfect clarity, but it is difficult to
speak. Looking through tears and emotion--compassion--one sees clearly: but
only perhaps if the eyes you meet can feel; feel what you feel and see.
The Turkish authorities, the National Security Council, the small group
of men who run the country have lost all humanity, and I mean all. With
the Mothers of the Disappeared they profess willingness to look them in
the eye and still brutalise them. The sacrifice the Mothers of the Disappeared
make and will make this Saturday is for peace.
Is the struggle for peace in Kurdistan
about land? The possession of land? The Kurds are not a possessive people.
Astonishingly they bear no enmity towards their Brothers the Turks--this
is not a sectarian struggle. They are not separatists either: how could
they become separate from Turkey which has only existed in its present
'unchangable' form since the 1920s.
I have in my pocket some little
stones, stolen from the road to Diyarbakir, which mean something to me,
but I have given most of them away. Will the Turkish NSC prevail? As Ramos
Horta5 said: "The Kurdistan
region is one of the most important in the world with possibly the largest
oil reserves in the world...but empires built on armies and oppression
will not prevail."
One point on the Peace Train. The
accusation was made in the Turkish press that the Peace Train was a front
for the PKK, and a tactic to cause redeployment of large numbers of armed
forces, while the PKK regrouped. This does not stand up to any analysis.
If the NSC knew this, why did they then so enthusiastically and overwhelmingly
fall for it. Am I smarter than the head of Turkish Intelligence? Seven
buses of minor political activists, teachers, students, MPs and (it must
be said) a few idiots somehow needed, what--20,000, 30,000 police, Jandarma,
army, secret police, special forces, tank crews, riot police etc.--to follow,
obstruct, intimidate, arrest, brutalise and attack them? And they do this
to avoid bad publicity; they arrest MPs and Ambassadors of a European delegation
as a sign of good faith towards their prospective joining of the European
Union? This is one simple lunacy amongst many and one cannot help feeling
that Turkey needs new leadership. The Kurds seem to me to be asking for
little more than I brought back in my pocket--a handful of stony arid land,
they probably don't even want the oil.
Peace in Kurdistan is far off. It
may require a solution for the whole Middle-East. Ramos Horta described
Kurdistan as "possibly the most strategic region in the world."
1 God bless them: and all Italian
Communists. But at times we cursed them mightily, they are obviously used
to fighting with armed police.
2 I would really have to question
my accuracy as to place names. The following is as near as I can get.
3 It transpires that this was not
Diyarbakir but a place called Severik, about 40 or 50 km away.
4 I won't mention her name.
5 Winner of the Nobel Prize for
Peace, Horta had spoken at a rally in Brussels Station the day before we
left: he is from East Timor.