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Kurdish Activists Camp Out Between Turkey's Army And Kurdish Fighters

Aug 30, 2015
Originally published on August 31, 2015 1:57 pm

To a visitor, it seems like a curious bit of territory for the Turkish military and the Kurds to be fighting over: steep rocky hills covered in brown windblown grass divided by patches of green forestland.

But if you get off the main road, and follow a gravel track into the hills, a makeshift camp emerges. This is where Kurdish activists have put themselves in the line of fire between the Turkish army and the youth faction of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or the PKK.

Two and a half years ago, jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan halted the armed struggle for an independent Kurdistan and entered talks with the Turkish government.

Since then, political progress has been slow, but decades of fighting came to an end — until recently.

For many Kurds, who are concentrated in southeast Turkey, the renewed fighting comes as a depressing shock.

Under a grove of trees, a baby crawls in the grass as a small crowd listens to an oud player sing Ocalan's praises.

Mothers For Peace

In another patch of shade not far away sits a group of elderly Kurdish women, including 80-year-old Sakine Arat, who points an arthritic finger as she speaks.

"Why are we here? Well, over there is the army, and over that way are the Kurdish guerrillas," she says. "But the guerrillas are our kids, and if the army wants to kill our sons, first they have to kill us."

Arat says she lost four sons in the 30-year conflict between the PKK and the army, and can't understand why political leaders would let a golden opportunity for peace slip away.

"Mothers on both sides should be standing and doing these kind of protests," she adds. "And I am calling out wherever I can: both sides should be doing this, because mothers are losing their sons and it's not right."

Some Turks have joined in protests against the fighting. But the urge to assign blame is strong on both sides.

Zeke Peker, a Kurd who's 62, says it's all about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's desire to regain a ruling majority for the party he co-founded, the AKP.

"All this happened because Erdogan lost the June elections, so he wasn't on TV anymore," she says. "Now they're destroying these forests and killing each other – it has to stop."

Many Turks are equally quick to blame the PKK. So far, this Kurdish camp-in has not inspired others, but these people are hoping public anger at the conflict will somehow find a voice.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to turn now to southeastern Turkey, where after years of quiet, Turkish troops and Kurdish militants are fighting each other again. Some Kurds have put themselves between the two sides, literally, sitting on remote hillsides. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: To a visitor, it seems like a curious bit of territory to be fighting over - steep rocky hills covered in brown, wind-blown grass divided by patches of green forest land. But if you get off the main road and follow a gravel track into the hills, a makeshift camp emerges. This is where Kurdish activists have put themselves in the line of fire between the army and the youth faction of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK. Two and a half years ago, jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan halted the armed struggle for an independent Kurdistan and entered talks with the government. For many Kurds, the renewed fighting comes as a depressing shock. Under a grove of trees, a baby crawls in the grass as a small crowd listens to an oud player sing Ocalan's praises.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language).

KENYON: In another patch of shade, not far away, sits a group of elderly Kurdish women. Eighty-year-old Sakine Arat points an arthritic finger.

SAKINE ARAT: (Through interpreter) Why are we here? Well, over there is the army and over that way are the Kurdish guerrillas. But the guerrillas are our kids, and if the army wants to kill our sons, first they have to kill us.

KENYON: Arat says she lost four sons in the 30-year conflict between the PKK and the army and can't understand why political leaders would let a golden opportunity for peace slip away.

ARAT: (Through interpreter) Mothers on both sides should be standing and doing these kind of protests. And I am calling out wherever I can. Both sides should be doing this because mothers are losing their sons and it's not right.

KENYON: Some Turks have joined in protests against the fighting, but the urge to assign blame is strong on both sides. Sixty-two-year-old Zeke Peker says it's all about President Recep Tayip Erdogan's desire to regain a ruling majority for the party he cofounded, the AKP.

ARAT: (Through interpreter) All of this happened because Erdogan lost the June elections, so he wasn't on TV anymore. Now they're destroying these forests and killing each other. It has to stop.

KENYON: Many Turks are equally quick to blame the PKK. So far, this Kurdish camp-in has not inspired others. But these people are hoping public anger at the conflict will somehow find a voice. Peter Kenyon, NPR News in southeast Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.