This was the situation: a few days ago, after I finished with Georgia, my plan to go to Abkhazia (one of the two separatist regions of Georgia) felt down due to visa issues, so I was without plan these days until 10 days later that I had to meet with friends in Istanbul.
As you know I like to go everywhere where there is something to see or experience, and in the last months in the Middle East and Transcaucasia I have met several local Kurds or travelers who have been through there recently, and after they showed me many photographs of the area, I really had to see that for myself. Between this, that it was kind of “in the way” to Istanbul and that there was peace between Turks and Kurds in the past two years, I saw it clear: It was the perfect occasion to visit the Kurdish part of Turkey.
So I already had a new plan. I would cross back to Turkey and in the first day I would go to Sumela Monastery, still in Turkish side, and from there I’d begin to go south to the area of Lake Van, to continue fully south to Batman, Mardin, Diyarbakir, Urfa, etc, to cross up to end up in Ankara and finally in Istanbul.
The thing began to go wrong the night before I crossed the border back to Turkey, where in the town of Suruç, next to the Syrian border, there was a suicidal attack that killed 32 people and left a hundred injured more. This attack, attributed to ISIS, was the answer to the Kurds that kicked out the terrorist organization from the Syrian city Kobane. Both Kobane, next to the border with Syria, as Suruç on the other side, are 30km away of Urfa, a city that was on my list to visit… Suddenly cold sweat.
In any case, I crossed the border and went to Sumela Monastery, which as I said is still in Turkish inhabited zone, and at night I read what was the situation. The tensions between the Turkish government and the Kurds had tensed, but apparently everything was quiet, so I decided that the next day would start to go south.
The next day, I arrived to Erzurum, a city that is just between the Turkish and the Kurdish areas, where I planned to spent the night. When I went online to read how was the situation that day I go surprised again. There had been a new attack in southeastern Turkey, but now was not of ISIS, but the PKK. The PKK, which is a separatist political party/terrorist group from Kurdistan, killed two young Turkish police because they said that the Turkish government was allied with ISIS and allowed the attack two days before. This happened again in Urfa, and could begin to represent the end of the truce signed two years ago between the Turkish government and the PKK.
This is when I begin to get a little afraid and rethink if I should change the course of the trip, but being that Kurdistan is very large, and still if I got to the Lake Van I would still 600km away from the hot are, I decided to keep on going.
The day after I began to go south. On the way, I was asking some people I knew if I could use their mobile internet to know what was going on, but strangely or it was going very slow or it didn’t work at all. Strange, Strange. Rare, rare. After few hours I reached Van and met the Couchsurfer that was going to host me that night and the next. Having this situation clearly I was not going to sleep in the tent this time…
A priori, the situation in Van seemed very quiet, but it was so so full of soldiers armed to the teeth and armored cars patrolling. I asked my Couchsurfer if that was usual, and he replied that in his life he had never seen such a control device in the streets. I asked if we could check the actuality on his mobile data and he said it had been offline all day without knowing why. When we connect to a Wi-Fi in a bar we saw that there had been a new attack. On the border with Syria, an ISIS armed group had opened fire on Turkish soldiers and had killed one of them.
The thing was getting complicated, it was not about an attack in particular, but already were three and from two different organizations… Even if I had really wanted to visit all that part of Turkey, as more I read the less that I wanted. The previous days I was thinking to do the same route but instead of going hitchhiking, taking buses, but I saw that in more than one occasion the PKK had kidnapped tourists taking them in the very same bus. So with anguish, I decided to go to sleep and that the next day I’d decide what to do exactly.
When I woke up I went down to the center and was around Van and its surroundings, talking to locals and seeing by myself what was happening there. The mobile internet was, again, not working. Local media blamed this on the Turkish government, while they were denying it. When I got to connect to Wi-Fi, I read the press and the thing had already fully entered another dimension. That morning the Turkish government had bombed positions of ISIS in northern Syria and PKK positions in northern Iraq, at the same time had begun rounding up members of both organizations throughout the country, and had more than a couple of hundreds of detainees.
So it was the time to take the decision I had been postponing the last days: I would not continue going further south and I’d head back north, to go from there to Istanbul, in order to try to avoid any bad experience. It was hard to take this decision, and when I did I immediately started writing this post, with mixed feelings between sorrow and anger.
The rest is history already, the next day began to go north and by night I was back in Erzurum, the city I said before that is kind of a “border”. And when I checked how the situation was, I realized that I had made the right decision: Not only there had been another attack with 2 soldiers killed but the PKK had claimed it while declaring an end to the truce announcing that the Kurdish guerrillas would hit again. The next day I went to Istanbul and here I am, finishing to write this post.
Before giving my last impressions, I must say there is a pending post of what I learned and saw of how people live in Kurdistan, because even if they were only four days were very intense talking with many local as many hours as I could, and there is a lot to be said either on their language, customs, or how the Turkish government tries to homogenize this part of society.
Finally, about ISIS everything has already been said and I did not expect more from them, but from PKK I did not expect this at this time. Now that they had been few years in peace, and the HDP (a new political party associated with the Kurdish activism and alternative left) had achieved very significant results entering in the Turkish parliament in the last elections earlier this year, seems unwise to me to return to weapons, and even more because gives the current government the perfect excuse to bomb Kurdish guerrilla positions, arrest simple activists and simultaneously discredit the HDP party and its entry to parliament.
Who knows me knows that I think that politically you can defend any idea that you may have, even a big change of system or independence, but with politics and counting votes, not with bombs and counting victims.