Saf and Dobra rejoice at Recep Güven’s stunningly human commentary on the PKK in Diyarbakır

Photographs from Diyarbakir, Turkey

A door of opportunity and hope opens in Diyarbakir, Turkey in the form of the new police chief, Recep Güven (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, the Saf and Dobra puppets were really feeling the weight of their love-hate relationship with Turkey – and the U.S. to boot. In fact, they were quite twisted up about it, mirroring, of course, my own beloved M.’s feelings.

Today, however, hope springs eternal in the form of an unexpectedly humane and thoughtful new police chief in Diyarbakır, Recep Güven.  In short, Mr. Güven has spoken out about the need to consider what are often referred to as “Kurdish guerillas” as human beings first – and has explained that he is in the process of learning to speak Kurdish to boot.

Mr. Recep Güven, the new police chief in Diyarbakir– a very brave and humanist person, it seems from his words. (Image from

To contextualize this, understand that the Kurdish minority in Turkey is considered by many to be oppressed (an understatement if you look at living conditions, work un-opportunity, cultural and language oppression, and on and on – the trusty Archers of Okçular will likely correct/add to me here).  The conflict between Turkish nationalists and Kurdish separatists is fierce in good times.  I would argue that M. and I are of a school of people in Turkey who support the cause of Kurdish human rights – and while we don’t condone violence – we can certainly understand why it comes to this.  It is a desperate situation, and has been for decades, and that is why Mr. Güven’s comments are so meaningful to us.

So, for those who read Turkish – you can check out an absolutely incredible interview here.  It almost had M. in tears it was such a shock.  Of course, we wonder to what extent this is a) a flash in the pan that will result in an “accident” (a.k.a. execution under a different name or b) propaganda – but it is pretty brave and pretty different from the normal super-incremental comments in support of small issues such as the right to learn the Kurdish language in school for children, etc…. If his comments are real and true, it seems to me a really different direction for the “moderate Islamist” ruling AK Partisi to take – and a brave one that we honor deeply.

In any case, M. has graciously translated a few key phrases from Mr. Güven’s press conference – they may not be perfect translations – but they get the point across.  Apologies to Mr. Güven if we in any way mis-interpreted his words, our effort was out of an interest to make sure this got into the English-language blogosphere.

On speaking about deaths that occur during Turkish-Kurdish conflicts: “If you are not crying for the person that you call the terrorist that has died in the mountains, you are not a human being.”

A patriotic phrase and image that is rather scary – but to me gets across the feeling I hear in many people’s voices when they utter this phrase. It is an ultra-nationalist phrase in my view. (Image from

On the Turkish saying “Önce Vatan,” or “country first:”  “In Turkey, the first priority is Turkey, not the human being.  As it should be, the first thing should not be the country, the first priority is a human being’s life.  If you want to keep your country continuing, make sure your people live like human beings.”  (Note: M. adds that Mr. Güven is not the first to challenge the Önce Vatan Turkish worldview – rather – it was a mother who lost her son during his military duty.  The phrase “Önce Vatan” can be seen and heard all over Turkey – and I have seen the words carved into the greenery of ornamental hillsides in Southern Turkey, in honor of soldiers who have died.)

On a human relationship-building campaign:  “I want to make a five person team who will go to the mountains (Note: where rural Kurds live, presumably) and knock on people’s doors and communicate with them.  When I said this, people’s response was, ‘they are going to kill you,’ and I said ‘we are breaking the people’s door and getting their house, they don’t kill us.  Now we are going to knock their door, do you think they are going to kill us?'”

On taking a different approach to Turkish-Kurdish relations after decades of violence: “I wish we couldn’t be too late like this.  I wish we could have reached the people before giving this pain to them.  I wish we could share their problems and try to help them.  Because we didn’t do this, now we are in this situation.”

On the roots of the Kurdish independence movement – and his approach: “In the past when I was in the police intelligence service, I read a bunch of reports, and for example, I read one in which a Kurdish kid who was twelve said ‘I want to contribute to our independence war.  My father doesn’t have work, he is beating my mother, the social environment is horrible and I can’t go to school and so I have to join this war.’  What we can understand from this report is, this kid is running away from difficult situation to try to find a way to make his life better.  That means there is a problem in the society if we can’t put this on the table, if we can’t acknowledge what it is, if we cannot talk, how we can solve the problem?”

Old city walls - Diyarbakir

Old city walls – Diyarbakir (Photo credit: deemikay)

For those of you who are not aware, this press conference took place in Diyarbakır, which is a city in South Eastern Turkey, in which many Kurdish people live – and in which the Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK) is very strong and active.  It is also the area of Turkey in which there are often violent conflicts between the Turkish military and the PKK “guerrillas” – a term I reject but use here as you will recognize.  Some might say they are “freedom fighters,” so I am giving equal access quotation marks to both.  I have really wanted to visit Diyarbakır for all of its ancient, walled-city beauty, but what I think is a nod to my protective Father, M. refuses to plan for a trip there for fear of my safety.  Maybe once we are true grey-haired trekkers, it would be easier? I don’t know.

For now, Saf, Dobra and the other puppets are happy to feel the sunshine on their faces in the form of this surprisingly refreshing commentary.  We will watch Mr. Güven with great interest and hope.  And perhaps a prayer or two.

This entry was posted in Cross-cultural learning moments, Turkish Controversies, Visits from the Karagöz puppets and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Saf and Dobra rejoice at Recep Güven’s stunningly human commentary on the PKK in Diyarbakır

  1. Alan says:

    . . if this report is only partly accurate then it is a watershed statement by a leader from the higher echelons of the security establishment. I have heard similar from a ranking army officer, but it is so rare. He is right – without people can talk without fear of recriminations, or worse – how will problems ever be resolved. People in the US or Australia for example, with any sensitivity, will easily understand the Kurdish ‘problem’ for it has its roots in the similar situation of those two country’s indigenous peoples. Like the Native American or Australian Aboriginal, the Kurds have lived in this land for far longer than the much later conquering invaders (Salah ad-Din; Saladin who fought and defeated the early Crusaders and restored Jerusalem as a multi-religion centre was a Kurd). In each case the incomers sought to extinguish the identity of the natives by suppression of language, culture and history and by forced removal/migration.
    Human Rights begins and ends with total respect for everyone’s individual humanity.
    Modern nation states are a real barrier to human integration and freedom of movement and Nationalism – whether it is Turks chanting ‘Turkey for Turks!’ or US citizens chanting ‘USA-USA-USA!’ or Nazis chanting ‘Juden Raus!’ is an evil, pernicious and cancerous thing that will consume us all unless it is exposed and expunged.
    Bravo! to Police Chief Recep Güven; I hope he survives long enough in the job to make a real difference and I hope that political leadership of the Kurdish people in Turkey have equal courage to walk the pathway to understanding, peace and dignity – for everyone!

  2. E. says:

    Almost feels to good to be true…we fear he will not be enough of a change agent!

  3. Jack Scott says:

    Turkey cannot mature as a nation until the Kurdish issue (along with other aspects of Turkish national life that aren’t considered ‘Turkish’ enough) is resolved. I have high hopes for the future, though. Things are changing.

  4. Pingback: Karagöz ignores the war drums, slinks back from Celtics-Fenerbahçe game | Slowly-by-Slowly

  5. E. says:

    I hope my high hopes are un-dashable – we shall see. The word on the street from our Turkish family and friends is not in line with the high hopes. Hard to know what’s what!

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