Cizre in Turkey’s Sirnak province, near the border with Syria
By Umit Bektas
Turkey’s fledgling peace process with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group is all over the headlines. After three decades of war, 40,000 deaths and a devastating impact on the local economy, everybody seems ready for peace. TV news channels and newspapers are saturated with opinions and commentary from politicians, officials, academics and journalists on what appears to be the best hope yet of building a lasting peace agreement with Kurdish militants.
But what about ordinary people in Turkey’s southeast, those most directly affected? How do they view the peace process and how might their lives change?
Eager to find out, I traveled to southeastern Turkey to cover Newroz, the Kurdish New Year celebrations, on March 21. In the town of Cizre, near the border with Syria, with the help of a local journalist, I found the Savun family and spent the weekend with them. Theirs is not an extraordinary story, but sometimes the least extraordinary stories reveal the most.
This is the story of the Savun family:
Mehmet Emin Savrun, 36, lives with his wife Hayriye, 35, and eight children in a small three-room house in Cizre. He relies on an old TV set to find the latest news about the peace process. He has two succinct comments on a plan being pursued by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and the PKK‘s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, who called for a ceasefire on Newroz: “Peace is good,” he says. “Fighting is a sin.”
Mehmet Emin has had no schooling. When a school was first opened in his village, the teacher looked at how tall he was and rejected him from the class, deciding he was obviously too old to attend with the younger children. Mehmet Emin had no legal identity document to show his age. “The teacher’s name was Mustafa. I will never forgive him,” he says. Learning to speak Turkish and rudimentary literacy only came when he was doing his compulsory military service at the age of 20.