Turkey's Kurds long for "Kurdish Spring"

Wed Oct 19, 2011 11:50am EDT
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By Seyhmus Cakan

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - With its booming economy, secular democracy and growing clout, Turkey is often cited as a role model for Middle East nations gripped by popular revolt. But Hulya Yildiz, a mother of three in the impoverished Kurdish southeast, tells a darker story.

The use of Kurdish, the mother tongue for up 15 million Kurds in Turkey, is banned at her children's school. Scores of Kurdish activists and mayors have been arrested in recent security crackdowns. Army operations and Kurdish guerrilla attacks make even a family picnic in the woods too dangerous.

"I would like to live in a city where we could take our kids to picnics on weekends. We don't have that freedom because we don't know if a bomb will explode or if there will be clashes," said Yildiz, a civil servant in the Kurdish city of Tunceli.

She was speaking days before Turkey launched air and ground assaults on Kurdish militants in Iraq in retaliation for the killing on Wednesday of 24 Turkish soldiers in one of the deadliest Kurdish attacks in decades.

"If a family is afraid to take their kids to picnics you can't talk about democracy," she said. "The prime minister (Tayyip Erdogan) has travelled to all problematic countries during this year, but he should come here and listen to his people's demands. Why can't we have a 'spring' like the Arabs?"

The so-called Turkish model has fascinated reformists from Rabat to Sanaa to Riyadh at a time of popular revolts against repressive autocrats known as the "Arab Spring".

With its blend of economic liberalism and social conservatism, Muslim Turkey has become one of world's fastest-growing economies and has carved out a new and more assertive identity on the global stage.

But while Erdogan has become a hero for millions of Muslims abroad by urging Arab leaders to embrace freedom and democracy and by championing Palestinian rights, Turkey's Kurds say Erdogan should first focus on problems at home.   Continued...