It was hot and humid in Diyarbakır on Tuesday, but that was not a problem for the thousands of Kurdish demonstrators who took to the streets to participate in a peace rally.
The “Yes to an Honorable Peace” rally, organized by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, in the southeastern city’s Istasyon Square, served both to mark the Sept. 1 Peace Day and as a medium to voice the party’s demands.
The rally came one day after Interior Minister Beşir Atalay’s press conference about the government’s “Kurdish move,” which the DTP said was unsatisfying for Kurds.
Before DTP leader Ahmet Türk began his speech Tuesday, a woman read quotes from Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, that were welcomed with much appreciation by the crowd.
Around 100 people spent Monday night on a “Peace Watch” in Sümer Park as they prepared for the rally. Songs played from a loud music system kept the demonstrators’ mood high. Almost all of the songs played praised the outlawed PKK, the “guerillas in the mountains” and Öcalan. After each song, the crowd chanted “Biji Serok Apo,” or “Long live leader Apo,” referring to Öcalan by his nickname.
Only one Turkish-language song was played, one that invited everyone to “join the struggle on the PKK front.”
The majority of the people at the rally seemed to recognize Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence in prison on İmralı Island, as the leader of the Kurds and expressed curiosity at how his road map would shape up. “The İmralı road map is the map to freedom and peace for the people of Kurdistan,” a banner at the event read.
Another banner read, “We bring hope from Bursa’s sun to Amed,” using the Kurds’ preferred name for Diyarbakır. İmralı island is located in Bursa province and the “sun” clearly referred to Öcalan.
One of around 100 people who traveled across the country from the northwestern city of Bursa to Diyarbakır was Baran, 25, who did not give his last name. He said his group came to Diyarbakır in support of the peace process. “Peace will not come unless the Kurds’ demands are met,” Baran said. “The government must take steps immediately or the Kurdish resistance will be much stronger from now on.”
Many in the crowd seemed to share his ideas. The Kurds’ motto is no longer “peace at all costs,” if it ever was. A banner in Kurdish signed by the Patriotic Youth, the PKK’s youth organization, read “An Aştiyete Bi Rumet, An Ji Berxwadane Ki Heybet” – “Either an honorable peace, or a huge resistance.”
But there was at least one sincere peace advocate at the rally, Satı, 61, who had almost entirely lost her voice from shouting, “Tell [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, tell Apo, tell the soldiers, tell the PKK – it is time for peace.”
Diyarbakır police took intense security measures in the city to prepare for the rally. Every person entering the rally area was searched at checkpoints, but the police showed great care in their behavior toward the demonstrators. “Act responsibly at checkpoints,” a ranked police official was heard to say over the police radio. “Do not argue with the citizens under any circumstances.”
The police also made a move to win the hearts and minds of the children, who were given white plastic balls upon entering the rally area through designated checkpoints. On the balls were written the words, “We trust in you, Diyarbakır Police.”
The DTP co-leader Ahmet Türk greeted the crowd in Kurdish and continued his speech in Turkish. “We are rallying for peace today because we know what fighting is,” he said. “Kurds will not be the side to end the peace process.”
Türk criticized Atalay”s remarks. “The interior minister talked as if there are no Kurds,” he said. “We expect freedom, equality and brotherhood. This is not the way leading there.”
The politician said the genuine is out of the bottle and the process cannot be stopped.
The Kurds do not have a problem with the unitary state, said Türk. “ Spain was a unitary state under the dictator Franco, and it is still a unitary state where the Catalans enjoy freedom,” he said. “It is not the words, but the actual situation that matters.”
Türk reiterated that the outlawed PKK should be included in the efforts. “You cannot ignore a side that has lost thousands of lives in the struggle, not at a time when its leader says he is ready to contribute. Our people know that the key is there.”
The pro-Kurdish party co-leader recalled the Irish solution, where the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, was on the table. Another example he gave was South African Nelson Mandela, who led the country to peace while he was still in prison. “Just like Mandela did, Sayın Öcalan must be allowed to meet his friends in the prison,” he said.
The mayor:
Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir was the first to take the stage. He started his speech in Kurdish and continued in Turkish as well. The mayor first addressed the Turkish people. “If someone tried to assimilate you for years, if your language was forbidden, if the names of your hometown were changed, what would do you but revolt.”
He made a call to stop the killings. “This city has lived through rebellion, war, blood and tears for three generations,” said Baydemir. “Our grandchildren must not inherit rebellion. This issue cannot be solved by killing and dying.”
The DTP co-leader Emine Ayna said the biggest step in the peace process would be an end to the operations against the PKK. “If the interior minister had said one week ago that the operations were stopped, four people would now be alive,” she said, referring to four soldiers killed late Sunday in Hakkari.
Ayna said the government does not even name the problem right. “If you cannot even call it the Kurdish issue, how can you solve it?” she said.