“We have a rebellion in Mezbaha, salute to Öcalan,” says a colorful banner at the entrance of Mezbaha, a poor and predominantly Kurdish populated neighborhood, in Dörtyol, Hatay province. It was recently hung by the youngsters of the neighborhood as people gathered in a nearby empty field.
Police forces are deployed at the entrance of the neighborhood. It is possible to reach there via a bridge graffitied with the word “rebellion.”
They are saluting Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who is serving life in prison on İmralı Island in the Marmara Sea. His organization allegedly attacked a police vehicle, killing four policemen here in Dörtyol and since than the atmosphere has been very tense in this population-70,000 Mediterranean town.
After the attack on Monday night, a group of people gathered in front of the main police station and later burned down the local office of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
The next morning, another group -- this time from the town’s Kurdish population -- gathered in another field and clashes erupted between two rival groups. Then some shops belonging to Kurds were attacked.
Kurds started to immigrate to the town 40 years ago, according to local people, but this immigration accelerated during the 1990s when the enforced evacuations of villages in southeastern Anatolia were very heavy. According to human rights organizations at least 4,000 villages were evacuated at that time. Some of the villagers come to Dörtyol, as they were familiar with the town since they had worked here, in this very fertile region, as seasonal agricultural workers.
A Kurdish man who gave his name only as Remzi and said he is a relative of a shop owner whose café was destroyed says that he is 42 years old and has lived here since he was five. He told Today’s Zaman that after all these events, he will now support the most radical Kurdish party, although before the events he was not interested in politics.
“Look at the situation,” he gestures around and adds, “it is possible to repair the shop, but it is not possible the repair the relationship with the community, but I am here and will fight against this uprising,” he says.
“It is impossible to not rebel,” he says.
He is not alone in his feelings. Just a few kilometers away, in the predominantly Turkish Saat quarter of town, another group of people has gathered. They, just like the people in the Mezbaha neighborhood, are not willing to talk much but again when they start to do so, they also say: “It is enough. We won’t allow a rebellion here.”
A young man in Saat who identified himself as Vedat and held a very big Turkish flag said that the people up the hill (in Mezbaha) support the PKK. “Our problem is not with Kurds, as long as they sit quietly and work here decently,” he tells Today’s Zaman. The Mezbaha neighborhood people called the others “the people living downtown.”
But the rebellious feelings are not the only common thing between the downtown and hill; they both are waiting for the BDP officials who are coming to Dörtyol.
The governor of Hatay has already declared that due to the tense situation in the city they will not be allowed in.
In Mezbaha the chairman of the local branch of the BDP, Halil Baybaris, told Today’s Zaman that the only way to calm down the people in the neighborhood is to let the BDP in.
“They will come to the city, they will not walk around but they will come directly here and they will give a message appealing to people’s common sense. Otherwise we will have difficulties restraining the people. To not let them in will prepare the ground for a new provocation,” he says.
Downtown, Mr. Vedat says just the opposite:
“If they come here, no one can restrain this crowd, To let them in will be provocation,” he exclaims.
Then he wonders who I am and asks to see my press card before he continues to speak. Up in the Mezbaha neighborhood it was the same -- some people from the crowd were suspicious, too. They say that they fear that I would give pictures of them to the people downtown.
Then the grapevine telegraph brought news to the Mezbaha neighborhood from another Kurdish neighborhood called Numune that the nationalists were going around the town harassing people, and some people argued, “Let’s go there to protect them,” as others appealed for calm.
“We have a rebellion in Mezbaha, salute to Öcalan,” says a colorful banner at the entrance of Mezbaha, a poor and predominantly Kurdish populated neighborhood, in Dörtyol.
In the town center the grapevine telegraph is also hard at work: Someone claims that a young soldier from Dörtyol has been killed but this news is being kept secret in order not to create more tension. Someone from the crowd says, “Let’s go to the hill, let’s clear out these PKK supporters,” as, again, others try to calm the situation.
Then the crowd in both places turn to me. They speak as one voice in Mezbaha, saying:
“The immigrant from the Balkans are called ‘locals’, we here are called ‘outsiders’. If we were throwing stones at the shops, we would be labeled terrorists but they are called nationalists. Our patience has a limit. We will not go anywhere, we will continue to live here and we have only lives to lose.”
At the city center people speak with one voice, too: “There is a limit to our patience. If we do not act now, they will capture the whole town. They are supporting the PKK. When you bring up their actions, they claim that just because they are Kurds we are against them but it is not true.”
There is something common between the people down town and in the Mezbaha neighborhood. When they are asked how the unity can be established again, both sides respond with silence.
“After attacking us, how will they look at our faces?” a young woman asks in Mezbaha.
“How they will look at our faces after all these martyrs from our town?” a young man asks downtown.
A Kurd in Mezbaha adds, “Let whatever will happen, happen.”
Downtown echoes back, “Let whatever will happen, happen.”