Saving the lost generation of Kurds

The Kurds must be given full rights and treated as equals if there is to be any hope for future generations – Published on Al Jazeera, by Prof. Akbar Ahmed, May 8, 2012.

A blind toddler stumbles through a bleak and barren minefield, blissfully oblivious to the danger around him. A 13-year-old boy screams out directions in a frantic attempt to guide the child out safely. A group of children, many of them orphans, gather around them, paralysed with terror.   

This scene is one of the most powerful from the 2004 film Turtles Can Fly, written and directed by the Iranian Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi. The film, set on the eve of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, tells the story of a group of Kurdish children struggling to survive in an Iraqi refugee camp on the Turkish border.

The jarring sequence captures the helplessness of the children, who are at the mercy of forces beyond their control. The toddler had wandered into the minefield after being abandoned by his mother, a beautiful and lost young girl, who, following her rape by Iraqi troops who had killed her parents, came to despise her son. Her teenage brother, who is missing both arms, provides for her by defusing landmines with his teeth. She yearns to escape from her squalor but has nowhere to go. Indeed, when a group of children approach the Turkish border, Turkish troops open fire. While her brother and many of the boys had their limbs blown off, her psychological trauma has left scars that are just as deep, if not deeper. She is the only one of the children who is suicidal.

Though a work of fiction, the suffering of children presented in the film is a reality in the Kurdish regions, which constitute the neglected peripheries of four countries. Amid the continuing instability and violence that has dislocated and ripped apart so many families, there are few opportunities for children to become educated or access basic social services. Every government turns a blind eye to the Kurds and we are deaf to their pleas, cries, and anguish. For a proud people who produced some of the greatest rulers and scholars in Muslim history – including Saladin and the mystic Said Nursi – their present voicelessness, poverty and humiliation is a great tragedy.

The Kurdish problem:  … //
… The prism of suspicion:

One can imagine the orphans of Turtles Can Fly, who eke out a meagre existence disarming and selling landmines, engaging in such activities, especially if they had kin across the border. According to the Turkish paper Today’s Zaman, there are only two viable professions in the home village of those killed in the December airstrike: smuggling or joining pro-government tribal militia, known as Village Guards, which number in the tens of thousands and are armed to fight Kurdish “militants”.

Part of the continuing failure to improve the situation of the Kurds is due to the fact that their respective governments too often see them not as citizens but as potential terrorists. In 2011, Turkey, which the Associated Press reported is responsible for one third of all global terrorism convictions since 9/11, arrested more than 4,000 people on terrorism charges including elected mayors, journalists, academics, fire chiefs and doctors.

Many children are also arrested in these sweeps. Between March 2006 and July 2010, for example, 4,000 children, 95 per cent of them Kurds, were either taken into custody or put in jail under Turkey’s Anti-Terror law, for actions such as joining protests, throwing stones, and attending the funerals of PKK members. There have been reports of intimidation, violence, and sexual abuse against these children in Turkish jails.

Governments with Kurdish peripheries have not linked the continuing turmoil in those areas with their treatment of the next generation of Kurds, which is growing up without hope in a world that has no place for it. Governments need to be providing schools, social services, and vocational training for young Kurds, while creating viable economic opportunities. Organisations need to be created and funded specifically to look after children and make them feel they are part of a caring community.

Yet even this will not result in sustainable improvement, unless the Kurdish population is treated with dignity and is extended full civil and human rights in the nations where they live. This is the demand of the Arab Spring, and with Turkey seen as a role model for emerging Muslim democracies, the world is watching to see how it will incorporate and behave towards its Kurds.

The fact that these governments are Muslim should make them particularly sensitive to the suffering of so many young people. The Prophet of Islam, an orphan himself, taught special compassion for orphans, the impoverished, and the downtrodden of society.

Unless the central governments act with wisdom and prudence in extending to the Kurds their rights, Kurdish anger will remain high and the resulting instability will continue. We must all be consistently be reminded of the struggles of the Kurds and, above all, their children, and not be complicit in their destruction. If the current shameful trajectory continues, this lost Kurdish generation will remain a stain on human society and history.
(full text and 3 videos).

See the videos also on YouTube:

Listening Post – Feature: The PKK, Rebels or terrorists? 7.20 min;

Who are the PKK? 0.38 min;

Kurdish refugees from Syria languish in Iraq, 2.32 min.

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