Different country

Different country

The Guardian – United Kingdom
Nov 05, 2004

In Soguksu, which has been under the command of fundamentalist sheikhs
since Ottoman times, few have heard of the EU. Only one man in the
village of 2,700 has been to university.

Like many of Turkey’s 12 million ethnic Kurds, the girls who weave
colourful kilims in a chilly room on Soguksu’s treeless outskirts do
not speak enough Turkish to follow events conveyed by the community’s
sole concession to modernity – the satellite dish.

Of the EU, one girl says: “No, I don’t think I know that place. Do
they have sheep?” Like the rest of the group, her birth has never been
registered, and she has not received an education.”Do people marry
there?” she asks. “Do they believe in God? What do they eat?”

Outside the workshop, Bekir Bingol, a father of15, says he has heard
that Europe is “very clean”. He adds: “But I’ve got the brains to know
that all these mountains and all these hills don’t belong
there. Anyway, I wouldn’t want my daughters not keeping our
traditions. If they got other ideas they might not read the Qur’an.”

Mr Bingol’s neighbour, Ali Cicek, agrees. “In real life we’ve never
seen anything like it,” he says. “How can we even dream of such stuff?
Once I went to western Turkey and it was beautiful, but it really felt
like a different country.”

Soguksu is almost two hours north of the formerly Armenian city of
Van, one of Turkey’s most primitive regions and certainly its
poorest. It has become a no-go area during the country’s bitter
campaign against Kurdish separatists. Forced marriages have prompted
at least five newlyweds to take their lives since September. With 70%
of the population unemployed, most barely scratch a living from the

But although it is awash with refugees and smugglers, Van is also on
the mend. The EU has launched an aid programme and, as in other towns
in Turkey, civil society has undergone a revolution.

Zozan Ozgokge, who runs Van’s EU-backed women’s association, says:
“Before I even put up our new group’s sign, women were lining up
outside the office door. Sometimes, we’ve had women rushing in here in
their slippers, after being beaten by husbands, fathers, uncles and
even their sons. Before, these women rarely left their homes.”

At 26, Ms Ozgokge is typical of a new generation of bright ethnic
Kurds now improving lives in what once seemed like eastern Turkey’s
irredeemable badlands.

“When I was at university, western Turks would sneer and ask if I
lived in a tent,” she says. “They had seen so many TV documentaries
that portray eastern Turkey in a very bad light, but for Kurds Europe
has been a salvation.”

Under Turkey’s drive to meet EU membership criteria, she says, human
rights have improved to such an extent that most Turkish Kurds have
turned their backs on the prospect of violence solving their problems.

Prof Ergil identifies four types of Turks: the global Turk who lives
abroad (numbering 500,000); the well-off international Turk, who reads
the foreign press (5.5 million); and the rural and urban parochial
Turks (30 and 35 million respectively) who are desperate to improve
their lot.

“The first two categories can communicate with each other and the
outside world, and for them Turkey is just like a European country,”
he says. “The other two have absolutely nothing in common with the
first, but they are very supportive of Turkey joining the EU. Frankly,
these people are like cannonballs chained to the ankles of this
country. It has to drag them in its race towards civilisation.”