March 16, 2003
Remember the PKK? Before anyone had ever heard about the Iraqi Kurds, most western people’s knowledge of the Kurds was limited to Turkey, where the socialist Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK in Kurdish) fought a 15-year war for an independent Kurdistan. Something like 20,000 people died in the conflict. But in the last few years Turkey has succeeded in kicking most of the PKK out of Turkey, and they’re here in Iraq. Now I’m trying to visit them.
The goal was a village called Darawe, a village high in the mountains in a no man’s land between the forces of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party and the PKK. I was there with my girlfriend and fellow journalist Carolina trying to get permission to go even further up the mountain to a PKK stronghold to interview the current leaders of the PKK. In the end I didn’t get make it, they were in another place and I’ll have to try again. But I spent several hours in the home of Esad, a shepherd in Darawe, and it was interesting enough.
Darawe consists of just a few houses, and it had been raining softly and everything was mud. Cows were grazing around Esad’s house, five little chicks followed around their mother. A couple of men walked by carrying nets that I first thought were for fishing but which he told me were used to catch martinets. Esad showed me two of the birds that he had caught recently that he held in a handmade wooden cage. They eat them; apparently they’re more tender than chicken. He has a pink satellite dish, and when he’s not watching al Jazeera or movies on German TV he plays cards with the rest of the men in the village. The night before we came, he said, they’d been up until 3 am playing. His surroundings are modest, but I think he’s relatively well-off. His son made him promise that if he did well in school last year they could take a trip to Tehran. He did, and they did. Now the son is in high school, in a town an hour down the dirt track, and the father wants him to go to university.
They are not far from the Turkish border, and his and the surrounding villages were bombed several times by Turkish planes during the 90s in indiscriminate raids on the PKK. He, like everyone else in Kurdistan, hates Turkey. But he was an intelligent guy. We had stopped at his house the day before and said we wanted to talk with the PKK. He offered to take our business cards up to the PKK checkpoint and arrange something for the next day, which seemed pretty savvy. So he seemed to be the kind of man I could have a dialogue with, not just an interview, so I tried to argue with him a little. I told him I thought Kurds were overstating the Turkish threat (just as Turks were overstating the Kurdish threat). I said that even if the Turks come, everyone will be watching them and if they committed any atrocities, it would be all over the world media the next day. And the Turks know that and will be careful. “I may be a shepherd, but I’m not naïve,” he told me. “I have sources in the Iranian government and I’ve heard that Iran has promised Turkey more money than America to refuse to let the Americans use their bases, and that without the Americans here Iran and Turkey will cooperate in attacking Kurdistan.” This seemed farfetched to me, but I was still happy to hear a conspiracy theory when I thought the people here were too credulous and earnest to go in for that sort of thing.
Later, a couple of PKK soldiers showed up to tell us not to leave, that hopefully someone would be coming soon to arrange an interview for us. In the meantime, we talked to them about the PKK. But soon one of the soldiers, Agri, an Iranian Kurd, wanted to ask me some questions. I was game. A short excerpt:
Agri: How do you feel about America’s interventions, not just in Iraq but around the world.
Me (eyeing his Kalashnikov): Well, it depends on the situation.
Agri Does Bush represent the people of America?
Me: Yes, most of them.
Agri: I know that 85 percent of the people in America oppose George Bush. And how many people didn’t vote in the last election? 40 percent.
Me: More, I think.
Agri: Then what is democracy, what do you mean when you say democracy?
Fortunately here one of his comrades arrived and interrupted us and I didn’t have to answer the question. And so we left, bumping in our Land Cruiser down the road to try another day.
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