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Kurdistan - the Land of Lessons

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I have had a passionate relationship with Kurdistan for five years. We are only part time lovers, but the distance makes our meetings even sweeter. This November was the fifth time I visited this ancient land with a bittersweet history and its golden hearted people.

In September I was invited to attend a training course on fighting radicalisation among youngsters. If you have eyes and ears and live in Europe (or anywhere in this world in fact) you cannot help noticing the rise of radicalisation everywhere. Myself, coming from Hungary, grew up in a society where racism and social exclusion was the norm. Nowadays, xenophobia has become a governing tool. Raising awareness on the importance and beauty of cultural diversity is the topic closest to my heart, ever since I started working with youngsters.

When I received the invitation I immediately felt a burning desire both for the topic and for the venue of the course as well. I took a deep breath and discussed with my team if I could take time out from our common programme to participate in this course. Together we took a decision that it was feasible and I took part in the training course called “Youth Tools for Our Common Diversities” in Diyarbakir, Turkey from 2nd to 10th November.

The training was basically divided into three sections: In the first one we were gaining a deeper understanding about culture, identity and radicalisation. In the second part, we were developing workshops in smaller groups that could be used as tools to fight radicalisation. The last part was all about future partnerships and developing ideas together. Together with the other 15 experienced participants we learnt a lot from each other and from our trainer as well. Personally, I got new perspectives on how I understand identity and new methods and tools to use for future workshops.

Besides the long and fruitful working time we also got a deep understanding about the situation of the Kurds in Turkey. If you don’t know anything about it, don’t blame yourself, the Turkish media is a master of hiding the truth. As an introduction let me tell you a Turkish proverb that I learnt there: “A good Kurd is a dead one”. And this basically sums the situation up.


A culture under attack
The Turkish government would like to get rid of them and they are not afraid to systematically attack everything Kurdish. Buildings, villages, language and any kind of cultural heritage is a red light for the Turkish government. Kurdish kids are not allowed to be taught in their mother tongue in the schools, local Kurdish NGOs are being shut down, Kurdish villages are being flooded by new Turkish dams and I could list the various forms of oppression for a while, but I’d rather focus on something else now.

The reason being that Kurds are a lot more than their struggles. Sure, it is important to understand their current (well, 100 years old) situation, but I think their values are much more important to raise my voice about. Because every time I go there I experience something that I have never had the courage to try to put into words, but I’ll give it a try now.

Zsofi picture edit

(The trainings participants)

A free people – despite the odds

For five years I have tried to solve this puzzle: What is this quality that the Kurdish people have and that I value so much? This time I got my answer from my friend’s father (a middle aged wise man with a bitter-sweet history just like his land) what I cannot be grateful for enough. This mystical power they possess is their humble approach to life. It’s in their genes that they don’t chase money and don’t participate in a societal competition to have more. They are the freest people I know. Their integrity itself could be a topic to investigate. They are not manipulated by wealth, consumerism or big powers.

They are able to remain true to their core and by now I am sure this is the highest form of freedom that a person or ethnic group can possess. And this freedom is exactly what the Turkish government wants to break with every tool, but they will never succeed. Because this inner light cannot be shut down from the outside and the Kurds have an infinite source of it. Their internal bright will always shine, even in the deepest prisons or in the darkest corners of the demolished buildings. It’s theirs and no external power will be able to take it away from them. This inner light unites them and radiates to the people visiting them. Every time I am there I feel like my soul is healing. The true freedom, the kind and warm hearts around me are healing my scars bit by bit. The heart-warming love, gratitude and respect I feel towards them probably needs another five years to fully understand.

Tackling radicalisation amidst injustice

But coming back to our original topic, the course that I attended.  To understand the region’s situation deeper, we got to meet different people. We had a meeting with a lady from UNESCO who explained about the systematic demolition of the old city enter of Diyarbakir.  We also met with a young Yezidi man who was a resident of the nearby Midyat refugee camp. Both meetings poured oil on our burning hearts to do something for this region.  

Participating in a training course about tackling radicalisation and celebrating our cultural diversities in a city where, at the same time, the houses of the locals are being destroyed as part of a political agenda and hundreds of thousands of human beings are captured in refugee camps with no light at the end of their tunnel, is a very controversial scenario to say the least.

However, I believe that education is a key factor solving these conflicts too. Maybe it is not going to help in the short term, but in a long-term perspective teaching young people to think critically, to question, not to take everything for granted, to travel to learn and to learn to travel is the only solution. Maybe my future students will be the ones who start a snowball effect that in the end will result in the power to move dictators and xenophobes away from the path of humanity. This is my hope. This is our hope.

by Zsófia Tárkányi, DNS team 2016