One of the most important lessons you learn by living abroad is that, as the saying goes, "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter". This was made most obvious to me when a Colombian friend of mine walked into my college apartment and was shocked to see a picture of Che Guevera hanging on my wall. He said bluntly that it was insulting to him that I had put up the picture of this man who had caused so much sorrow to his people. Upset, I tried to explain to him that I did not consider Che to be responsible for the pain Colombia had endured during FARC's brutal campaign; instead, it was the region’s social and political problems that had caused the unrest. For me, Che just stood for beautiful ideals of equality and justice.
Yet, when I recently came across a Washington Post article titled, A Kurdish Society of Soldiers, written by Joshua Partlow and accompanied by Andrea Bruce's dramatic photography, I chose to forget that bitter lesson and let my anger out by cursing at the Post for choosing to publish such a story. I was not alone in my reaction; the Turkish press caught on within hours, condemning the Washington Post and prompting readers to send protest letters to its editors.
When reactions here avalanched to the level of millions of upset readers, I decided to take a step back and question why I had ignored that crucial lesson from college, which I should have considered common sense by now. The answer was that I had chosen to do so because my common sense also told me that this war must come to an end, and that that is not possible as long as we do not compromise in choosing 'freedom fighters' over 'terrorists'. Today, I understand once again that my friend had a really valid point.
Just like my Che Guevera picture, Mr. Partlow's article and the accompanying photography tell a heroic story of resistance, lifestyle and ideals, romanticized in every aspect. Yet, it fails to mention any disgraces to humanity that the PKK fighters have committed. It fails to say that PKK operations are partly being financed through criminal activity all around Europe, and it also fails to tell stories of rape and ruthless execution which are important parts of the PKK’s so-called communal life. Mr. Partlow went into the mountains guided by the PKK, saw what they wanted him to see, heard what they wanted him to hear and, in the end, reported what they wanted him to report. I was a naïve college student when I put up Che's pictures on my wall, but can international journalism stand so much naivete?
In his article, Mr. Partlow wrote that "some [PKK fighters] are also fighting to prolong their communal, socialist experiment and to be left alone". I think this observation alone is key to understanding why political and even social solutions, such as those I offered to my Colombian friend and those that American officers have recently been advising Turkey to adopt, are sometimes not enough. To attract the guerillas back into civil life and to end the bloodshed, we first need to convince the Kurdish youth that joining this selfish experiment helps no one, least of all the very loved ones they hope to protect in the first place. Only then, common sense can become common once again and political, economic and social changes can come about.
Most people in Turkey, both Turks and Kurds, are aware that a solely military solution to this problem is unrealistic; we know that any lasting solution must be multi-faceted. So we feel that the Americans are stating the obvious when they 'advise' us to seek a peaceful solution. But only when armed resistance and terror campaigns stop can our peaceful, passive majority strengthen its hand, and bring a civilized end to this horrendous situation.
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