Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Angry Young

The BBC's Nicholas Birch takes an insightful a look at the role zealous youth play in the Kurdish conflict. An excerpt from his piece on
Many observers see the rise in urban violence as a sign both of the growing vacuum at the heart of the Kurdish nationalist movement, and the changing dynamics of the PKK's support base.

"In the old days, there was a clear chain of command," says one Yuksekova politician. "The PKK would tell the politicians 'the shops will be closed today' and the politicians would pass that on to the shopkeepers. Today, they both say 'don't close the shops down', but then some 18 year old claiming to be the right-hand man of a PKK commander comes along and countermands their orders."

Locals say the break-up in the PKK hierarchy began in 2005, when three separate PKK groups began to set up civilian support organizations in Hakkari Province. The PKK has always used civil 'militias' to spread its message and ensure a steady influx of provisions and money. After 2005, however, the rapid growth of militias, and the lack of a clear chain of command, led some members to use the PKK trademark to enrich themselves.

In 2008, two Yuksekova men were found dead, allegedly murdered by the PKK for running a protection racket under the guise of collecting for militias. Some locals say the group has since moved to professionalize what were once volunteer militia units, to avoid a repeat of the same problem.

"In the old days, rhetoric about the Kurdish struggle was enough to bring people onside," says Irfan Aktan, a Yuksekova-born reporter who writes widely about the Kurdish issue. "But war has left a whole generation in poverty. They have nothing to lose. Money is infinitely more important to these people than ideology."

A journalist based in Diyarbakir, Ahmet Sumbul sees no evidence that the PKK is professionalizing itself to ensure the loyalty of its supporters. But he agrees that urban violence is on the rise, and changing too. In the past, he says, protestors used to stone police stations and state offices. "Over the past five years, they have started throwing stones at everybody and everything. Small shopkeepers get the worst of it."

"The PKK can use these people, but they can't control them. It's just unfocussed anger. Kids no longer listen to their fathers. Kurds no longer listen to the mountains," Sumbul added.

It's a form of nihilism that one Yuksekova tradesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, has experienced firsthand. Twice, he has been insulted for trying to stop teenagers from starting a fight with police. Once, a masked kid put a brick through his car windshield "because I had broken some curfew he had personally decided to call."
An alarming trend, one hopes the government is taking notes and realizes the problems involved here are not a matter of simple economics and unemployment, though both play crucial roles. A certain reading of Birch's piece might lead one to think that nihilism among low-SES Kurdish youth is the reason for this trend, but a visit to the region will open up a whole score of narratives and attitudes, most all based on anger against the Turkish state, that need to be seriously addressed.

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