Behind the Barricades of Turkey’s Hidden War
A simmering conflicto with the Kurds threatens to consume an American ally and inflame an already-unstable region.
By ROBERT F. WORTH
On the morning of Oct. 29, 2014, a long convoy of armored vehicles and trucks rolled northward in the shadow of Iraq’s Zagros Mountains and crossed a bridge over the Khabur River, which marks the border with Turkey. As the convoy rumbled past the border gate, the road for miles ahead was lined with thousands of ecstatic Kurds, who clapped, cheered and waved the Kurdish flag. Many had tears in their eyes. Some even kissed the tanks and trucks as they passed. The soldiers, Iraqi Kurds, were on their way through Turkey to help defend Kobani, a Syrian border city, against ISIS. Their route that day traced an arc from northern Iraq through southeastern Turkey and onward into northern Syria: the historical heartland of the Kurdish people. For the bystanders who cheered them on under a hazy autumn sky, the date was deliciously symbolic. It was Turkey’s Republic Day. What had long been a grim annual reminder of Turkish rule over the Kurds was transformed into rapture, as they watched Kurdish soldiers parade through three countries where they have long dreamed of founding their own republic.
The military raided Aydin’s village so many times — arresting young men, shooting up houses and animals — that Aydin’s father gave up and moved the family to an Istanbul slum. Aydin’s parents sent him to work in a clothing factory when he was 10. One day the factory boss overheard Aydin speaking Kurdish, the only language he knew, and rounded on him, shouting: “Never speak that language in here! You will speak Turkish.” Aydin told me he would never forget that.