“There will be a very different Turkey by 2023. … One nation, one flag, one homeland, and one state…”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke these words on Nov. 28—the day Tahir Elci, a prominent Kurdish rights advocate and head of Diyarbakir’s Bar Association, was gunned down in Diyarbakir.
By 2023, 100 years after the foundation of the modern Republic of Turkey, Erdogan intends to solve the “Kurdish problem.”
And now there is one less obstacle in the way.
With one bullet to the back of the neck, Elci’s lifeless body hit the ground.
He had clearly hit a nerve. “The PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] is not a terror organization,” the human rights lawyer had said on CNN Turk a month earlier. The death threats started rolling in. The arrest and charges followed. And then the bullet silenced him.
Of course, that was not enough.
“This incident shows how right Turkey is in its determined struggle against terror,” Erdogan said following Elci’s murder, in an attempt to roll out a carpet stained with Elci’s blood on a path leading to more terror and destruction. “We will relentlessly continue our struggle. We will not stop. We will proceed with determination,” he added.
The government has claimed the gunmen were members of the PKK. The PKK has issued a statement blaming the government for the murder.
By 2023, it appears, not much will have changed from the turn of the last century. The Turkish state will continue its struggle to mold the “other” into its ideal subject, sparing neither oppression, nor murder, nor widespread state-sponsored terror. And it will still be daydreaming about that “very different Turkey” that it has been chasing after for decades—a dream that can only include dead Tahir Elcis and dead Hrant Dinks.
More than 50,000 joined Elci’s funeral procession in Diyarbakir. Tears ran down the faces of men and women, young and old, as they bid farewell to the outspoken lawyer. But the flag that accompanied Elci to the folds of the earth—that very same flag that the state considers an affront to “Turkishness”—just stained the mourners a little more red, a little more green and yellow.
Turkey will be different, just not in the ways Erdogan envisions. It changed following the assassination of Dink. We hear the change in the impassioned words of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Selahettin Demirtas, Parliamentarian Garo Paylan, and the Nor Zartonk activists of Istanbul. We witness that change in the work of the many activists, journalists, publishers, and writers who day after day challenge the state, demanding justice for all victims of state violence—genocide, oppression, state terror—including murdered friends and colleagues.
But can justice ever breathe in Turkey, or is its fate sealed in the deserts of Syria, the prison cells around the country, and the bomb blasts and gunshots?