(JİTEM is the İstihbarat Grup Komutanlığı (Intelligence Group Commandership) or Jandarma İstihbarat ve Terörle Mücadele (Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-Terror), which is the intelligence and counter-terrorism unit of the paramilitary state gendarmerie.)
It should be borne in mind at all times that this is only what visiting Westerners are subjected to; the plight of those who live there is immeasurably worse. Unfortunately, there are a range of sources that simplify the situation to the point that they hinder the struggle for human rights and democracy of all of the communities in Turkey, but particularly the Kurds.
Apart from the general talk about Turkey, that frequently treats it as a normal democratic country with a terrorism problem and a powerful army:
- there is good mainstream media that still talks of 'Abdullah Ocalan, captured in 1999 after the Kurdish separatist war he started had killed an estimated 35,000 people', observing 'the semi-fascistic "Grey Wolves" of the bloody civil conflict of the 1970s', without noting that the primary targets of the PKK in its early years were those exploitative and oppressive 'agha[s] and neo-fascists' (McDowall, 2004: 421) or that, as the thousands of burned villages alone demonstrate, the PKK's partner in this bloody tango is the Turkish army; and
- there is also well-meaning public commentary, which makes claims such as, '[t]he indigenous peoples [of Kurdistan] have long since fled to mountainous areas in an attempt to protect themselves and their descendants from being wiped out' - which, incidentally, echoes the language used to imply that people have joined the PKK, rather than fled the violence - when most of the millions of Kurds who have fled from the burned villages, have fled to the towns and cities within south-eastern Turkey, or in north-western Turkey, or indeed throughout the world, although Turkish Kurds more frequently went to Germany, Britain and Sweden (McDowall, 2004: 457-458).
It's definitely worth looking at some of the material she draws on, like the Kurdish Human Rights Project report on the elections (and Kurdish Info for a summary of some of the "security" measures taken) or the Human Rights Watch report that details military influence, harassment of minority communities and other human rights violations undermining the very idea of democracy.
This is an inordinately long post, for which I can only apologise; I'll try to make a summary of it, but I felt it was important to have as full an account as possible, to help other researchers and people concerned with northern Kurdistan/south-eastern Turkey understand the realities of the situation there (and to show the people there that some foreigners are trying to help).
These notes were largely written during those days and those immediately afterwards, but because of the conditions during the visit and the lack of time and the continuing search for information afterwards, some of them were written more recently.
I ought to make clear, now, that they are summaries of prolonged, stressful encounters, the conversations held almost exclusively in Turkish: some of the conversations were hours-long; sometimes, afterwards, I was still under surveillance, or the threat of it, so I couldn't make notes; my fieldwork diary was repeatedly read by the intelligence services, so I didn't want to make notes.
The conversations presented were written down, albeit sometimes a long time afterwards; they are summaries of the conversations, but the sentences and exchanges included are accurate translations, give or take the difficulty of translating Turkish to English semantically.
(As an example, Turkish uses double negatives ("I didn't do nothing") and English has both a present perfect and a past simple tense (having both, "I have done" and "I did"), where Turkish does not have a perfect past tense (does not have, "I have done"), so the English, "I haven't done anything", would have been said in Turkish, "I didn't do nothing".)
Maalasef (unfortunately), the wine's not working (or good). I got the overnight bus from Van to Diyarbakır, which was a nice idea, shame about the person snoring in front of me and the other being sick behind me; I knew they were going to get travel sick when they got on, then, when it started, I ended up curled up in my seat awake, trying not to hear and fearing being hit. It was a very long seven hours.Patience and perseverence paid off, even if there were no practical benefit from the news that reached me after my return to Cyprus:
Arriving in Diyarbakır, I got a room at the Hotel Murat, slept for a couple of hours, then checked my e-mail and visited the Diyarbakır Branch of the İnsan Hakları Derneği (İHD (Human Rights Association)), who must have been very busy – I wasn't forced to drink even one cup of tea! – but who were kind enough to provide me with a list of more than two thousand (2,000) damaged or destroyed villages and another report and photocopies of a few relevant newspaper articles.
I went to an internet café and spent the evening uploading pages on Xanagale: cultural heritage and community. Having worked until late last night/early this morning, I woke up and dragged myself onto the buses to Batman and from there to Siirt.
The bus dropped me off on the main road through town, which, it turns out, the Hotel Erdef is on; finding out it had wireless, I finished off the posts to Mehme: cultural heritage and community, then popped out.
As usual, I asked how to get to one place and the person I asked refused to tell me and walked me to somewhere else, where I got a kebap, which I ate in my room; afterwards, I popped out and got a bottle of (what, much later, turned out to be bad) local wine.
I can only say here what I said to secret policemen whose relevance will become apparent, but I started talking to a few people in the street and they were kind enough to talk with me and provide me with some information on sites I was considering visiting. As the already-cryptic nature of this note would imply, they must remain anonymous, so I can't acknowledge them properly, but I am very grateful for their assistance.
From the 'Siirt (Sért)/Eruh (Dıhé)' section of the İHD (1996: 36-37) list of 'yakılan ve boşaltılan köyler - the burned and discharged [evacuated or emptied] villages', (on page 36) they identified,946. Argo (Yarımca)as dangerous (tehlikeli) villages, potentially sown with landmines (though, whether those mines would have been laid by the Turkish military or by the PKK, they didn't know or say). They identified some of the villages in the 'Siirt (Sért)/Kurtalan (Mısırcé)' section as places the state will submerge under the Ilısu Dam (on page 36):
947. Awal (Tünekpınar)....
951. Basıxré (Yelkesen)....
960. Çemé Gevir
962. Derawut (Payamlı)....
964. Drişka (Demirkapı)....
979. Gırdava (Ormanardı)
980. Ginyanis (Demiremek).... [and]
986. Hésinka (Özlüpelit)1055. Ganinere(They categorised the villages as ones that would fall to the Botan Dam, but I'm not sure whether they meant beneath the Botan Dam or beneath the Botan Reservoir of the Ilısu Dam.)
1064. Kriva [and]
The people I met in the street helped me once more, identifying the safe (güvenli) villages in the central ('Merkez/Navend') area of Siirt/Sért (on page 37) and grouping them as those that would not fall to the Ilısu Dam,1137. Bılorisand those that would fall to it:
1138. Bızenka [with 1139 missing]
1143. Hathat (Çınarlı) [and]
1144. Kalender1142. Gevat (Meşelidere)....I thanked them and went up the road to get some sugar, caffeine and water to fuel the night's work; regrettably, I didn't think to stash the list in my room before the two-minute round trip. (It was 8.30 or maybe 9pm by that point.)
1146. Kıtmes (Yerlibahçe)
1147. Mehine (Kayıklı)
1148. Niwela (Keleki)
1149. Reşa (Yuva)
1150. Şemse (Güneşli) [and]
In the shop, the usual conversation, albeit in unusually good humour – 'become a Muslim', 'become a humanist', 'get circumcised', 'get circumcised again' – came and went, along with, 'find me an English wife', 'no'; later, it turned to work.
I gave them a very basic outline, which I later based "the script" on, but people kept coming and going and/or chatting outside – me falling silent every time – so we gave up on talking and I left. On the pavement outside, four men were sat drinking tea; you could tell from the mixture of moustaches and body-building they were something (apparently, JİTEM).
The JİTEM agent I later came to think of as the "bad cop" addressed me and the four invited me to join them; my shoulders sank and I sat down. The two quiet agents who sat near on my left and far on my right didn't do much and I don't really recall their faces or personalities. The "bad cop" sat across the little table from me on the left; the "good cop" sat by my right side.
They asked me for my passport, but, having forgotten that I'd thought ahead and asked for it back from the hotel, I told them it was there; they asked me which hotel I was at and I told them.
The "bad cop" asked, 'what are you doing here?'
I replied, 'looking around'.
He followed up, '[looking] at what?'
In my turn, I asked him, 'why?'
The two unimportant JİTEM agents tried to explain to me that he wanted to know what I was looking at, but I explained to them that I knew and that I wanted to know why he wanted to know.
He snapped, 'because I want to, because I can ask; that's how it is here'.
I began, 'I'm working in Cyprus', but he interrupted, 'tell me'.
After I appealed, 'I am telling [you]' and began again, he interrupted again, 'tell me!'
I said firmly, 'wait! I am telling [you]', answering evenly, 'I'm looking at Cyprus's abandoned villages; now I'm here, I want to look at this place's villages'. I saw them see the list in my hand and my heart sank further.
Trying to regain an air of friendly curiosity, the "bad cop" asked, 'what's that?' and – with the "good cop"'s hand already hovering over it, when I replied, 'a list of villages' – 'can we look at it?'
I sighed and handed it over; my head sank. The "good cop" skimmed through the list then went on to read the human rights reports and newspaper articles that it was together with, tutting all the while. He started telling me that the reports and articles were incorrect; whereupon I assuaged him that I didn't know, (as) I only wanted the list of villages.
Huffing and puffing, he handed it over to the "bad cop".
The "bad cop" started reading it, then demanded to know, 'where did you find this?'
I directed him to 'look at the first page', instantly regretting it as I worried about getting the İnsan Hakları Derneği (Human Rights Association ((İHD)) into trouble.
He asked again, 'where did you find this?'
Seeing that he hadn't listened to me or thought to look at the front page himself, I shrugged, 'on the internet'.
'Where? Which site?'
'I don't know. I Googled, I searched for "evacuated villages".' Then he saw the front page.
'Did you get it from them?'
'Yes, I got it from the İHD.'
The others interjected, 'whom, whom?'
'İHD, from İHD, from the Human Rights Association [İnsan Hakları Derneği].'
The "bad cop" thought he could unnerve me and make me confess, but he just sounded smug and transparent when he tried: 'Which is it? First you say you found it on the internet, now you say you took it from the İHD. We're friends, just talking, but how can we trust you, when you're changing what you're saying?'
I countered: 'I'm not changing what I'm saying: first, I found it on the internet, I heard about it from the internet; then, I got it from İHD, I took it from İHD.'
'When did you come here?'
'You came today?'
'Yes, I came today.'
'Where did you come from?'
'You came from Diyarbakır?'
'Yes, I came from Diyarbakır – from Diyarbakır to Batman, from Batman to Siirt.'
'When did you get this [report from İHD]?'
'A couple of days ago.'
'From Siirt İHD?'
'No, I wasn't in Siirt, I was in Diyarbakır; I got it from Diyarbakır İHD.'
'Why are you looking at these?'
'It's difficult – may I say in English?'
'We're in Turkey – say in Turkish.'
'In Cyprus', I began, but he interrupted, 'why are you looking at these?'
I told him, 'wait, I'm saying'. I began again, 'in Cyprus', him again interrupting, 'why are you looking at these?'
'Wait!' I appealed, 'I'm saying, but it's difficult to explain, it's a long thing to say.' I continued with what became "the script" (which was a stereotypical, Turkish nationalist defence):in Cyprus, the Greek Cypriots destroyed the Turkish Cypriots' houses, their villages, but now they're telling lies, they're saying, "it became like that naturally". I want to tell the truth, but it's difficult. There are no [verifiable] facts in Cyprus. Here, there are [verifiable] facts. The state says (recounting it matter-of-factly): "There were terrorists; they were using the villages, taking food from the villages, falan falan falan. We had to empty the villages to stop them." Then, sometimes, "to stop the terrorists coming back to, hiding in the villages, we had to demolish them".I saw the way they were looking at me and added:I mean, we have terrorists too, I understand – and they kill us too, the PKK kill English too; they're not my friends, I don't like them. So, we know. If I can go around these villages, see them, take photographs of them, I can return to Cyprus and say: "Look, this village [in Cyprus] is the same as this village [in Turkey]; it didn't 'become like that naturally', it was demolished."The "bad cop" held my documents in one hand and slapped them with the other, insisting, 'these are lies! Why are you reading them? If you want to know the truth, ask us. Go to the Gazi ve Şehit Aileleri Dernekler Federasyonu [the Federation of Associations of Families of Veterans and Martyrs], they'll tell you the truth. Our friend works there, he'll tell you what happened.'
We went round in circles for a little while, then the "bad cop" got up and started off down the street (that we, the hotel and the military installation – I think the Jandarma Genel Komutanlığı (Gendarmerie General Commandership) – were on) on his own; the others stayed seated, presumably expecting me to do so as well, but I got up and went after the "bad cop".
I called, 'where are you going? That's mine!'
He dismissed me, 'I'm going to look at this. I'll give it back to you later.'
I slumped back onto the tea table stool and one of the two quiet agents asked me, 'are you tired?'
'No, I'm hungry, I haven't eaten since breakfast', I explained.
'Come', he said, leading me away up the street, when the others asked, telling them over his shoulder that I was hungry and that we were going to a restaurant.
In the restaurant of his choice on the main pedestrian boulevard, a few minutes from the hotel, I ordered a şiş kebab of some sort and we sat at a table outside, waiting while the quiet one told the staff and other customers that, 'he's our friend, our guest'.
I interjected, 'they're minding me'.
'It's for your security', he soothed; one of the staff seconded him, 'it's for your security'.
'It's not', I snapped back, repeating to the others that, 'they're minding me', then questioning the quiet one: 'What, for my security you searched my bag? For my security you read my notes? For my security you took my list?'
'He [the "bad cop"] will give it back to you', he appeased.
The staff and customers enquired, 'what list?'
'My list of villages', I explained, 'in Cyprus, my work's about the evacuated villages; I want to look at this place's evacuated villages. I'm not working here – I can't work here, I don't have a permit – but my looking at this place's evacuated villages will help my understanding of Cyprus's.'
My kebab came, but my appetite had gone; I was at once indignant and intimidated. On paying, I found my passport in my pocket and gave it to the quiet one as we left; then, we met with the others once again. The "bad cop" returned my list of villages, took my passport and left with the "good cop", while the two quiet agents escorted me back to the hotel and stayed with me in the entrance.
We sat in the lobby, with one of the quiet agents still telling me they were trying to protect me. As we sat there, a guest who'd overheard us as he passed stayed and started quizzing me himself, so I was explaining myself to one of the quiet agents and this stranger again and again.
After a while, my passport was returned and the agents left me for the night. It was after 1.30am; the agents had been "publicly detaining" and "informally questioning" me for four or five hours.
I began talking to a member of staff who'd been working in the lobby, who'd seen the agents questioning me and had overheard this last part of the joint discussion with the quiet agent and the stranger. The stranger was still there, still asking me to explain myself yet again and getting angry with me.
I told him that, 'I can't remember how many times I've explained [myself] to you; I'm not going to do it again, but I haven't explained to him before, so you can listen to me explaining to him if you'd like'; he stormed off shouting something incomprehensible down the stairs and I recited the script to the staff, before I went to my room.
There, I threw away the uneaten kebab, opened what turned out to be a poor bottle of red wine and tried to write up notes for the evening, but I was angry and exhausted and, unable to write, slumped on the bed and fell deep asleep.
I woke up late (at 10am) and left later still, having searched unsuccessfully for my camera; I hadn't used it in Van, so I assumed I must've left it in my hotel room in Kars. (The niggling suspicion that something else had happened – that it had been confiscated by JİTEM agents – was not confirmed until very recently, when I was back in Cyprus. Continuing investigation of this matter was one of the things preventing me posting this material.)
Unable to get a quick haircut, I went to the Federasyonu and met the secret policemen’s friend. He invited me into the office and the first thing I saw him do after tea arrived was pull his gun out from inside his shirt and put it in his drawer, then, a couple of seconds later, take it back out and put it back in his shirt.
'I don't want to keep this with me, but I have to', he excused himself; then he explained, 'I'm police – all of us here are', showing me his identification (later, I confirmed this through the disdainful senior JİTEM agent); so, the secret policemen's friend was a none-too-secret policeman himself – and (at least this branch of) the Federasyonu a front organisation.
A conversation developed from the script and the none-too-secret policeman agreed to take me to 'our villages', though I don’t know if that meant a secure village or a village guard village, or, indeed, if all of the secure villages are village guard villages.
I don't know whether his plan for a (likewise-armed) group from the Federasyonu escorting me to those villages we could visit during daylight hours suggests that we were going to villages free of village guards, or whether even those villages are not entirely secure for Federasyonu staff, whose secret identity cannot be that secret to locals.
I pointed out to him that I didn't have my camera, so he took me to get another, like the secret police the night before, keen to tell anyone and everyone that I was 'a friend', but, since it needed twelve to twenty-four hours to charge, we agreed to make the tour the next day.
He walked me back to the hotel, where he asked to see some of my work. I told him that I didn't have anything written yet, but that I could show him some photographs from villages I'd visited in Cyprus. I panicked a little when I realised that one of my messenger programs' message read, 'I hate the secret police' – in Turkish – but I closed it as quickly as possible and just hoped he hadn't had a chance to read it.
I showed him a couple of photos from one of the Turkish Cypriot abandoned villages (but none of the Greek Cypriot villages destroyed by the Turkish military); he seemed satisfied and I managed to talk him round to leaving me alone so I could work. I didn't tell him that I was working up material from the Kurdish abandoned villages I'd visited elsewhere in south-eastern Turkey.
That evening, I went to a barber's and got my hair cut and my dinli (religious or devout) beard shaved. For the first time in months, I wanted to look as foreign as possible; it was a feeble attempt to distinguish myself from the secret police, to Other myself from any of the sides in this conflict, in case there was trouble during the tour. I didn't want to be confused with a Turk, or a Kurd, or even an Armenian, an Iranian or an Arab, as I had been by some locals.
I ate bean soup at a restaurant up the road, then retired to my room to work and sleep. I was surprised that I hadn't been visited by JİTEM that day, but then again, I had spent a lot of it with the secret police anyway; still, when the power cut out, I did have visions of them bursting through the door.
The next day, I returned to the Gazi ve Şehit Aileleri Dernekler Federasyonu, but the none-too-secret policeman wasn't there; his friends, however, were and, over fresh fruit and tea, began to "educate" me on the situation in the South-East.
'Look', one, who appeared disturbingly like Hilary Briss when he laughed in front of one of their many nationalist emblems, said as he pointed at old and new photographs on the wall behind me, 'you see those martyrs?'
'Yes', I confirmed.
'Do you know who killed them?'
I guessed, 'PKK?'
He corrected, 'Armenians!'
I was, I admit, a little taken aback, but bit my tongue and listened as they attributed the "martyrs"' deaths to "Armenian terrorists"; I quickly scanned the dates underneath the portraits and, if I remember correctly, they did span from the time of the Armenian Genocide to the present day.
I hadn't heard this narrative before, but then I hadn't spent much time with Kurds working for the Turkish security services before; still, it would make sense, as it would provide a common enemy for and a common narrative of victimhood to Turkish and Kurdish agents, all grounded in the last time the local Kurdish nationalist and Turkish nationalist communities last cooperated on a large scale...
Some more of their friends turned up and, apparently because the room was so crowded, they took me into the reception room; two of the people who turned up (and took our place in the director's office) were the anonymous senior JİTEM agent who would later overrule the governorship and the gendarmerie and confiscate my site visit permit and one of his underlings.
They reiterated their interpretation of the violence in the South-East, then, eventually, they told me, 'this isn't our job, we can't help you' and asked, 'why did you come here?'
I explained that 'I know now that it isn't your job, but the police told me to come here, said you could help me; I came yesterday and [the none-too-secret policeman] said that he could help, that he would take me to some of the villages destroyed by the PKK'.
They keenly observed that, '[the none-too-secret policeman] isn't here'.
I said that, 'that isn't a problem, I can go with a taxi, but I need to know which villages are safe'.
They asked me, 'which villages do you want to go to?'
I told them that, 'I don't know. I have a list; I can't go to all of them, I only want to go to a few secure villages', asking them, 'do you know which ones are secure?' When I presented them with the list, all together they began haranguing me, because a lot of villages were only listed by their Kurdish name and telling me that I needed a Turkish-language list.
I asked them if they had a bilingual list that they could give to me and they said they had a Turkish-language one – which I asked for without receiving – but I explained to them that I needed a bilingual list, because if I had a Kurdish-language list and they gave me a Turkish-language list, I wouldn't know which village were which, which Kurdish-language name were paired with which Turkish-language name.
They gave up, went through (all of) my list (not just the Siirt pages I presented them with) and, reviewing only the 'secure' 'Merkez (Navend)' district of 'Siirt/Sért' province, told me that, apart from (maybe (1138) Bızenka and) (1141) Geravis, all of the villages were 'full... unevacuated [dolu, boşalmadı]', writing a "D" beside each name for "dolu":1137. Bıloris....After that, I said my goodbyes and left, but it was already mid-late afternoon; asking the taxi drivers, none were willing to take me anywhere without a site visit permit that I hadn't had time to get before and was too late to have a chance of getting that day.
[1139. Absent from list.]
1142. Gevat (Meşelidere)
1143. Hathat (Çınarlı)
1146. Kıtmes (Yerlibahçe)
1147. Mehine (Kayıklı)
1148. Niwela (Keleki)
1149. Reşa (Yuva)
1150. Şemse (Güneşli) [and]
I retired to the hotel, where the "good cop" and the "bad cop" soon visited me and, after expressing surprise at my clean-shaven appearance, questioned me, finding out what I had – or had not – done. They replayed their, 'you can't do anything, leave', 'you're free to do whatever you like, stay' routine, but they gave up relatively quickly and I sat in my room reading.
On the morning of my third day (my second full day) in Siirt, I had breakfast and went to the Vâlilik (Governorship), where, after I was sent to the wrong people a couple of times and waited for a long meeting to finish, in which time I saw the JİTEM agent's underling in the corridor (but left before he saw me), I found someone who could issue me with a permit. I recited the script and, after discussion, they gave me the permit and sent me to the Jandarma Merkez Komutanlığı (Gendarmerie Central Command) to get their permission.
Arriving at the Jandarma, the gatekeeper sent me to a different station, despite me having explained the situation and shown them my documentation; so, I went to the incorrect station and, having explained myself to one of the senior officers, some of the junior officers continued to ask me basic questions, while the senior officer rang Central Command and told them to let me in.
Back at Jandarma Merkez Komutanlığı, I was ushered in and upstairs, my passport and mobile phone taken from me at the front desk. Some of us had tea, while junior and senior officers passed around my documents, reading the covering letter and looking at the Vâlilik permit, photocopying my student identity card as the Vâlilik had done, asking me questions that elicited answers almost exactly the same as the content of the covering letter; when they wanted me to expand, I reeled off the script and they read the covering letter again.
They talked amongst themselves, then stamped my permit: I had permission from the governorship and the gendarmerie and was free to visit the villages; however, less than a minute later, just as the Jandarma were about to return my documents to me and give me my permits, the door opened and he walked in – the man who I was to learn was a senior JİTEM agent – and my heart sank.
He didn't have any identification – beyond "the look" (short hair, light short-sleeved shirt and slacks, dark shoes and an insincere smile) – but clearly they all knew who he was as he snapped at them, talked down to them, then snatched my permit from one of the Jandarma's hands. The routine procedure began, him asking me the usual questions, talking with the Jandarma all the while.
When he read through the covering letter and permit, he told the Jandarma to make photocopies of them both and my passport and student identity card too; I had to tell him three times that the Jandarma had kept my passport at the entrance before he stopped asking for it from me and sent someone to 'get it'.
The Jandarma asked him if he wanted the back of my student identity card photocopied too, because the Vâlilik had; he scornfully asked why. I pointed out that the institutional address was printed on the back of the card, whereupon he quickly and quietly told the hapless Jandarma to, 'yes, photocopy the back too'.
Under my bag on the table by my tea, he saw my list of villages, as he picked it up asking with either surprise or his best attempt at innocent curiosity, 'what's this?'
'A list of villages', I said.
Taking it out of the Poly Pocket folder, he skim-read the top couple of pages – which were Siirt Province's villages – open-mouthed, then directed the Jandarma to, 'copy it, photocopy it, all of it'.
I tested, pointing out to him that, 'your friends already did that'.
His head swung round, 'what, who did that?'
I pushed further, 'the first night I was here, your friends – the secret police [gizli polis] – took my list and photocopied it'; he didn't bat an eyelid at the mention of the secret police.
I did smile, however, when I saw his shock and anger, as he looked around, asking of everyone in general and no-one in particular, 'why didn't anyone tell me?'
He left the room, then re-entered shortly afterwards with his underling and a couple of other unimportant agents whom I didn't recognise; then, they escorted me further upstairs, where 'it's cooler... and quieter'.
In the small room with a small fan, I sat in one corner, on one corner of a sofa. The junior JİTEM agent ("the underling") came over and shook my hand heartily – I wanted to ask him, 'do we still have to act friendly?' They asked me the same questions they'd asked me before, again and again and I gave them the same answers.
The senior JİTEM agent "asked" if he could search my bags and, on seeing them, read my fieldwork notes; I knew I could give any answer, as long as it was 'yes' (and hoped that my deliberately tiny handwriting and own shorthand would make my notes impossible for him to read).
There was nothing in my bag that he hadn't seen before, so he asked me a few stupid questions about the stuff he had, like what the Turkish Airlines refreshing towel was, or what the bus ticket from Van to Diyarbakır was.
Reading notes in an old pad taken from Sir Austen Henry Layard's (1853) discoveries in the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon, with travels in Armenia, Kurdistan and the desert, he queried, 'Şemdinli? Have you been to Şemdinli?'
'No, I had plans, but they didn't happen. I was going to go there from here', I explained.
He reeled off a list of sites in my fieldwork notes in front of the junior agents, occasionally looking back at them disbelievingly: 'Eruh, Pervari, Beytüşşebab, Gerçüş, Çatak, Kurtalan… Uludere, Silopi... Dersim, Tünceli... How do you know these places? How did you hear about these?'
Breathing a sigh of relief that he couldn't read or didn't understand my shorthand for the "guilty" sources, I just told him that, 'they're from the list'.
'What did you do today?'
'I didn't do anything.'
He persisted, 'what did you do? Did you visit the villages?'
I insisted that, 'I didn't do anything. I couldn't do anything. Every day, all day, I sit with you. I'm not doing anything at all – I'm not working, I'm not going anywhere at all – I'm not doing anything at all.'
They left the room and spoke in hushed tones just outside the door. Every so often, they would go silent and one of the two unimportant agents would open the door and start to walk in, checking to make sure I was still sat on the sofa and not stood with my ear to the door; by the third or fourth time, I was waiting for it, smiling beatifically at him. I knew then that they were waiting me out, waiting on the sunset that would prevent me from visiting any villages or seeing any sites.
Returning, they asked the same questions yet again and I gave the same answers, then they started filing out once more; I was just shifting my weight on the sofa, but the senior JİTEM agent thought I was getting up to leave, pointed at me and ordered, 'sit, sit!' It was an instructive moment, when the flimsy façade of freedom fell away and exposed what we all knew, that I was not being received and helped, but detained and questioned.
They came back in and all sat down around me, the senior JİTEM agent asking me, 'what are you going to do now?'
'I don't know', I said, 'if I could get a permit, I would visit the villages, but if I couldn't, I'd leave.'
'You can't, it's impossible', he answered.
I asked, 'why?'
'Because it's dangerous.'
'It's not very dangerous – and I only want to go to safe villages – I don't want to go to dangerous villages.'
'We're taking care of your security', one of the unimportant agents offered.
'You're not', I responded, 'you're minding me – and if it is dangerous, this is my problem, not yours, this is my choice, not yours.'
'Okay, we didn't give permission. So what are you going to do?'
'I can't do anything. I'm gonna leave.'
'Where are you going to go?'
'I don't know, it doesn't matter, but I don't want to stay here now.'
'Where are you going to go? İstanbul?'
'In a few days, yeah; I'll go to İstanbul and from İstanbul to Cyprus.'
'How will you go to İstanbul?'
'There are flights from Mardin to İstanbul?'
Knowing he must know about the flights, I decided to answer in the same surprised, enthusiastic manner that he'd adopted, 'yeah – and cheap, the cheapest I've found – that's why I'm taking it.'
'So you're going to Mardin?'
'Maybe I'll go there, maybe I'll go somewhere else.'
'I don't know! Maybe Mardin, maybe Midyat, maybe Kars, Ani, Khtskonk...'
'I will go, I have to go, but I can't go today.'
'Because my plane doesn't leave today; it leaves in a few days.'
Yet again, he asked, 'so, you'll go to Mardin?'
I sighed, 'I don't know. I don't know where my camera is.'
'Yes, my camera. I forgot it, lost it somewhere, maybe Diyarbakır, maybe Kars, maybe Beş Kilise [Khtskonk].'
'I don't know. That's why I don't know where I'm going. If I knew where my camera was, I'd know where I was going.'
'Are you waiting for the Prime Minister?'
'Am I waiting for the Prime Minister?'
'Yes, he's coming to Siirt tomorrow.'
'Oh, no. I only heard about his coming just now, from you.'
'Are you waiting to see him?'
He queried, 'why not? He's our Prime Minister.'
I shrugged 'and? It doesn't matter for me.'
'You don't want to see him?'
'It makes no difference to me.'
He pulled a mock surprised grimace at his underlings.
Trying to find an end to the questioning so that I could go back to the hotel to wait to leave the next day, I tried, 'so I definitely can't get permission to visit any villages?'
When he said 'maybe', I was a little confused, but it soon became clear. 'We'll think about it and tell you.'
'In a month.'
'I won't be here in a month. I'll be in Cyprus.' They knew what date I was leaving Turkey (the 21st of June) and what date my Turkish visa expired (the 25th of July); they knew they were giving me impossible dates.
'What's your Cypriot number?'
'I don't have one.' They already had my Turkish number; I wasn't going to give them my Cypriot number as well.
'What's your address?'
'I don't have one. I've been living here for nine months; I stopped renting a place there.' I didn't believe that they would give me permission, but I wanted to give them the opportunity to reject me formally, so I gave them an institutional address here; they haven't contacted me. Peculiarly, it was with the fading of the light that my hopes rose; I was correct and, soon after, they told me I could go and I left for the hotel.
Before I could leave the grounds, however, one of the senior Jandarma, who was talking to some of his troops, called me over and asked me who I was and what I was doing there; I recited the script.
Much to my surprise, he told me, 'you can speak in English'.
I reworked the script: 'I want to visit the villages and take photographs, so that I can prove how the Cypriot villages became how they are'.
'You can't go to the villages - it's dangerous.'
'It's not that dangerous - and I only want to go to the secure ones.'
He reassured me, 'we're taking care of your security.'
I looked over at his troops, then back at him, then switched to Turkish: 'you're not taking care of my security, you're taking care of me. For my security you took my passport?'
He interjected with the distinctly discomfiting, 'that's so that, if something happens, we know who you are'.
'For my security you took my telephone number?'
'That's so that, if something happens, we can contact you.'
'For my security you photocopied my list of villages?'
Ignoring both the ban on my visits to any of those sites and the needle-in-a-haystack difficulty of finding me in one of the more than two thousand villages on the list (should "something" "happen"), he reassured me, 'that's so that, if something happens, we can find you'.
'For my security you held me? For my security you questioned me? For my security you searched me? For my security you read my private notes? For my security you took my permit?'
It was very Little Red Riding Hood, with the Grey, Grey Wolf saying, 'all the better to see you with.... all the better to hear you with', (if not) 'all the better to grab you with.... all the better to eat you with!'
The following morning, I got up, packed and took my stuff downstairs. As I was still waiting for my contact to ring me and tell me whether he had found my camera or not, I stayed in the back corner of the reception area. The kid on the desk came over and got my passport, despite him already having written down all of my details and having been paid and me already having paid and checked out, the staff came over and took my passport; a few minutes later, the "good cop" and the "bad cop" appeared.
They questioned me again, this time including questions about where I was going to go to when I left, to which I answered, honestly, that I didn't know because I didn't know where I'd left my camera, one of them getting very aggressive when I told him that I couldn't remember how many times I'd answered the question he was asking at the time.
Once, when I casually referred to the "OHAL (olağanüstü hal (state of emergency))" (which, incidentally, no-one else I said it in front of in the town contradicted), the "bad cop" barked, 'there is no OHAL here now'.
I retorted, 'if there's no OHAL here now, I'm very glad I'm not here in a time of OHAL'.
The aggressive one was telling me I couldn't do anything and that I should go, the calm one that there wasn't a problem, that I could stay, etc. Anyway, their good cop-bad cop routine carried on for a little, then the "good cop" decided they should leave; on their way out, I heard them telling the hotel staff to tell them if I stayed another night.
An old man, who'd been sat in the corner the whole time watching the news coverage of the visit of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Siirt, twisted his hand in enquiry and asked me, 'what happened?'
When I told him that, 'they're watching me', he laughed and came over, pinched my cheek, which I dismissed as an old form of paternal affection, then returned to his seat and invited me over, ostensibly to watch the news. I declined the first few times as it was in Turkish, but as I still hadn't heard from my contact, I went over and tried to pick out enough words to make sense of the reports. He laughed and pinched my cheek again, which I again dismissed, then stroked my hair and neck, which I felt uncomfortable at, then held my hand.
It wasn't the normal kind of contact between men here, who are physically affectionate towards each other (giving each other double kisses hello and goodbye, walking arm-in-arm and so on); it reminded me of the elderly man who'd tried it on with me in my first few days in southern Cyprus. Then, he tried to touch me and to make me touch him, at which point I sharply pulled the hand he was taking away, knocking his and he nodded his head and murmured, 'okay'; after a brief pause, he left and I resolved to re-grow my beard.
Soon, a normal policeman visited, speaking English and asking me a few basic questions politely before leaving. I was getting a headache from the visits and decided just to leave.
Before I could get to the door, however, I found out that the senior JİTEM agent was sitting in the chairs at the front of the reception. He was still smiling at acting like we were friends and held his insincere smile as he insisted I 'leave, leave, leave, leave'.
I asked him for a copy of the permit that he'd taken, but he said it was impossible, then gave an explanation very quickly in Turkish that I couldn't understand that mentioned something about the Vâlilik.
I told him that, 'I'm leaving, but, I will say one thing – this is stupid'.
He snapped, 'who's stupid?'
Knowing what I meant, the others waved him down and, as tempting as it was, then, to say he was, I patiently explained that 'no-one is stupid, something is: I want to help the Turkish Cypriots, your siblings, but you don't want to help me, you won't even just leave me alone, so I can't help them'. (Still, I know that their alleged concern for their "brothers" is very superficial.) As I walked out, the "good cop" and the "bad cop", who were standing in the street, asked me if I was leaving, but I just ignored them and carried on my way.
I passed by the Vâlilik on the (wrong) way to the dolmuş otogar, but couldn't enter until after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had left, so I waited in a nearby tea garden until 3pm, constantly expecting JİTEM to turn up; it was a good excuse to play a computer game, so that, if they did turn up to see what threat I was posing at that precise moment, it would look truly ridiculous.
I didn't want to use the permit that the senior JİTEM agent had confiscated, but I did want a copy of it (with "invalid" or "unusable" or something written on it if necessary), to show that I had had it, or simply that I had been and tried to visit sites; still, it was impossible.
I cannot say any more, but, after an hour or so at the police station (by which time the buses out of Siirt had stopped running), they told me that, 'we can say, "he came to Siirt police station today", but we can't say "he came to Siirt, stayed and tried to get a permit", because we don't know that you've been here', because I hadn't been with them or on their records, but with the secret police on theirs.
So, I gave up and returned to the hotel once again, where I had a quiet night, apart from the brief interlude in which a shoot-out broke out in the streets; it sounded like it was quite nearby. I got up even earlier than the day before and left for Diyarbakır.
Again, I cannot say more, but before I left the town I met with a contact and confirmed that the people who had been watching, detaining, questioning and searching me for the previous four days were JİTEM.
Finally, effective confirmation of what I'd begun to think: JİTEM – possibly thinking it had inconvenient facts recorded on it, probably trying to prevent me recording any – confiscated my camera.Manifestly, I can't do anything directly for the communities in Siirt or elsewhere in the emergency zones; I can only hope that my visit to Siirt and questioning by JİTEM can inform my work, perhaps in the discussion of in which circumstances archaeologists ought to refuse to work.
It had all of the as-yet-undownloaded photographs from visits to Eski Beyazit, Ani, Khtskonk (Beş Kilise) and elsewhere (and whatever emergency money I'd kept in its case); I'm only lucky I'd moved my other (British, Serbian, Greek and Cypriot) SIM cards from its case to my passport wallet a few days before.
Initially, I thought I'd plugged it in to recharge at a hotel, then forgotten about it (even though I'd always made a point of sitting the camera in my bag so I couldn't), but then I was sure I'd had it at my friend's flat in Van and they couldn't find it there.
I was confident that I hadn't left it anywhere for it to be able to be stolen, so these checks were merely precautionary, but I contacted the hotels in Doğubeyazit, Kars and Diyarbakır (a couple of times each) and all of the bus companies used in-between, as well as the Ani tour-operator-cum-fixer, who checked for himself and nothing turned up.
Just now, I rang the Ani fixer to give him my e-mail address (as I wasn't using my Turkish SIM card any longer), but he told me there and then that he'd checked again with the hotel (in case they thought that, when I'd asked, I'd meant video camera instead of photo camera), the tour bus driver and the local bus drivers and companies, but none had found a camera. Obviously, if someone had found a digital camera with money, it would have been very tempting and if they had stolen it, they wouldn't have said so; still, I don't think that happened.
That meant I had taken it to Siirt with me, where it could only have disappeared from my hotel room. The only time I'd been out of the hotel room long enough for someone to enter, search my bags, find the camera and take it was when I was being questioned by the security services.
During the questioning, at different times different agents had gone somewhere to do something and I had even been taken away from the street that the hotel was on and that the agents appeared to be working from, minded by one agent, whilst the others did something else. So, I believe that JİTEM confiscated my camera.
McDowall, D. 2004: A modern history of the Kurds. London: I. B. Tauris and Co. Ltd.