Roboski anxiety in season for beets

By | April 21, 2012 at 1:30 am | No comments | Featured, Human Rights | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

A psychological thriller from Turkish literature: Mountain villagers from Hakkari go for beet harvest and…

Was it 7 am, or 8? They left without checking the time. Snow has just left the ground in Hakkari; they’ve got almost a month to dwell.  They’ll harvest the beet.

In lands towards the west of the compass in Turkey, beet means pickled beet, or sugar beet that kids memorize where it is manifactured in primary school.

On the other end of the compass, beet is a totally different subject matter. First of all beet means spring, it means green has sprouted through the snow. Beet means rhubarb, it means gundelias. It means ferula which you can only find on Hakkari mountains, it means cow parsley. With its roots, greens and mushrooms, beet is a whole family visiting for the spring.

How could it be cooked? Some of those herbs are great in cheese. Many dishes get richer and tastier in beet season. Yoghurt soup gets greener, if nothing else, beets mixed with eggs enrich the palate.

What else? The bunches of beet branches are sold in Hakkari center or at Yuksekove outdoor markets. For a Lira per bunch, at most 2. Young students waking up early to pick their share sell them on highways to passersby to earn their school fare. Beet is a livelihood. A bountiful gift of spring.


Ghosts of Roboski

In the beginning of 90’s, in ’93 or ’94, not being bothered by the calendar, they ordered to those mountaineers, “You will be moving down…” Villagers have gathered their stuff to move down to Zap Valley, no questions asked. To build villages with the same names as the old ones; Gecimli, Tasbasi, Akkaya… But the hinterland, totally anew. On one side Sirnak-Hakkari highway, Zap River on the other. Next, the mountain that they came down from. Only in Gecimli village six died cause of accidents on the highway after they arrived. They wanted to build a pavement; the army didn’t let them. Region being infamous with its “forbidden zones.” For instance the same day, a 70 year old grandma had to surrender hands up to the soldiers when they have “engaged” with arms after she had entered a “forbidden” field as in a poppy field.

As a result they became prisoners in their oen village… Very little arid land nearby, no pasture to turn the animals out to graze. They built pens for the cattle a mile away, and when beet spring came, started the voyage to prairies near their old mountain villages, youth and elderly, men, women and children.

In one of the days of beet harvest, dust raised from hell, a helicopter appeared over their heads. Hearing the obvious sound, feeling that uneasy feeling… Cobras soon started to fire at a close distance. Not knowing where to hide, villagers remembered of Roboski. “It is possible” they thought hiding under the rocks in sight waiting there long enough to make sure. Stories in their minds from back then…

Harvesters having left the village in the wee hours, villagers left behind started worrying about the company especially since hearing the helicopter rumble. Remembering Roboski, they thought “it is possible.” Rushed to Gecimli Military Station: “Those are our relatives harvesting beet.”

Until harvesters returned, everybody wandered with twitters in their hearts.


“Will something happen to us?”

In fact they had twitters in their hearts since the 34 deaths in Roboski, and since all voices were silenced ever since the incident. Households cautioned thrice all who went out to harvest, pick up wood or pasture the sheep: “Be prudent!” They complained to their village headmen: “Will something happen to us as well?”

That fortunate day the copters didn’t aim at the villagers. If they did, how far a man can run off a mighty Cobra’s range? They would have been all dead. But some people, in their own country, in their own village lived as such. They walked their own land in that state of mind.  In the western sphere of the compass no one even cared since no one had died in the incident. And even if someone died, it was not for sure that it then would be heard. Per say, far away, normalization of that anxiety, to live with that fear everyday, had no value at all.

If I’d say “three apples fell from the sky” to end the story, they’d recoil. Because in those lands, there is never something propitious falling from the skies.

Author’s Note: I would like to thank BDP Hakkari MP Esat Canan, Erkan Çapraz from yuksekovahaber.com, and Geçimli Headman Mikail Artan to fabricate that story. Nobody believes me when I say “these are the truth, experienced only two days earlier!”

Editor’s Note: On December 28th, 2011 34 teenager smugglers coming back to their villages were massacred by bombs by Turkish Airforce planes in Roboski. In the passing four months investigations did not bear any fruit so far, perpetrators still unknown. You may read related The Globe Times article here.

About the Author

Pınar Öğünç Pınar Öğünç

Born in Istanbul in 1975, graduate of Istanbul University’s International Relations Department. Beginning in 1997, Öğünç worked as a reporter and editor for various magazines, including Artıhaber, Aktüel, Turkish Time, Roll, and Express. She is the Turkish translator of New Slavery by Kevin Bales (Çitlembik Yayınları, 2002), Beyond the Orchard by Lesley Ethem (Çitlembik Yayınları, 2004), and Bono Conversation (Merkez Kitaplar, 2006) by Michka Assayas. Öğünç’s book Jet Rejisör (Jet Director; Roll Yayınları, 2006) is based upon interviews with the director Çetin İnanç, one of the most productive directors in Turkish movie history. Narrated in the form of a monologue by İnanç, who directed over 150 movies from the 1960s to the mid-1980s, including the world renowned cult classic Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (The Man Who Saved the World). Her book İnce İş (Delicate Tasks), again narrated in the form of monologues based upon interviews with individuals from a wide range of trades, was published by İletişim Yayınları in 2009. Öğünç currently works for Radikal newspaper’s as an editor and a columnist. She received the Turkish Journalists’ Association’s Best Interview of 2008 Award for her interview “Kim bu taş atan çocuklar” (Just Who Are These Kids Who Throw Stones?)


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