NİLAY VARDAR REPORTS : Time of Honey and Vine Harvest Gone Sour in Şemdinli

BIANET – 8.8.2012 – As intense fighting between government forces and militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continue unabated in the southeastern province of Hakkari, bianet reporter Nilay Vardar has travelled to the heart of the conflict zone to relate the developments there which mainstream media has given only superficial coverage to. İhsan Acar was a guerilla fighter whose death was confirmed in the battle of “numerical tallies” between the PKK and security forces that has been going on for over two weeks in Şemdinli, and still counting.

Born in Hakkari’s Çukurca district, İhsan was 19 years old and had “taken to the mountains” three years ago. His family in Yüksekova was watching Nuçe TV, as they do each day, since it is the sole broadcasting station from which they can receive news of their son’s death. In a flash, İhsan’s name was announced among the list of the fallen; his mother passed out, his siblings burst into tears. The most grueling task, however, befell upon his father Ahmet Acar who had to bring his son’s funeral back home.

I met Ahmet Acar immediately after I set foot in Şemdinli. He goes there to pick up his son’s funeral nearly every day, but officials deny him the permission to take İhsan’s body from the PKK as the region is unsafe. İhsan left home three years ago at the age of 16 “to go to school” and never returned back since. We should rewind the story a little, however, and lend an ear to his father Ahmet Acar:

Ahmet Acar’s brother İhsan (the uncle of the now-deceased İhsan who bore the same name) died in a fight on the mountains in 1992. His death came at the age of 19; he had joined the guerillas at 16. A year after uncle İhsan’s death, Ahmet Acar had a new son. No need to split hairs for a name; the kid is named after his fallen uncle.

That a single person in the household had taken to the mountains, however, sufficed for the authorities to arrest all the male members in the family. Troops who also raided their home later on did not believe the men had all been arrested when they could not find a single male in the house. They then grabbed the infant İhsan and held him up next to the stove to coerce his mother to speak.

Like uncle, like son

Once İhsan began to grow out of infancy, he started inquiring about the fate of his uncle, his namesake, whose picture he saw hung up on the wall. His family then recounted both his uncle’s story, as well as his own story at infancy when troops threatened to throw him over onto the stove; perhaps to inculcate a sense in him of being lucky.

Ahmet Acar said he had never thought his son would also take to the mountains, as he was an introvert:

“He either studied or read the Quran… He did participate in Newroz celebrations and all, but he never picked up a stone. He probably followed his uncle’s lead,” he said.As he speaks, Ahmet Acar’s eyes occasionally turn red, but not a single teardrop streams down from his face. I derive courage from his tranquility and ask who will next bear İhsan’s name.”Unless my sons hit the mountains and they have children instead, then I will name one of them after İhsan. This name will keep going down through the generations for as long as this war goes on,” he said.

İhsan had six other siblings.

Ahmet Acar says his heart goes out for all the deaths on both sides, swearing to prove his sincerity. “There is one difference, however,” he adds:

“When a soldier dies, his whole family gets torn up in pain, but that is where the buck stops. With us, when one person dies, all the siblings and nephews left behind nurse their grudge; and they end up sharing a similar fate. We can no long count the dead in a single family,” Acar said.

İhsan’s younger siblings still believe their brother is up on the mountains; they point toward the screen and call out his name whenever they see guerilla fighters running around on television.

İhsan’s two year elder brother wants to attend college, but he will have to perform his mandatory military service if he fails to pass the exam. “I do not want it. They will hand me a gun and tell me to kill,” he says. There is a widespread tradition in Turkey of naming newborns after someone who passed away in the family, but the inheritance of the names of those who cannot live to see beyond the age of 19 is a tradition of the east. (NV)