Ismail Besikci: A Hero’s Welcome in Kurdistan
by HEMIN KHOSHNAW RUDAW – 3.5.2013 – His arrival in Erbil last week was a natural choice; the dissident scholar spent nearly 17 years in Turkish jails fighting for the Kurds, insisting they existed and were a nation against a state that denied they even had a language or their own songs.
When the Turkish government let Ismail Besikci out of jail, and for the first time allowed him to travel outside, the dissident writer and historian chose Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region as his destination.
He came, and left a shoe behind.
His arrival in Erbil last week was a natural choice; the dissident scholar spent nearly 17 years in Turkish jails fighting for the Kurds, insisting they existed and were a nation against a state that denied they even had a language or their own songs. “I am glad that my first trip outside Turkey was to the Kurdistan Region,” Besikci said at a seminar organized by the Barzani Charity Foundation.
“The Kurdistan Region is at an important stage of Kurdish history,” he told an audience of about 200, only 11 of them women.“The 20th century was a very bad period for the Kurds, but the Kurds were patient and succeeded in changing that damned situation,” he said. I believe the 21st century will be a good one for the Kurds,” said the author, roughly quoting the title of his talk, The 20th was bad for the Kurds, the 21st century is the century of the Kurds.
Besikci’s fight over the Kurds with the military-backed Turkish state began in the 1960s. Of the 36 books he wrote about the issue since then, 32 are still banned.Turkey is only now negotiating with the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to end a three-decade conflict over greater rights for the country’s large minority Kurds, in which an estimated 40,000 people have been killed.
In his books, which include his most popular Kurdistan is an International Colony, Besikci rejected the official Turkish claim of denying the very existence of the Kurds as a separate ethnic group. His writings earned Besikci the unenviable honor of becoming the first person to be imprisoned in his own country over the cause of another nation. Besikci told the seminar that his awareness of the Kurds began during military service in Turkey. “In 1962, when I was doing my military service in the Rubarok region I saw the Kurds. Their language and culture were totally different from ours. At that time I felt the existence of the Kurds and that they were a different nation from the Turks,” he recalled, his comments earaning applause. He joked that, after voicing his demand for recognition on behalf of the Kurds, “Me and my bag became the permanent guests of the Turkish prisons.”
Falakadin Kakayi, a Kurdish author and politician who introduced Besikci at the seminar said that, perhaps for the first time, the dissident author was demonstrating some optimism about the future of the Kurds.
In his meeting with Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani, Besikci said, “Your victory is near and your future is very bright.” Kakayi quoted to the audience. “It was a first for Besikci to talk positively about the future of the Kurds,” he said.
Bisekci left the seminar one-shoe poorer than when he arrived, but perhaps richer in understanding of just how much his struggle is honored by the world’s Kurds. At the end of the seminar Farhad Pirbal, author and lecturer at Salahaddin University, bowed at Besikci’s foot, slipped the author’s shoe from his left foot, and raised it like a trophy. “This shoe is more precious than the fortunes and riches of the Ottoman Empire, and I will be keeping it in the Kurdistan museum,” Pirbal said, refusing pleas by attendants to return the shoe until the visitor could buy another.
The following day, asked about the shoe, Pirbal said: “We do not have a museum in the Kurdistan Region, but if the Kurdistan government opens one I will give them the shoe.”
When Besikci met Barzani, the president told him he had nothing to give as a worthwhile gift from Kurdistan except the Medal of Barzani. He expressed hope that receiving it would not cause the Turk problems when he returns to this country. Witnesses said the author later proudly wore the medal at the seminar.
İbrahim Gürbüz, chairman of the Ismail Besikci Foundation, told Rudaw that the historian’s visit to Kurdistan was the fulfillment of a dream; “Besikci never travelled abroad, and his dream was to visit Kurdistan. Today, he has fulfilled his dream.” Besikci was born in 1939 in the town of Corum in the Black Sea Region of northern Turkey. In 1962, he graduated from the political science department of Ankara University, and later became a lecturer at Ataturk University. In 1967, he earned his doctorate in sociology. His thesis, titled A social Research about Tribes, is considered one of the best examples of social research in Turkey.