Kashmir wail with Turkish coffee
How about talking "Kashmir crisis" at a place that is known for dissenting voices, mass protests, dreadful massacres and historical statues of different ideologues in different era. Yes, I am talking about Taksim Square of Istanbul (housing Ataturk’s statue) which has become the central point either to celebrate or agitate against the governments or their policies since time immemorial.
Recent years has witnessed surge in European visitors in Turkey who take pride in standing with the statue of the Ataturk, the architect of modern Turkey, whose anti-Ottoman sentiments brought him laurels of being the secular leader of the East. The secular building of the Nation have seen erosion of Islamic belief that, according to Turks, left their country at the crossroads of a bleak future. Neither this country got full membership in the European Union nor did it retain the image of being the centre point of the Islamic empire.
In one of the famous streets of Taksim square, Istiqlal Cadessi, once known for its historical movements, is now very crowded for its shopping stores and cafes.
I was sitting with my Kashmiri journalist friend in one of the famous cafes where many leaders of Turkey have brewed the green tea while planning to fight for their political rights. Initially, we were talking in whispers about the movements that reshaped Turkey from Islamic to modern to present day country, which has now come to standstill at the threshold of Golden Horn weighing its options of which side to lean more. Turks have a very sensitive sense of recognising where you belong to, the only question a waitress in cafe asked, which Kashmir? Hindu or Pakistani?
Me and my Kashmiri compatriot were stunned at her query and couldn’t reply her for a long time. Kashmiri hardly change or discuss anything except politics, no matter what they achieve or how long they been away from Kashmir, they will never leave a chance to talk about bruising motherland and the situation our land has been woven in. Every Kashmiri in any part of world feels restless with pain and agony more than those who physically suffer being in Kashmir. The moment they find another Kashmiri in a strange land, they come close to share their history of subjugation and humiliation.
"It looks as if we are sitting in some coffee shop in Lal Chowk which has more history to it than this square. They remember it but we keep forgetting. And, Turkish has moved far ahead, we are still stuck in partition". Kashmiri journalist tells me in whisper…..
"Why are you whispering? We are in Taksim not in Maisuma", I said with sarcasm….
We both laughed to heart’s content like we were compensating for seven decades of pain and agony.
There came too much noise and commotion from opposite side of Istiqlal street, many people in hordes were marching towards Main Chowk with placards in hands which had slogans like we want our rights, Kurd Kurd..We are Kurd…Kurdish people’s movement….long live…
Young, old, modern and Burqa clad women were marching ahead surrounded by Turkish police personnel who were keeping an eagle’s eye on everybody. Very few women police were behind female protesters.
Kurds are suffering since the Ottoman Empire collapsed in early twenty’s when Ataturk took reins of the country in his own hands after the treaty of Sevre’s with European countries. Yet, under this agreement, the Kurds were guaranteed equal citizenship rights which were eroded gradually by successive governments in the region. The collapse of Ottoman rule ended in biggest tragedy for Kurds who got divided into three countries, Turkey, Northern Iraq and Syria. Though, the treaty of Sevre’s promised "nation of Kurdistan" but it never happened despite multitude of strong movements in the adjacent three countries.
Ataturk’s constitution didn’t allow any other ethnic group to demand any political rights with strict commandments to speak and learn Turkish in educational institutions. This led to constant simmering of tension among Kurds resulting in many Nationalist movements in the triangular region of three countries. It is pertinent to mention that the Kurds are the biggest ethnic group with eighteen percent share of Turkish seventy eight million population. Kashmir has lot in common with Kurds, be it political or geographical divide or facing suppression of movements from time to time since Kashmir got divided into two countries during partition.
The Kurd gathering marching towards Taksim square was getting bigger and bigger with shouts and slogans followed by huge contingent of Turkish security officials.
"Let us join them and raise slogans". My friend said…..
"Yes, at least we should give vent to our emotions. Back home, it is suffocating". I retorted…
"Have more Turkish tea…same like Kashmiri", Turkish waitress placed two small cups on table.
We both laughed, something strange happened while we were watching Kurdish protests…we became uncontrollable and were having fits of hysterical laughter to everybody’s surprise in a cafe…
So much laugh brought tears in our eyes and we started our outbursts, throwing shouts at people around us.
We were crying and shouting…
"Cry against suppression"…. he shouted in my ear
"Cry for one lakh martyrs"….
"Cry for Kununposhpora"….
Cry for Afzal Guru…………
"Cry for Prof Rafi"……..
"Cry for Insha"….
"Cry for Asifa2……We became ecstatic with emotional surge…..
The Turkish waitress was tapping my shoulder…. "Do you want more tea"……
My journalist friend was looking aghast with moist eyes…….both of us were trying to hide our tears, but at the same time feeling light, relieved and embarrassed….
I was looking for Kurdish people who had vanished in thin air after the scuffle had broken between youth and the Turkish army.
Turkish tea, outbursts and cry for those whose memory has left black dot on the history of Kashmir had strange affect on my nerves and I became very calm and quite…. I wanted to ask my friend about the challenges Turkish currency is facing due to American pressure but he seemed lost in making mental journey of Downtown Kashmir he had left twenty years before……yes, the downtown boy who was still crying at the massacre of Nowhatta…….
The writer is a senior journalist and author.