Invaders parade typewriters as spoils of war
Patrick Cockburn is an Irish journalist who has been a Middle East correspondent since 1979 for the Financial Times and, presently, The Independent. He was awarded Foreign Commentator of the Year at the 2013 Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards.
Friday 07 April 1995
But, if this was the most successful Turkish military operation since the occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974, as was claimed by the Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, why was it necessary to boost the official catch by including typewriters?
The obvious explanation was that the commanding officer at Silopi had pressed them into service because, however one arranged the Kalashnikovs and mortar bombs, the haul looked too skimpy to be convincing evidence of an important victory.
Signs of military triumph were elusive on the Iraqi side of the border. After refusing for five days to let foreign correspondents who do not live in Turkey into Iraq, the Turkish army relented and flew a group of us from their base at Diyarbakir to Silopi, and then on to an old Iraqi army camp at Darkaracan, a Kurdish village in a grassy plain. We drove in trucks up a zig-zag road into the mountains, which the army said had been a supply route for the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).
Half-way up, a mine explosion had created a landslide and swept part of the road into the valley. Turkish sappers had dug a muddy track, by which we got through. But they said the mine was planted only 24 hours before the Turkish offensive - another sign that the Kurds were not caught by surprise.
The base camp of the guerrillas was in a village called Sharanj, perched on the edge of a torrent and surrounded by poplars. As we skirted empty fields, a Turkish officer said: "Keep to the road because of mines - PKK mines." Not that anybody can be definitive about who planted mines in Kurdistan. They usually come courtesy of the Iraqi army and the most common is an Italian anti-personnel mine that looks like a large white mushroom. Another feature of the landscape is the Valmara jumping mine, which hops into the air and explodes when you touch a trip wire.
Back in Dyarbakir, I met an Iraqi Kurd who lives in Zakho, about 10 miles from Sharanj. Serbest Zakhoyi said that people from the Kurdish cities used to take their holidays in the village to escape the summer heat. Today, there are no tourists and few people of any sort moving on the mountain roads, apart from an occasional taxi.
For decades, the Iraqi army systematically destroyed Kurdish villages, forcing people to resettle in grim suburbs around the main cities, close to army barracks. Since the Iraqis fled in 1991, some of the villages have been rebuilt, but most of the terraces on the lower slopes of the Kurdish mountains are uncultivated or have reverted to scrub.
Kurds usually flee early. Warfare in Kurdistan has been more intense and has lasted longer than in Lebanon. The lesson learnt over 50 years is, if you run, do it before the roads are cut or blocked by other refugees. For the moment, the Turkish checkpoints, usually just a soldier with a red flag, are less menacing than those in Turkey itself. But the villagers do not know how long this will last.
They are right to be edgy. Power changes hands quickly in Kurdistan. Flying east, we landed near Batufa, where President Saddam Hussein had almost completed a summer palace when it was stormed by Kurds in 1991. A headquarters for the Kurdish Democratic Party for three years, the half- ruined palace is now held by the Turks. Their stay, in the face of international hostility, may be short.
The PKK will return and, in a country where everybody carries a gun, will have no difficulty replacing weapons lost to the Turkish army. Their greatest difficulty may be to obtain new typewriters. In Kurdistan, they are more difficult to buy than Kalashnikovs.
- 1 Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
- 2 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 3 Black Friday 2014: Opening hours for John Lewis, Asda, PC World, GAME and Argos
- 4 Bill Cosby: Isn’t it obvious why his accusers have stayed silent up until now?
- 5 Jeremy Hunt: 'I took my children to A&E because I didn't want to wait for GP appointment'
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Sarah Vine on Jack Monroe being a lesbian mother: 'If she was unsure about her sexuality, she should have taken greater precautions'
Black Friday 2014: Opening hours for John Lewis, Asda, PC World, GAME and Argos
Michael Brown shooting: Ten things we know – or know better – now the Ferguson grand jury's work is over
Ferguson riots: The most powerful images to emerge from protests over Michael Brown killing
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services
Exclusive: UK approved £7m Israeli arms sales in six months before Gaza conflict
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...
Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...
£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...
£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...