Turkish Kurds honour truce: New Year brings peace

YESTERDAY'S events in the hardbitten Kurdish nationalist town of Cizre may prove that at last it will take more than just a stone hitting a policeman's head to spoil the first ceasefire in Turkey's eight-year-old Kurdish rebellion.

The facts were the gruesome usual. A group of Kurds, mainly women and children, were peacefully dancing to celebrate the Kurdish New Year and first day of the ceasefire. A police armoured car brutally broke up the show. Strong-arm arrests were made. Stones were thrown. A policeman was hit on the head. And the police opened fire. Kurdish representatives protested and within an hour of the incident were able to make complaints to the Turkish Interior Minister himself.

All over the Turkish southeast, home to about half of Turkey's 12 million Kurds, only relatively minor incidents of beatings and arrests were reported.

For the previous 24 hours, only the sound of frogs croaking by the Tigris river mixed with the distant ululations of dancing women could be heard in this truck-stop of a town, its muddy streets and flat-roofed concrete houses overlooked by the icy slopes of Mount Cudi, once an important guerrilla stronghold.

The absence of gunfire was an eerie contrast to previous days and last year's events. Then, shooting continued all night in the lead-up to Nowruz, the first day of spring celebrated as a Kurdish national holiday. The majority of nearly 100 Kurds killed by Turkish security forces last year died in Cizre.

In general, the security forces seemed to be on their best behaviour, despite the shooting. Turkish troops, armour and police special squads took up position on main intersections, but officers said they had orders to respond only if fired upon.

'They had to announce a ceasefire. Their organisation is completely destroyed,' said one.

This Turkish belief may be partly correct. The few police attacks on mainly peaceful Nowruz celebrations yesterday showed that some Turks also still believe that whatever happens to the guerrillas, the sense of Kurdish identity that they represent can also be crushed militarily.

'We just want to see a positive response to the ceasefire call,' said one activist among houses with windows sealed up against lines of fire from Turkish positions on surrounding hilltops. 'They cannot pour concrete over this problem and ride rough-shod over it as before.'

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