RAUF – Kurd separatism in Anatolia


RAUF is a film that leaves you with a nice feeling. As only children know how to do. Presented at the 66th Berlinale for Generation 14, RAUF, directed by Baris Kaya and Soner Caner, takes us to a Kurdish village in the deep heart of south-eastern Anatolia, with a backdrop of soaring majestic, snowy peaks.

A peaceful village, it would appear. Life in its utmost simplicity, in an unspecified time, flows slowly and calmly, immersed in nature but exposed to the freezing temperatures of the region.

The children’s faces, in their primitive schools, their simple games (a chicken, a donkey), shine with joy, innocence. An innocence that also remains when malice and trouble enter their lives. The anxiety of Alas for her father, Zana, the carpenter. She is learning the trade but her two companions make fun of her. Even the faces of the adults of the village, deeply lined by the wind and the harsh weather, emanate calm. Amongst themselves, in their rare dialogues, they communicate a dignified sadness. Alas’ grandmother is the figure that leaves us with the strongest impression. Sitting stone still on a chair outside their house, silently surveying the horizon.

Beyond the mountains. There, where they are fighting. For more than 30 years. From where she is waiting to see her son, Zana, return.

One of the longest-lasting conflicts in modern history. One of the most fatal legacies of the Great War. The Kurdish question, the right of the Kurdish people to have their own nation-state.

You do not see the war in RAUF. There is no blood. No weapons. Yet, beyond the mountains, menacingly looms the fate of the life of all the village’s inhabitants. As always, the children are not spared. Alas’ is initiated into the “world of work” making coffins. Alas wants to make objects, carve a walking stick for her grandmother. Instead, she learns to make coffins. The villagers ask her for their sons killed there over the mountains. Always more and more. There will also be a coffin to be made for Zana. He went over the mountains to fight together with the other young men of the PKK. Recalling the Kurdish fighters of Kobane is inevitable.

Divided for centuries between the Persian and Ottoman Empires, scattered by the Great War among four states – Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq – the Kurds with a population of more than 20 million, are once again knocking at history’s door. In truth, history wanted to grant the Kurds a state.

The recognition of the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people was included in the Treaty of Versailles. Atatürk’s comeback, with the birth of modern Turkey, responded to the Kurdish question by putting it away in a drawer. Collecting dust for a century. Systematically ignored, oppressed and repressed, the Kurds are not Arabs, neither Turkish nor Persian. They are Kurds. With their own language and national culture. Yet, the Kurds are not a united people, but a national group made up of clans and communities, quite often divided amongst themselves.

The betrayal of the leader of the Iraqi Kurds, Masoud Barzani, was still burning. Without his support, Turkey would not have had it so easy in inflicting a deadly blow to the PKK positions in the north of Iraq. In their history of struggle and guerrilla warfare, the Kurds have always aimed at achieving an autonomy within the states where they have been “received”. The only exception is the PKK, the Kurdish workers’ party founded by Abdullah Öcalan. The only Kurdish movement, which grew in Turkey, with a Pan-Kurd vision for the creation of a great Kurdistan.

Most of the Kurdish population lives in Turkey, in more than a half of the large urban areas of the country. However, not by choice, as the Kurds are traditionally a rural people. The “Turks of the mountains”. Their forced urbanization began in the thirties. The best way to make them lose their identity. The Kurdish question is above all an issue in Turkey. An internal question with a disturbing figure – more than 40,000 deaths. For more than 30 years, the Turkish government was involved in a hard military battle in the south-east of the country to crush the principal Kurdish separatist movement and its violent guerrilla warfare (classified as a terrorist organization by most Western countries). Hundreds of Kurdish villages were systematically destroyed, thousands of young Kurds ended up in prison, often arbitrarily. Many disappeared.

Setting aside dreams of a Marxist-Leninist revolution, shelving separatist-independence ambitions, the revolutionary leader lost (Öcalan has been in prison since 1999) and even the Turkish Kurds embarked on a path of agreement with Ankara. They laid down their arms in exchange for a little cultural and political autonomy. A truce for two years, then the conflict flared up again. Erdogan put his finger on the trigger once again. The abettor, the Syrian crisis. In the new undecipherable situation of the Middle East, it is unlikely that we will see the birth of a Kurdish state. The consequences for the future geopolitical balances of the region would be too damaging and profound.

Much more likely would be a merging of Iraqi Kurdistan (established because of the American no fly zone) with an emerging Syrian Kurdistan. Why shouldn’t the Syrian Kurds benefit from the situation (the de facto dismembering of the country) and do the same as their Iraqi cousins during the American invasion?

A Kurdish autonomous entity on the southern Turkish border is Erdogan’s worst nightmare. A nightmare that involves 15 million Turkish Kurds who, after the breaking of the peace agreement (drowned in the black quagmire of Middle Eastern chaos), could review their position and return to the extremism of demanding separatism.

Leaving behind Alas’ village, we climb up the mountains. Where the snow has melted, where the pink petals of flowers are blooming. Zana’s favorite color. Finally, Alas has found it.

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