Suddenly the walky-talky crackles. ‘There they are!’ says the man I am with. ‘Come!’ We were drinking cherry juice and eating cake. Just before the crackling I already thought I saw something move from the corner of my eye. We jump up, I stuff the juice pack and cake wrapping in the pocket of my traditional Kurdish men’s clothing and try to keep up with my company.
Downhill we go. I slip and fall over the dry earth and small stones, he helps me up and says: ‘We’ll slow down a bit’. But I don’t want that. While I go as fast as I can and hear the sound of drones above us in the sky, I try to see what is happening closer and closer to me. From the left a row of mules is moving over the flank of the mountain.
Shortly, I think within a minute, we cross their path. I stand back to give way to the animals, whose backs are laden with huge blocks of luggage, wrapped in strong orange plastic. The mules hurry over the stones and past jagged bushes, keeping their heavily loaded bodies in balance with their thin, strong legs. Alongside the animals young men lead their way. They also run. Solid shoes – like mine, but their bodies are used to this terrain. Both mules and men know the path, they have passed here so often. It takes my breath away.
In the village of Roboski the mules are unloaded. The work is practically done when I get there, together with the man who took me. He is a scout. When the smugglers are heading back from the other side of the Turkish-Iraqi border and cross into Turkey again, the scouts are there to check which roads may have been closed by the military and to detect possible soldiers or other trouble on the way. The smugglers and the scouts stay in touch via walky-talkies. Because the conversations can be intercepted by the army as well, they speak to each other in Kurdish, so army officers won’t understand.
The last huge orange packs thump down on the ground. I check them out. Cigarettes: Gauloises, MM and Prestige. There is tea as well: Mahmood. Every pack of cigarettes weighs 35 kilo. That’s 105 kilos on one mule. Most of the smugglers are having tea on the outside stairs of a house. Others are efficiently packing the cigarettes and tea into a small minibus with a 44 number plate. Malatya. It soon drives away.
Nadir Alma, 25 years young, was an experienced smuggler when he died in the Roboski massacre. His name was in the news this weekend. He received a notice from the court, urging him to pay an 8000 lira fine for smuggling in 2003. He was arrested at the time with several others.
Many people are flabbergasted. How can the state pursue a man it bombed to death to pay a fine? But would we find it okay if Nadir Alma had been still alive? Would we agree with the former Interior Minister, Idris Naim Sahin, who said in 2012, a few months after the massacre, that if the smugglers hadn’t died, he would have prosecuted them? Just because, in plain black and white, the people of Roboski are engaging in illegal activities?
The absurdity doesn’t begin with a dead man having to pay a huge fine. The absurdity doesn’t begin with the victim being prosecuted and those responsible for the massacre being free and in no legal trouble whatsoever. The absurdity began close to a hundred years ago, when borders were drawn on Kurdish lands and the neglect and assimilation of their inhabitants began. The borders made the smuggling possible, but the longer the suppression lasted, the poorer the people got and the more violent the times they lived in became, smuggling became nothing less than a way to stay alive.
Earning a living on rugged terrain while you are being watched by drones, and by soldiers from the ground and from their army posts on the mountain tops. Finding your way over paths on which many smugglers got into trouble with authorities before and on which in one evening 34 of them were bombed to death.
A state forcing its own citizens into such a deplorable and dangerous situation, that is where mind blowing absurdity begins. State, solve the problem. Relieve the people of their burden.