Finally, a Newsy Post

November 4, 2007

Turks in Osnabrueck protest PKK

I heard the chanting before I knew where it was coming from. I couldn’t understand any of it, but it sounded like a lot of people. When I rounded the corner I came upon about 200 protesters marching along the main street with police escorts. Their signs were in Turkish. They were yelling in Turkish. The man next to me said, “They should have written their signs in German, no one can understand them.” Every now I heard a PKK, so I figured it had something to do with the Turkish buildup of troops in the Kurdish region of Turkey and Iraq.

And me without my camera. Cursing myself for being a terrible photojournalist, I ran back home to get my gear. (On a side note, I noticed that I was cursing myself in German, which I thought was a positive development.)

I made it back for the grand finale at the Main Square, where the Turks had gathered with their flags on the steps of the Rathaus. Every now and then, i heard the name “Gul,” who is the current foreign minister of Turkey, and a member of the more conservative, Islamic party. Towards the end, they started chanting in Arabic, something I understood. “Allahu akbar” (God is Great) and “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim,” (In the name of God, most gracious, most compassionate).

I was surprised at my reaction. I immediately tensed up. I know it was because of all the movies and documentaries I have seen about terrorists and suicide bombers who yell “allahu akbar” right before they blow themselves up. How sad is it that a simple prayer has become associated with violence? But, in all honesty, they way this group was saying it, it wasn’t like a peaceful prayer that the demonstration had gone well. It was said in a very aggressive way that made me feel very uneasy.

I was also surprised to hear the religious prayers mixed into the political rally. I have always thought of Turkey as a secular state, where religion is strictly separated from politics. But I have also heard that Turks living in Europe are more conservative than those living in Turkey. Ironically, the right to wear headscarves in public buildings is protected here, but not in Turkey itself. Go figure.

Anyway, the protest ended a few minutes after I got there. As people started to disperse, I tried to talk to some people and figure out what they were protesting for. Very few people spoke German. Finally, I found a few people who explained what had happened. “We are against the PKK, against terrorism,” said one young woman carrying a bunch of signs. “We have lost so many soldiers.”

An older man jumped in. “We are not against Kurds. Just the PKK. The Kurds are our brothers.” And then he pulled over a teenager and asked him to show his sign that said something like, “Turks and Kurds are brothers and those who try to come between them are bad.” I asked if there were any Kurds involved in the demonstration, but no one answered me.
Turks in Osnabrueck protest PKK

I know that similar protests took place in the larger cities. It will be interesting to see the coverage in cities like Koeln or Berlin, where there are many more Turkish and Kurdish people. I heard that in Koeln, there were Kurds and Turks protesting against each other and that it was very intense.

For me, the lesson is that “Muslims in Europe,” make up a very heterogenous group. It is impossible to lump them all together, although I think the news media do this too often. There are different divisions, like between Sunnis and Shias, as well as ethnic and language divisions. For example, in my favorite Kebab restaurant, the Turkish and Arab workers have to speak German to each other because they don’t understand each others’ languages. In Osnabrueck, there are different mosques where the Imams preach in German, Turkish, or Arabic. Some mosques have bilingual or trilingual sermons. I don’t know why, but I find it all fascinating.

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