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Wednesday, 17 February, 1999, 15:41 GMT
Turkey's Kurds tell their story
Diyarbakir holds hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees
By Ankara Correspondent Chris Morris

The men from the village of Kelkum gather at the same coffee house at the same time every day. They play backgammon and swap stories and dream of going home.

Their village was burnt and evacuated more than six years ago by the Turkish army, at the height of its battle against the PKK Kurdish rebel movement.

kurdish men
Kurdish men are dislocated and feel disposessed
The coffee house is in the centre of the teeming city of Diyarbakir, where the villagers have joined hundreds of thousands of other refugees forced out of the surrounding countryside.

The intensity of the Kurdish war in south-eastern Turkey has faded as the military has saturated the region with tens of thousands of troops.

The sense of dislocation is as strong as ever, though. Conflict still rages in the minds of the dispossessed.

A few Kurds are being allowed to return to outlying areas if they promise to join a state-run village guard system. But for the majority of local people little has changed and anything which seems to offer a glimmer of hope is hotly debated.

Before his capture by the Turkish authorities, the separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan said he wanted to transform the PKK's main focus from military to political activity.

The PKK may not speak for the majority, but many people in Diyarbakir are willing to declare privately that the rebels remain their best bet.

They do not like everything the PKK has done in its violent campaign, but no one else has given them any feeling of empowerment at all.

There were, however, plenty of people who didn't believe his declaration that the organisation would turn to peace.

Fethi Demir was a member of the PKK who became disillusioned with Mr Ocalan's autocratic regime. He turned "confessor" after he was captured last year.

Kurdish tents
Living in tents only increases the Kurds' sense of misplacement
"There was a huge difference between the PKK we had in our heads and the reality of the PKK in the mountains", Mr Demir said in Diyarbakir prison.

"Many people stay in the organisation because they have no alternative, they have nothing else to believe in".

The lack of an alternative may be the real key to the sorry recent history of south-eastern Turkey. And as long as that vacuum remains and Turkey refuses to do much about it, support for the PKK will continue.

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See also:

15 Feb 99 | Europe
Kurd sacrifice for Ocalan
16 Feb 99 | Europe
A people divided by borders
14 Feb 99 | Europe
Ocalan appeals for asylum
16 Feb 99 | Europe
Ocalan 'turns up in Kenya'
14 Dec 98 | Europe
Ocalan renounces armed struggle
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