Permanent state of emergency, the border gate that never opens: politics prohibited here

Permanent state of emergency, the border gate that never opens: politics prohibited here


In Van, the largest city of the Serhat Region in Northern Kurdistan, the policies implemented by the state turned the city into a “forbidden” zone economically, socially and culturally. This is the only city where the AKP extended the de facto state of emergency after the coup attempt.

Anti-riot water cannon vehicles (TOMA) and armored vehicles All over the city, high-walled barricades at the city border, security checkpoints that make you feel as if you are entering another country… Cops asking your identity at every point with long-barreled guns in their hands… The state of emergency, which is not on the agenda of anyone other than those living in this city and is now in its 5th year…

Having affected the whole world, Covid-19 pandemic forced the Turkish government to introduce new regulations in many areas. This includes closing border gates. While all border gates are open in Turkey, Kapıköy border gate between Iran and Van remains closed. The Van Chamber of Industry and other non-governmental organizations and political parties have made many statements regarding this issue, but the government considered these statements as “service to terrorism”. AKP MP İrfan Kartal said the opening of Kapıköy Border Gate would be a “disaster”. The border gate, which is not opened due to epidemic and security reasons, also harms the economy of the city.


Passing through the busiest streets of the city, through the flood of people, to the side streets. I am walking towards Prophet Omar Mosque. There are small shops everywhere. Tobacco shop street, cheese seller street, local dress street… The permanent state of emergency is reflected in people’s conversations and lives. The pressure on this city leaves no room for a conversation. At least this is my observation. In addition, poverty makes it harder.

There are so many sales booths, but nobody buys anything. I wandered the whole bazaar. I wanted to talk to the shopkeepers. I often say ‘qewet be’ [more power to your elbow] in Kurdish, but the answer is often not ‘spas’ [thank you]. Just like the salesperson in a bakery telling me “dear sister, don’t talk about politics here”. Speaking in Kurdish means doing politics, of course, but it seems deeper for me to think of a baker striving to earn a living.


Faruk B. sells tools such as batteries, chargers and pens on his stall, despite his age of 60. “We are a poor country,” he says. When I ask him about the border gate, he replies: “They cite security reasons. People die at the borders. Kolbars are dying to gain a few cents. This state intentionally wants to make us starve. Of course, no virus is transmitted from Edirne. Right. What else should I say?”


What else would he say? A young man from a nearby stall, says, “It’s easy to talk, but it makes people think. Don’t write my name, don’t take my picture. My brother has been in prison for 7 years. I do not want to talk about politics either. I come here every morning and open this stall. The money I earn in a day is between 70 and 100 TL. I maintain a whole family alone. Pandemic is an excuse. The aim is to keep these people poor. Poverty is difficult. Take a look at these streets, tens of thousands of young people are walking with no purpose. There is no job,” he tells.

Ciwan Haco plays from a loudspeaker, I want to stop and shoot it for a moment, but as I stop, the shopkeeper who sells CDs and cassettes turns off the music. He turns it on again as I walk away. If you are aware of the situation, his behaviour makes sense.


The situation is the same in a tobacco market. They usually sell tobacco from Adıyaman. Although Bitlis is close, Bitlis tobacco is expensive, says A. Y. and tells that he has no purchasing power: “In the past, this city had a soul. Now it has become a soulless place. I am a university graduate. I was born, raised, and studied in this city. I cannot even work for minimum wage. I am selling tobacco now. Nobody buys anything nor is interested.”

“These people were complaining Iranian tourists for years. Now we are bound to them. As long as the border gate is closed, there is no trade. An Iranian can go to Istanbul and come to Van by plane, but cannot enter Van by road in a few hours. If it is a matter of virus, this is nonsense. But they especially cite security reasons, which is also an open-ended issue. Let Erdogan tell us what this security issue is, so we know. There has been a pandemic for a year, but there has been a state of emergency in this city for five years. They’ll introduce something else tomorrow. They want us to be poor, to remain without an identity and finally suppressed. It happens partly, we starve and get suppressed.”


The situations are the same in the street where the most distinctive feature of Kurdish culture, ‘kiras-fistan’ dresses are sold. There are no weddings, no dressmakers. Many fabrics come to these shops from Iran. Sabri K. shows me fabrics and tells: “If I sell even one fistan a week, I start to think that I can save the whole month. This is the situation we are in now. Our women sometimes buy fabric to sew skirts, but only low-cost fabrics priced at 30 TL, 50 TL. We cannot make enough money out of it. We are waiting for the border gate to open. Maybe then we will get better.”

There are no products from Russia, but they call this place Russian Market, just like the European Market. Traditional items are sold here. It takes 10 minutes to walk from start to finish, but there is no one but the sellers and me in the bazaar. Nobody from this bazaar wants to talk. I see the deep economic crisis, but I still want to make them speak about it, to no avail. The bazaar can be closed, says a woman who is selling trousseau items. She doesn’t even tell me her name, even though I insist. The shopkeeper next door does not even allow me to take pictures.


I also talk about the issue with Van HDP MP Murat Sarısaç who says: “The AKP wants to create a de facto state of emergency in Kurdistan. Not only political rights are usurped but also economic rights are removed. On the one hand, trustees are appointed to the city, on the other hand 395 km border. The provinces that are bordered with another country have great advantages, but Van cannot benefit from any of these. There are only death reports at the border. The governor and a few bureaucrats make decisions about Van.”

People living in Van often create Hashtags on social media, so that the border gate can be opened. However, there is no concrete step in this yet.


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