By Murat Cem Mengüç
The expression zanga zanga (alley by alley), coined by the dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, is strikingly accurate in terms of the nature of not just Libyan but most of the Middle Eastern uprisings. Whether he will become the winner or the loser of the conflict in Libya, Qaddafi seems to be well aware of his battlefront, i.e. the alleyways. The first time I heard the expression zanga zanga, I could not help but remember a harrowing paragraph from Franz Fannon’s The Wretched of the Earth:
“The town belonging to the colonized people, or at least the native town, the Negro village, the medina, the reservation, is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not where nor how. It is a world without spaciousness; men live there on top of each other, and their huts are built one on top of the other. The native town is a hungry town, starved of bread, of meat, of shoes, of coal, of light. The native town is a crouching village, a town on its knees, a town wallowing in the mire. It is a town of niggers and Arabs. The look that the native turns on the settler’s town is a look of lust, a look of envy; it expresses his dreams of possession – all manner of possession: to sit at the settler’s table, to sleep in the settler’s bed, with his wife if possible. The colonized man is an envious man. And this the settler knows very well; when their glances meet he ascertains bitterly, always on the defensive, “They want to take our place.” It is true, for there is no native who does not dream at least once a day of setting himself up in the settler’s place.”
Neither with the intention of offending nor with a desire to put words into anyone’s mouth, I quote Fanon’s words simply because they encapsulate a reality far too important to be ignored. What we are witnessing in the Middle East today, even though the historical context could suggest we are somewhat beyond colonialism, is revolts springing from native towns. So far, in the Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan, and Syrian revolts, there are no dominant insurgent groups who are long time opponents of the existing dictators, who have lived in the wilderness for years, and who finally, with popular support, begun to descend into the city squares. There are no Havanas, Moscows, or even Tehrans here, where the final confrontation between the ruling elite and a popular organized group to be showcased. Peasants are not involved, we are told by the Egyptian sociologists. Besides the mercenaries, the soldiers are reluctant, we are informed by the Libyan eyewitnesses. This is a people’s movement, we are informed by Syrian observers. And, from Tunis to Damascus, the oppositions are made of not ideologically indoctrinated young men and women in guerilla uniforms but composed of city dwellers, such as vegetable vendors, unemployed accountants, teachers, housewives and doctors.
For most of the Middle East, the next big curiosity is how the situation in Syria may unfold. For the Turks, on the other hand, a new front is opening, and zanga zanga. Since the beginning of the summer, slowly but surely, the Kurdish liberation movement started to resemble its neighboring revolts. Before the June elections, Kurdish political leaders warned the Turkish government of this possibility, and gave or delivered a deadline, June 15th, to either normalize the relationship with the insurgents (regarding the issues of amnesty and return), or face a new phase of confrontation. The government’s response was grotesque. First the Kurdish party was banned from the elections. Then, its 60 or so members, who ran and won as independent candidates, were individually forbidden from politics. Presently, attacks by the Turkish nationalist street tugs on the Kurdish population are a daily occurrence too. In other words, what used to be a war between the Turkish military and a communist guerilla movement is becoming an ethnic confrontation. In the cities like İstanbul, Ankara, Izmir or Bursa, communities are turning against each other.
The ruling AKP, having won the election, became bolder, it seems, and it has so far remained unresponsive or mocked the suggestions that the state should bargain with Kurds. Furthermore, emboldened with having brought the Turkish military under their yoke, the AKP government is acting arrogantly. Recently, they have announced a full-fledged war against the Kurdish guerillas, in what appears to be a joint program with the Iranian authorities. A respected politician from the opposition party CHP, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, described the new phase of the confrontation as the first civil war in the history of the Republic, given that for the first time in Turkish history, a democratically elected government decided to wage war against its own citizens. Turkish military have hit insurgency positions in both Turkey and Iraq, since the guerillas have ended their cease-fire agreement after the June 15th deadline.
Those who are familiar with the history of the conflict would know that jabal jabal (mountain by mountain) rather than zanga zanga best applies to the previous epochs of the insurgency. However, in the past, the conflict was between the autonomous Turkish military, who rarely paid any heed to the Turkish government, and a Kurdish communist guerilla movement. Today, it is not clear who is hit where, and some Kurdish communities have jointly set themselves as human shields against the all out assault on their militants. During the previous decades, the conflict sometimes drew near to the historically Kurdish cities, but it was also a known fact that the guerillas refused to battle in their hometowns while the Turkish military used them as centers of scare tactics and propaganda. However, there have been several incidents in these cities, in the recent past, and the present campaign is threatening to transform them into zones of conflict. Unlike the Western cities, like Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Bursa, these cities are native towns, in the most Fanonian sense of the word. The natives who have been, for many generations, dreaming of taking the settlers place, inhabit them. Moreover, organized armies are notoriously ineffective in city centers, and the Turkish military failed for over 30 years to subdue the Kurdish insurgency when it was a mountain phenomenon. As a critique of Qaddafi’s dictatorship in Libya, or Assad’s totalitarianism in Syria, as well as a fervent supporter of the Egyptian revolution, the leaders of the Turkish democracy should know better than bringing this ethnic confrontation into the town squares.