Meditations from the Bus
27.03.2010 - 28.03.2010
The village looked like any other, except that is was surrounded by snipers crouched down in the spring wheat. I studied the scene from the window, while the gendarmes searched our bus and studied us.
It was quiet and almost peaceful. There was the village, just a small collection of mud houses on a hill. There was the main road, and a military checkpoint, and there was us. And on all sides nothing to the horizon but green fields and rolling hills. An old shepherd led his flock past the young soldiers. A few cars passed, slowly, without being stopped. We waited, and when the search was finished we moved on.
I don't know what I saw. This area was active during the Turkish government's war against the Kurds, and 100's, some say 1000's, of men were killed. There are peace initiatives, and the violence is over in most places. Not all, and I feel that I'm witnessing some relic conflict of the great, ugly 20th Century.
You can still see the scars of all the ethnic partitioning that occured in the past 100 years. Kurds have fled their villages after attacks by the military, and later by the same Kurdish militias that were meant to protect them. The Suriani have fled for Sweden and the United States after attacks by Hezbollah. The Jews left for Israel in 1955, and the Jewish quarter in Mardin is silent and lonely. The Greeks left in a 'population exchange.' And the Armenians were massacred in the 20th Century's first genocide, though it's dangerous here to mention it, if not illegal.
We value democracy, but I wonder if this is really democracy, this separation of people into their own ethnic enclaves. For a moment I think that there was a value to the old Empire. I wonder how much was lost when half the people left for their own homeland, or found themselves in the wrong homeland, or died fighting for one that never came. If you want to see the damage that nationalism can cause, come home to Mesopotamia.
But I know the old Empires were no better. This landscape is littered with the ruins of lost cities. Epic battles have occured in these fields. Alexander defeated Darius near here. The Romans fought the Persians fought the Byzantines fought the Mongols fought the Arabs fought the Crusaders fought the Turks fought the Allies fought the İslamists ... civilization started here, and we've been killing each other here ever since. The thick city walls and fortified towns on cliffs bear witness to that. And it was in Mardin - the City of Peace - that Sheikh Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah issued his 14th Century fatwa against the Mongols, and jihad was born.
And so I watch Mesopotamia through the bus window, and I wonder what it is we need to finally bring peace. I met a group of German leftists here, down to support the Kurdish cause. I didn't mind the students' politics. I'm sure I was the same ... I was pro-Sandinista without ever having met a Sandinista, much less an actual Nicaraguan. I had a harder time with the couple my age. It doesn't take too much real world experience to learn that the basics - literacy, medical care, ample food - lead to far greater freedoms than Marxist rhetoric ever will.
And so I'm meditating on war, because I see it's impacts all around me, thousands of years worth of impacts, and yet the people here are gentle and warm and welcoming. There's a naturalness and an authenticity to every interaction that we'll never find in the west, and a lack of cynicism that is beyond me. You can take a man at his word. And though we know that dark crimes have occured, even in this generation, the city streets are safe peaceful.
And I don't understand this contradicton, not at all.