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Turkey: Over Tea And Television, Turks Express Their Anger At The War In Neighboring Iraq

  • Zamira Eshanova

As the U.S-led war on Iraq progresses and the number of casualties -- both civilian and military -- grows, so does anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world. In Turkey, the majority of citizens are against the war and say they appreciate their country is not actively involved in the military offensive against Baghdad. RFE/RL correspondent Zamira Eshanova took a walk yesterday through the streets of Diyarbakir, in southeastern Turkey near the Iraqi border, and spoke to people there about the war.

Diyarbakir, 27 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- As in the rest of Turkey, daily life in Diyarbakir, home to some 1.5 million Kurds and Turks, begins with strong tea and talk. These days, most of that talk is about the war in neighboring Iraq.

In most of the city's shops, restaurants, and cafes, television screens broadcast the latest news about the war. People stop, watch, and shake their heads in anger and frustration.

At one small cafe in Diyarbakir, local residents watch Turkish television and eagerly discuss the resistance the Iraqis are putting up against U.S. and British troops. An old Iraqi man who says he shot down a U.S. Apache helicopter is a hero among these cafe customers.

Tunjay, in his 30s, said people who respect justice and human life should be on the side of the Iraqi people. "America is unfair. I believe that what America is doing is brutality toward not only Iraqis but also toward the people of the Middle East. I am very happy to see how Iraqi people are defending their country and their nation," he said.

It's lunchtime in Diyarbakir, and several young women are window-shopping. As their conversation heads toward the war, one of them, 19-year-old Nida, says it is painful for her to see images of Iraqi children because she personally experienced the horrors of war -- a bloody clash between Turkish soldiers and Kurdish militants in 1993 in one of Turkey's southeastern villages.

"Since then," she said, "I can't see any pictures of violence or bloodshed. It makes me sick, and immediately my childhood nightmares come back. We were in the classroom. First, [armed militants] took kids of military servicemen and policemen. When they were gone, fighting started. Houses were destroyed. People were killed before my eyes," she said.

As the young women express their feelings about the war in Iraq, loudspeakers from a nearby mosque issue the call to prayer. Dozens of men rush into the Berat mosque in the center of Diyarbakir. Talk about the war in Iraq also dominates here, and is mentioned in all of the prayers. An old man's angry voice is louder than the others. "America is making a terrorist attack, using brutality and its missiles. The world's two superpowers [U.S. and Britain] are showering bombs above a poor country, which has no means to defend itself. And whole world is just watching this cruelty," he said.

The man said that, although no antiwar speeches are made at the mosque, most of the worshippers pray everyday for the Iraqi people and ask God to protect their fellow Muslims and to properly punish the invaders. "This is brutality. Allah Almighty doesn't accept brutality. Day comes and Allah gives them what they deserve. War between Christianity and Islam is about to start now," he said.

At one corner of the Berat mosque is Diyarbakir's girl's school. Dozens of teenaged girls in red uniforms who have just finished classes are chatting at the school's entrance before heading home.

In unison, they express their sentiments about the war, about Iraq and about the U.S.: "Nooooooo! We don't like America. We don't like Saddam. And we don't like [U.S. President] George Bush. Because we don't want war!"

The girls calm down, and soon they start talking about their favorite American movie and music stars -- Brad Pitt, Tom Cruse, and Jennifer Lopez. They talk about how much they admire the Hollywood stars who boycotted the recent Academy Awards ceremony or used the stage to openly denounce Bush and the war. They all say their anger and frustration is directed toward Bush and his policies, not toward ordinary Americans who oppose the war.

Radife, whose says her dream is to someday see Brad Pitt, puts it this way: "We don't like only George Bush [and] what he is doing. We don't like that he started the war. We are living in a constant fear of death. What would happen to us if Turkey also gets involved into the war?"

Soon, the girls leave for home. In Diyarbakir, the talk about the war will begin anew in the morning.