While coronavirus statistics from Turkey’s ministry of health appear to show that the Kurdish-majority provinces in the country’s southeast do not have very many cases so far, the numbers are hardly convincing. Many of these provinces share a border with hard-hit Iran, and the Iranian province of Kurdistan on the Turkish border reportedly has the highest number of COVID-19 fatalities in the entire country.
Given Erdogan government’s ongoing crackdown on independent media in general, and pro-Kurdish outlets in specific, there is little hope for accurate coverage of the pandemic’s spread among Turkey’s Kurdish citizens.
When award-winning Kurdish activist and journalist Nurcan Baysal wrote about the “coronavirus risk in prisons”, Turkish prosecutors detained and interrogated her on March 30. The next day, Turkish authorities also launched an investigation against Rusen Takva, a Kurdish journalist working in the province of Van on the Iranian border, for “creating fear and panic among the public” with his coronavirus coverage.
The Turkish government’s ongoing crackdown has made it painfully clear that Turkey’s Kurds –with the exception of those who back Erdogan’s Islamist project— can expect no respite during this public health crisis. While many violent criminals have walked free, Kurdish political prisoners, just like their Turkish brethren, will be at the mercy of the coronavirus in prisons.
It is time for the Turkish president to realize that the coronavirus infects and kills indiscriminately across ethnic and religious lines. Turkey can only wage an effective campaign against the pandemic by ending Erdogan’s discriminatory policies and polarizing rhetoric, and by mobilizing the entire country around a common goal, Turks and Kurds alike. The clock is ticking, and Turkey’s strongman neither has the luxury of sweeping Kurdish grievances under the carpet nor of rejecting the helping hand they have been offering to restore not only public health but also the health of Turkish democracy.
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