The Kurdish independence movement in London, 2003, Wikimedia
“I don't know what the situation is like there, but I know that the Irish, the Scottish, the Catalans, they're the same as us,” a Kurdish farmer tells me, as we sit on his watermelon farm, just outside Urfa.
Admittedly, his knowledge of the politics in Ireland are slightly out-of-date, as he pledges his unwavering support for the IRA. The situations in Catalonia, Scotland and Kurdistan are all very unique, and none can quite be seen as the same as the others.
But he does have a very good point. Perhaps many people outside Scotland don't realise that same political demands for independence, albeit in very different ways, are being made by nations across the world. There is a great deal that Scotland can learn if it looks much further south of the border, towards the Mediterranean.
I spent the last year eight months living in Turkey, and have just moved to Catalonia. What has struck me most is how much the same arguments are being made, and many of the same processes are taking place across these different countries. The world is at a juncture, as small nations assert themselves in the face of hostile states and rampant neoliberal capitalism. The next few months will determine the course of history for Scotland, Catalonia and Kurdistan.
As I write this, it is Catalonia´s national day. The streets in Barcelona are bubbling over with protestors, chanting for independence and socialism. Everywhere there is a great feeling of celebration and demonstration.
Even on my street in the small rural city of Vic, every balcony is adorned with the independence flag. There are free Catalan language classes, as well as heavily subsidises courses in Catalan art, music, sculpture and story-telling – all intended to integrate political ideas of autonomy into everyday life. Here, a holiday is more than a celebration – by its very nature, it is a protest.
Only months before, I was with friends in Istanbul, celebrating Newroz, the Kurdish spring festival. Hundreds of thousands turned up in the small suburb of Zeytinbrunu for folk-music, fire jumping, marching and dancing.
In previous years, the Turkish government had tried to shut down any attempts at organising the festival, sometimes resulting in violent riots. This year, for only the second time, the festival was permitted to go ahead without a problem.
Kurdish people have a long history of persecution at Turkey's hands. Kurds have been in active conflict with the Turkish government since the 1980s, when a fascist junta came to power. They banned the Kurds from speaking their own language and tried to shut down all Kurdish assemblies. In response, the Kurdish Workers' Party, or PKK, was formed to combat them. This was the beginning of the movement for Kurdish independence. Two years ago, the PKK and the Turkish government signed a peace treaty, part of which included freedom of association for Kurds within Turkey.
At the rally, people waved flags and sang songs. They chanted slogans demanding freedom for the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ozcan (better known as 'Apo', the Kurdish word for 'uncle'). Over the tanoi, politicians and celebrities made speeches decrying global capitalism, asserting demands for autonomy and spelling out their vision of a socialist future.
Such political speeches were commonplace at every subsequent Kurdish event I attended. Just as in Catalonia, the case for independence is woven into almost every aspect of cultural life. It is perhaps on this point that the Scottish campaign can learn most. For people to get out and give a positive vote, they need to believe in the cause with more than heads. They need to feel with their hearts that their culture and their community is deeply connected to a political programme. That's what these movements have achieved and it is, perhaps, where the Scottish independence movement is most lacking.
This is not to say that the Catalan and Kurdish movements are without problems. Indeed, they face great threats. When the Catalans do vote yes, the Spanish government has already said it won´t make a difference. They´re keeping hold of the region. Memories of fascism and civil war still linger strong and Manuel Azaña, the first elected prime minister of the Second Spanish Republic, is often quoted as having said “it is a law in the history of Spain that we need to bomb Barcelona every fifty years.” Certainly, the Spanish won´t let go of Catalonia without a fight.
While violence may be a threat to the Catalans, it´s a daily reality for the Kurds. The one area where they had some legislative control, in northern Iraq, has now been taken over by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, with dire consequences played out nightly on our newsreels. The Syrian civil war wages on and the armistice with Turkey is tentative at best.
By comparison, it could be far easier for Scotland to go independent. If it does, this could be the start of a domino effect that will encompass the whole world. These movements are not just nationalist, but anti-capitalist and democratic, seeking to create entirely new societies.
What people are demanding, more than just their own borders, is a meaningful democratic say over their own lives. People are calling for an end to the capitalism that has stripped away borders for profiteers and left them firmly in place for workers. It´s about resistance to our current world of war and greed.
If Scotland votes yes this month, we could move closer to that world.
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