IRAQ REFLECTION: “Violence attracts violence.”

15 September 2011
IRAQ REFLECTION: “Violence attracts violence.”

 by Stefan Warner

I recently attended a funeral for a Kurdish family killed by the Turkish military while it was conducting air strikes in Northern Iraq.  It launched a rocket that hit the family's truck, killing seven people, including a six-month-old girl.

I do not understand Kurdish, which gave me time to contemplate as I sat there.  Why did this family die?  Why will this six-month-old baby not grow old, be loved, and love others, like I will?  Why did the Turkish military send warplanes into Iraq that killed this family?

The Turkish military would say that the PKK (an armed Kurdish group fighting for an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey) claimed responsibility for an ambush that left fourteen Turkish soldiers dead.  So some might say that if only the PKK would stop the violence against the Turkish state, then Turkey would not retaliate and innocent people wouldn't die. Possibly.  But before condemning an oppressed group for using violent tactics, we need to understand the conditions that lead up to this behavior.

 Starting in the 1930s, the Turkish government started a policy of assimilation and "turkification."  Thousands of Kurdish people died as a result, usually during forced resettlement.  Well into the 1980s, Human Rights Watch documented numerous examples of the Turkish military forcibly evacuating villages and destroying homes to prevent the return their Kurdish inhabitants.  Earlier this year, Turkey's electoral board barred prominent Kurdish candidates from running in elections, and to this day the Turkish government refuses to recognize the Kurdish people as a distinct minority.

 I do not support the violence done by PKK and I mourn the deaths of Turkish military personnel.  But what can be expected when a nation-state oppresses an ethnic group for eighty years? I think Archbishop Hélder Câmara sums it up in his tract, The Spiral of Violence: “ Violence attracts Violence.  Let us repeat fearlessly and ceaselessly: injustices bring revolt, either from the oppressed or from the young, determined to fight for a more human world."

 Archbishop Câmara explains that there are three levels of violence.  Number one is some injustice such as slavery.  Number two is revolt.  Number three is repression.   In U.S. history, one can look at the Nat Turner uprising as an example.  Nat Turner was born an enslaved man of African descent in Virginia and eventually led a slave rebellion, which, when put down, was followed by even more brutal treatment of enslaved people in the south.  The violence of Nat Turner and his followers was not senseless.  It was the result of intense violence and oppression done to him and his people by white slave masters, who I believe bear the ultimate blame for the violence of the revolt.

I'm still a pacifist. I am still a follower of Jesus and I hope his example of non-violence can lead us all out of oppression and domination. However, I hope we who are proponents of love and non-violence will fight the temptation to condemn the oppressed, and look past the layers of violence, to see where the original violence started.