Kurdish Turkey gives warm welcome to Gaza Caravan

The first Asia to Gaza solidarity caravan reached Tibriz from Tehran (Iran) on 13th December, 2010. On the way the people of Zanjan welcomed the caravan and offered lunch. The mayor of Tibriz, Alireza Novin, hosted the caravan. The member of the caravan from Republic of Azerbaijan, Hakim Alijade, was the most popular with the crowd as he spoke in Turkish which is a popular language in this region of Iran. Infact, Tibriz falls in the East Azerbaijan province of Iran. Upon reaching Tibriz and two days before crossing over into Turkey the caravan was greeted by the morale boosting news that seven members of parliament of Iran have decided to join the caravan to Gaza. Read more

The second largest contingent, after India, of 13 members in this caravan is from Indonesia. Irman Abdurehman from this group informed the audience at the meeting in Tibriz that a voluntary organization Mer-C is planning to build a 100 bed trauma centre and rehabilitation hospital in Gaza. Immediately after the 22 days brutal attack started on Gaza two years ago, in which 1366 people, half of whom were women, children and elderly, died, a team from Indonesia set off for Gaza on 1st January, 2009, and signed a MoU with the Palestinian health minister to set up this hospital here. The Palestinian government provided a 1.5 hectares waqf land for this purpose and the Indonesian government backed this effort by readily agreeing to contribute Rupiahs 10 billion, approximately equivalent to US $ 1 million, towards construction of this hospital. Mer-C has raised another Rp 13 billion. The Indonesians have decided to have a long term association with the people of Gaza and share their suffering by continuing to serve them.

Bazargaan was the last stop-over inside Iran before the caravan moved into Turkey. Insani Yardim Vakfi or IHH was the host organization here which is a big Islamic charity operating in 125 countries. More importantly, it was IHH which had organized the aid flotilla to Gaza which was attacked by Israel on 31 May, 2010, in which 9 people, Ibrahim Bilgen, Ali Haydar Bengi, Cengiz Songur, Cengiz Akyuz, Cevdet Kiliclar - a journalist shot from close range into forehead, Getin Topcuoglu - who beathed his last in his wife's arms on the ship, Fahri Yildiz, Furkan Dogan - 19 years old, and Necdet Yildirim died and one, Ugur Suleyman Sonmez, is still in coma. This single incident has changed the equation between Israel and Turkey. There is attempt by Israel and US to label IHH as a terrorist organization and IHH is taking legal action against Israel in order to identify the war criminals and prosecute them.

The caravan was taken to its first stop Van in the form of a convey of vehicles. Several roadside receptions were organized on the way. In the public meeting held in a sports complex a speaker from the each of the countries represented in caravan Bahrain, Indonesia, Malaysia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan, Japan and India spoke. Advocate Gulden Sonmez and her colleague Nalan Dal who coordinated the meeting on behalf of IHH were both present on the ship Mavi Marmara, among the approximately 560 passengers, which bore the brunt of the Israeli attack on flotilla. Among other members present on the ship and who attended the meeting on 17th December, 2010, at Van were Abdulhalim Almali, Mehmet Gaken, Selahattin Ozer, Muhlis, Abdullah Camioglu, all from Turkey, and journalist Quassima Ibn Salah, of Moroccon origin. Among these Abdulhalim Almali was also wounded and is still recovering.

Later Gulden Sonmez shared with the caravan the preparations for the forthcoming event on 26th December, 2010, when the ship Mavi Marmara, having been released by Israel and repaired, except for the marks of attack, will return to Istanbul. Fifty thousand people from all over the world are likely to assemble to receive it. On 31 May, 2011, IHH is planning to organize a flotilla of fifty ships to the spot where the attack took place.

Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu has refused to apologize for the attack or pay compensation to the families of the deceased and injured. After UNHRC came up with an indicting report on the attack, another four member committee has been set up by the UN Secretary General with the objective of mediating between Israel and Turkey.

The next stop-over for the caravan was Diyarbakir, home of one of the martyrs of Mavi Marmara, Ali Haydar Bengi, after again being given several roadside receptions in cities falling on the way. The convoy had grown to about hundred vehicles on its second day in Turkey. In Diyarbakir police refused permission to hold an indoor meeting. People carrying placards with slogans in support of Gaza and Palestine and against Israel as well as photo of Ali Haydar Bengi, had lined the street. As a result a stree crossing meeting on an open truck was organized which was addressed among others by Fehmi Bulent Yildirim, the President of IHH, and the Indian organizer Feroze Mithiborwala. Mehmet Ali Zebec, from whoes body 9 bullets were taken out after the attack on Mavi Marmara, was present in the meeting in Diyarbakir. Hundreds of pigeons, symbols of peace, were released as a mark of commitment of the movement to liberate Gaza and Palestine.The route of the caravan passed through the Kurdish areas of Turkey, where there is a simmering movement for autonomy. IHH wanted to convey to the people that as the caravan composed of people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds, Turks and Kurds needed to live together in harmony. In fact, after the attack on Mavi Marmara people with different shades of opinions in Turkey have come together on the question of ending the siege of Gaza. As Yildirim mentioned in a press conference later, anybobdy who had a soft corner for Israel was disillusioned now.

Common people who came to public events of the caravan in Turkey wanted their pictures to be taken with the caravan members to express their emotions of solidarity. They warmly shook hands and hugged the visitors. The caravan has been able to provide a channel to the people's sentiments. Like in Iran, men, women and children came out on streets to support the caravan and send their greetings to Gaza.

 (Dr Sandeep Pandey is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee (2002) for emergent leadership, who is a part of the Asia to Gaza peace delegation. He is a member of National Presidium, People's Politics Front (PPF), heads the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and did his PhD from University of California, Berkeley, USA. He taught at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur before devoting his life to strengthening people's movements in early 1990s. He can be contacted at: ashaashram@yahoo.com. Website: www.citizen-news.org ) 

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