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Sev­en­ty per­cent of the world pro­duc­tion of hazel­nuts comes from Turkey, and most of it near the Black Sea. Turkey insures sup­plies for firms such as Nestlé, but also for Fer­rero, home of the famous Nutel­la spread.

The tem­po­rary inter­rup­tions in exchanges due to the pan­dem­ic thus hit Turk­ish exports in this area as in oth­ers. Pro­duc­tion in 2020 is esti­mat­ed at 650 000 tons.

In 2019, The New York Times detailed how the har­vest­ing of hazel­nuts was done through the exploita­tion of Syr­i­an refugees, paid a few mis­er­able euros dai­ly for a tough and exhaust­ing job.

We know that multi­na­tion­al firms, in their con­stant search for the great­est prof­it mar­gin, take advan­tage of the slight­est dif­fer­en­tial in social rights on a world-wide scale. Turkey offers a most favor­able ter­rain for this. And even if Fer­rero pre­tend­ed to react fol­low­ing that arti­cle, the sit­u­a­tion stayed the same. But it is inter­est­ing to see that in the pho­tographs illus­trat­ing said arti­cle, cen­tered on the exploita­tion of “Syr­i­an refugees”, exploitable at will, there also appear some Kurds.

Noth­ing sur­pris­ing in this, since tra­di­tion­al­ly, the Kur­dish sub-pro­le­tari­at in Turkey has always been employed as cheap sea­son­al labor. The Syr­i­an refugees for which, as a reminder, the Euro­pean Union pays sev­er­al bil­lions so the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment will “hold them back” are thus put in com­pe­ti­tion with Kurds search­ing for work. Both vic­tims of exploita­tion and of racism, are in a face off before their exploiters who divide in order to pay less.

Before look­ing at the recent racist vio­lence against the Kurds dur­ing this “2020 hazel­nut sea­son”, which did not make head­lines, we would like to share Zehra Doğan’s tes­ti­mo­ny on this sea­son­al labor. This tes­ti­mo­ny, which con­tra­dicts the fable that claims “things were bet­ter in the beau­ti­ful sec­u­lar Turkey”, con­cerns the year 1995 and thereabouts.


One day, long after, the fam­i­ly went to work pick­ing hazel­nuts in the Black Sea region. There, I noticed on my own the dis­crim­i­na­tion to which I was sub­ject­ed, and I hat­ed liv­ing so far from my lands. When you are in a world linked to a past and a shared cul­ture, you are not “oth­er”. You are part of the major­i­ty. Even if you are dif­fer­ent, you don’t feel humil­i­at­ed because you are at home, and that’s all. The hard­est is feel­ing tru­ly humil­i­at­ed. Phys­i­cal vio­lence hurts but it is not unfor­get­table. Men­tal vio­lence hurts a lot more.

After a three-day trip aboard “black train 114” we final­ly reached the Black Sea region. They took us to the shore. Every­one had set up their tent here. There were only Kurds. The tents had been built with bits of plas­tic and under each one some twen­ty peo­ple of the same fam­i­ly took shel­ter. There was mud every­where. It rained con­stant­ly. The chil­dren were dirty, with emp­ty bel­lies, mis­er­able. And as if this were not enough, they had put up a sign that read: “The Dogs’ Place”. Can you believe it? In the 90s. Around 1995. We, the Kurds, were the “dogs”. When I speak of a shore, don’t go think­ing of a beach. On that spot, any­one who took the risk of putting a foot into the sea was drowned. Piti­less waves, swamps: it was a very dan­ger­ous zone for bathing. Most of the peo­ple did­n’t know how to swim. But those who were see­ing the sea for the first time in their life want­ed to bathe in it. Thus were cas­kets often sent back home.

This was the wait­ing zone. That is, in labor terms, “the mar­ket of humans”. The own­er who wished to har­vest his hazel­nuts came there, chose work­ers the way he would choose sheep and took off with them. After they left, anoth­er kind of suf­fer­ing would begin. Those who were not cho­sen worked in the mud until night time to repair the ram­shackle tents. They expe­ri­enced dis­gust for us. They would­n’t even eat a piece of the bread we had baked. They kept repeat­ing “dirty Kurds”. The adults argued with them every day, say­ing: “Why don’t you come to our land some day, you will see what human­ism means”, and think­ing the chil­dren did­n’t under­stand, they spewed every imag­in­able insult at them in Kur­dish. They cov­ered every­thing, their men­tal­i­ty, their ances­tors. My sis­ter Ley­la was tru­ly fero­cious. She gave them hell in every way possible.

You know, I was a hawk­er in the streets of Amed. I sold water, desserts, pars­ley, tof­fee apples, fruit-fla­vored pop­si­cles. I pol­ished shoes. I also sold books. All of that made me hap­py because I earned a liv­ing. But work­ing in the West in the fields, under the orders of racists, that was a real tor­ture. Over there, you felt the unbear­able pain of despair down to the mar­row in your bones.

Excerpt and trans­la­tion from Nous aurons aus­si de beaux jours. pp 250–251

In pass­ing, for those who may still be won­der­ing what forged the Kur­dish fem­i­nist com­bat­ant now fight­ing with pen­cils, words and paint brush­es and who had already expe­ri­enced cus­tody at the age of fif­teen, for those sus­pi­cious ones who say “but where does she come from?”, we strong­ly rec­om­mend the com­plete read­ing of the book before any fur­ther comment.

Recent vio­lence not cov­ered in head­lines is there as an illus­tra­tion of how this racism has advanced and grown, from the regime pri­or to Erdoğan’s to this day. The rags of nation­al­ism car­ried by the AKP, its ultra allies and the major­i­ty oppo­si­tion par­ty drap­ing Turci­ty on the Turk­ish Repub­lic con­tin­ue their racist treat­ment of pop­u­la­tions of Kur­dish ori­gin. And do not think that child labor has decreased either.

When a non-Turk men­tions the racist vio­lence that occurred recent­ly, it is in these terms: “In Ortaköy Sütma­halle, a vil­lage in the province of Sakarya in North­ern Turkey, eight men were filmed on Sep­tem­ber 4 hit­ting a group of sea­son­al work­ers from the region of Mardin, some 1 200 kilo­me­ters from there, who had come to har­vest hazel­nuts” the AKP media respond with “a tus­sle between peas­ants”. Social media under­lined the anti-Kur­dish racism on the one hand and on the oth­er, its nega­tion and the will for a “Kur­dish sep­a­ratism”. Oth­ers, as is cus­tom­ary, head­ed for base­less and sen­sa­tion­al­is­tic vic­tim pol­i­tics. A few intel­lec­tu­als and politi­cians from the Black Sea area pub­lished an appeal denounc­ing “…the chau­vin­ism, reach­ing the lev­el of racism, not pay­ing them the salaries they deserve, drap­ing flags around their necks and forc­ing them to kiss them, forc­ing them to sing the Turk­ish nation­al anthem, lynch­ing them…”

Zehra’s tes­ti­mo­ny then allows a truer per­spec­tive on this “tus­sle between peas­ants” as described by the AKP. A polit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive. Kurds in Turkey are not only a “mary­tred eth­nic group” or a “homo­ge­neous and undif­fer­en­ti­at­ed peo­ple”. Kur­dish pop­u­la­tions are also criss-crossed by ques­tions of class. Exploit­ed in this instance through a State pol­i­cy trans­form­ing them into a dis­crim­i­nat­ed against pro­le­tari­at, in town or in the coun­try­side, but also treat­ed in a racist man­ner in order to break up all sol­i­dar­i­ty among the exploited.

In the nation­al­is­tic retrench­ment we observe every­where, pop­u­la­tions afflict­ed by State racism in a sys­temic man­ner are sub­ject­ed to vio­lence, dis­crim­i­na­tions, repres­sion and expe­ri­ence them­selves as col­o­nized, third zone cit­i­zens. That racism is not eth­nic, reli­gious, but social. And when a legit­i­mate polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion ris­es up to face it, it is hound­ed, fought against, mas­sa­cred and impris­oned. The Peo­ples’ Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (HDP) knows the price it pays in per­ma­nent arrests, sack­ings of elect­ed mem­bers, and con­stant strikes against its pos­si­bil­i­ties of expression.

This nation­al­is­tic log­ic, the Kurds have lived it and expe­ri­enced it in their flesh for decades, as a legit­i­mate peo­ple liv­ing on ances­tral lands and wish­ing to do so with those his­to­ry has forced to migrate there a cen­tu­ry ago, on this mosa­ic-like Turkey born from the cut­ting up of the ex-Ottoman empire a cen­tu­ry ago, pre­empt­ed by an exclu­sion­ary ultra-nation­al­ism, cur­rent­ly sub­li­mat­ed by Erdoğan. How many are there now in forced exile? How many are in prison? How many of them are sub­ject­ed all the way into Europe by the racism of the regime’s henchmen?

When you open your jar of hazel­nut spread, even the organ­ic kind, tell your­self that the road it trav­elled may have start­ed in the “Place of the Dogs”.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges 
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Let­tres mod­ernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots poli­tiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…