From Anatolia to Berlin, from Berlin to Kurdistan
On the 25th anniversary of the Death of Cengiz Ulutürk - Munzur
Anja Flach, author and ethnologist
25 years have passed since Cengiz Ulutürk lost his life in the Kurdish mountains. Today he would be almost 50 years old. His biography is a peculiarity in the history of the guerrilla. He is probably the first Turkish internationalist who joined the People's Liberation Army of Kurdistan (ARGK), the predecessor organization of the People's Defense Forces (HPG), from Germany. Against the backdrop of, among other things, the racist murders of Hanau and Celle and the attempts to reorganize, it is all the more significant to look at his political origins. Cengiz was an anti-fascist, or more precisely, he was a member of Antifaşist Gençlik, the "Anti-Fascist Youth," and he had helped to establish it.
Cengiz's family was from Sivrihisar, near Eskişehir close to Ankara, but Cengiz had grown up in Berlin. In Germany, he found it difficult to express himself in an environment that was far removed from his own values, ideas, and feelings. A friend describes that he had a great dislike for his father, but a deep love for his mother. He visited her frequently and talked about her. His family led an isolated and closed life to protect themselves, but he felt that this was not the right solution in an environment of exploitation and humiliation. He looked for another way and came into contact with anti-fascist groups from Turkey, Kurdistan and Germany.
The so-called reunification of Germany had brought about an extreme nationalist wave. Pogrom-like attacks like in Hoyerswerda, the arson attack in Mölln, the attack in Rostock-Lichtenhagen, the attack in Solingen were the most blatant excesses, there were deaths almost daily. In East Berlin S-Bahn trains, migrants were attacked, even thrown out of moving trains. It was the time of the baseball bat Nazis. In response, youth gangs formed and Antifaşist Gençlik, a first migrant anti-fascist organization in Germany.
"Organizing for self-defense became a central issue of political work and daily survival. In this context, Antifa Gençlik emerged, which was primarily concerned with openly confronting Nazis and ousting them from central locations. Antifa Gençlik was strongly practice-oriented, but there was also an effort to produce analyses of conditions in Germany. " These were published in the journal Antifaşist Haber Bülteni.
The group emerged in 1988 in the environment of the Kurdish association in Neukölln and in Kreuzberg, where it ran a café in the squatted house Adalbertstraße 6. From 1989 on, the group called itself Antifaşist Gençlik. Cengiz also worked with the group. Friends describe him as approachable, warm, helpful and open. He had close contacts with Kurds from the PKK movement, which was not yet banned at the time.
Antifaşist Gençlik's core group was never very large, consisting of perhaps 10 to 15 people. However, the group had a large environment, including Turks and Kurds, Chileans, Greeks, Arabs and others. The largest mobilizations brought thousands onto the streets.
Most of Antifaşist Gençlik's members came from organized Turkish and Kurdish structures. "Many of the leftists have called us people without ideology, who do not follow any political line and are, in the end, a kind of gang themselves. In contrast, the PKK had a different position. They thought that it was better to politicize young people on the street than 'in the flowerpot' - that is, in a club while drinking tea, " is how one activist describes this period.
At the end of the 1980s, gangs of migrant youth emerged in many large cities, e.g. the Black Panthers in Berlin-Wedding, the 36 Boys in Kreuzberg, the Barbarians in Schöneberg. Antifaşist Gençlik tried to bring these gangs together and politicize them. Together they patrolled the neighborhoods, challenging the spatial dominance of the right-wing. In 1992, the group organized the event Birlikte Güclüyüz - Together we are strong! 600-700 young people came together at SO 36 to rap and breakdance. At that time, the Berlin Senate had started a campaign to stop the politicization of the gangs. Apparently, the VS (Verfassungsschutz) had sent an agent provocateur to the hall, and violent confrontations ensued. The work with the gangs was shattered. Self-criticism and analysis in the group led to the conclusion that much more educational work would have been necessary.
After the right-wing extremist politician Gerhard Kaindl, a member of the German League for the People and the Homeland and a candidate for the voters' association "Die Nationalen," succumbed to his injuries in April 1992 after an confrontation with young antifascists in a Kreuzberg restaurant, the political environment of Antifaşist Gençlik and the group itself became the subject of investigation. After a year and a half of unsuccessful investigations, a seventeen-year-old youth suffering from schizophrenia turned himself in to the police in November 1993. He accused Antifaşist Gençlik and its entourage, whereupon four youths were arrested and others wanted on arrest warrants went into hiding. The press, including the newspaper taz, adopted the line of the State Security Service.8
Two members turned themselves in to the police in 1994, whereupon they were taken into custody. Cengiz narrowly escaped arrest, jumped from the balcony of his apartment, and went into hiding. After some time in various hiding places, he went to the Middle East and joined the ARGK.
In September 1994, a trial began in Berlin against seven mainly Turkish and Kurdish anti-fascists. They were accused of "joint murder and six counts of dangerous bodily harm". In November 1994, the defendants were sentenced to suspended sentences ranging from fifteen months to three years in prison, and another defendant was acquitted. By then, Cengiz was already in Kurdistan.
Devrimci Halk Partisi
In the early 1990s, many revolutionaries of Turkish origin had joined the PKK, mainly from universities. At the party academy, the party leader, Abdullah Öcalan, discussed with them how the revolution in Turkey could be developed beyond the dogmatism of large sections of the Turkish left. The chairman suggested to them that they first set up legal groups in the cities in Turkey. This happened in Ege, Izmir and Istanbul, among other places. Thus, the Devrimci Halk Partisi (Revolutionary People's Party, DHP) was founded. It spread rapidly in Turkey. The Turkish state reacted with repression; starting in 1993, many members were arrested and given long prison sentences. The goal was to spread fear. The comrades went into the mountains.
An ideological magazine called `Alternatif` with a circulation of 20,000 was published. The group also became active in Germany and opened an office in Cologne.
When Cengiz joined the guerrilla, it was suggested that he also join the DHP, which he did with great enthusiasm. Cengiz was determined to learn the struggle from the fighters themselves and to develop the brotherhood of peoples in struggle. Inspired by Kemal Pir, he initially adopted the fighting name Kemal.
He became part of the guerrilla life and after his two years of training he moved on to the mountains of Anatolia. During his time in the Taurus Mountains, he experienced the hospitality and humanity of the Anatolian Turkmens.
Personally, I met Cengiz twice in the winter of 1995/96 for a few hours. These meetings, though so brief, left a great impression on me. At that time he had adopted the fighting name Munzur. From my diary: "A friend from Germany stopped by on his way to the logistics point. Heval Munzur is Turkish and grew up in Berlin. It's wonderful to be able to talk fluently again. He has joined a DHP group (Devrimci Halk Partisi, Revolutionary People's Party). We have already met the friends of the DHP in the academy. They want to build a revolutionary platform and take the struggle to Turkey. Their classes are in Turkish and also different in content, as they deal a lot with the mistakes of the Turkish left. Some of them will soon go into practice, to areas of Turkey and to Dersim. Heval Munzur understands my difficulties. Kurdish culture was as foreign to him as it was to me when he came a few years ago. In Berlin he was organized in the Antifa, so he also knows the problems of the German left. In Germany he was wanted. But that was not the reason to join the guerrilla, it was only a trigger. It is obvious that he is happy in the guerrilla. Munzur exudes an infectious energy and can't wait to go to the combat zones in the north. His greatest wish is to go to Dersim, one of the northern provinces of Kurdistan. There are also guerrilla forces of left-wing Turkish organizations there, such as TIKKO. What Heval Munzur can give me to take with me is his experience: 'It's important that you never approach things like, 'No one understands me.' Rather, you must first try to understand the reality from which the friends come. It's not always easy, but you have to remember that most of them don't know life in Europe.'" I took this advice to heart. He explained to me that in our area they are about 30 friends with the DHP, two friends were killed in the fight against the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) in the winter, Mizgîn and Ronahî. Ten friends will go into battle in the spring, he will also be among them.
In 1997, I met the Turkish friend Güneș from the DHP in Botan again. She told me about Heval Munzur. He had been killed in June 1996 on the way to Dersim. His group had been ambushed.
"We need independent self-organization like Antifa Gençlik, independent of state structures and parties, not in dissociation from each other, but at eye level. For this, new platforms must be created, new languages, new relationships. In recent years, we have become too isolated from each other due to identity-political attitudes on all sides - the German left is also identity-political. We need solidarity. But solidarity does not come about alone. We have to come together and learn to do politics intersectionally and at eye level," says Garip Bali, a contemporary witness from Berlin.
Cengiz`s life and struggle is a salute to all who resist, to the Antifa who fights in the streets against the fascists, to the guerrilla resistance of dignity and humanity, and to all who are determined to continue the struggle at any cost for a life in dignity.
All together against fascism!
This article was first published in the July/August 2021 edition of the Kurdistan Report.