Commemoration in a Historical and Social Context: 28 Years Ago, Halim Dener was Murdered in Hanover, Germany
From the 'Halim Dener Campaign'
Today, the name Halim Dener is not unknown to many Kurdish activists, but also to many German leftists. The fate of the Kurdish youth who fled, sought protection in Germany, and instead met his death on June 30, 1994, with a bullet from the gun of a German policeman, is linked to various political lines of development and conflicts. First of all, there is the conflict between the Kurdistan Freedom Movement and a fascist Turkish state apparatus, which has been supported for decades by the German authorities and German weapons in its war against Kurdistan and in the repression against Kurdish activists.
State repression against the Kurdistan Freedom Movement
"All state rule seeks to suppress existing social issues, such as the Kurdish question, through force and power, if they cannot be pacified in terms of its interests. This aspect of criminalization and repression of social movements is one of the causes of Halim Dener's death. The Kurdistan Freedom Movement, which has developed around the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Abdullah Öcalan since the early 1970s, has formulated a left-wing response to the Kurdish question. With its search for social liberation, it has been a thorn in the side of the rulers from the beginning, in Kurdistan and Turkey as well as internationally. Due to its anti-communist raison d'être and its historically close relations with Turkey, the German state has taken a leading role within NATO in the policy and repression against the movement and maintains a particularly close relationship with the Turkish government, despite repeated displays of tactical disagreement. As a result, pressure was exerted on the movement years before the PKK ban was passed, actually since the 1980s, when the movement began to organize in Germany as well. In 1986, a year after the founding of the Kurdistan People's Liberation Front (ERNK), the movement called for a large Newroz celebration in Duisburg. The celebration was banned and forcibly prevented because of a rumor that Abdullah Öcalan would appear and speak in Duisburg, which the state tried to prevent by all means. It continues to hold on to this repression in different political variations and with different legal tools until today. [...]" (HD Campaign (2020): State balancing of interests at the expense of social liberation. In: "Halim Dener - Tortured. Fled. Banned. Shot."; German original title: Staatlicher Interessensausgleich auf Kosten gesellschaftlicher Befreiung. In: “Halim Dener – Gefoltert. Geflüchtet. Verboten. Erschossen”)
Escape from North Kurdistan in the 1990s
But Halim's fate also includes the story of his flight to Germany, in this case of an unaccompanied minor who made his way alone from Kurdistan to Hanover after Turkish military forces attacked his hometown and tortured him and those close to him. This is a young person who had to leave his home and flee into a society that was foreign to him, as an asylum seeker like many other Kurdish youths in the early 1990s. But what drives a 16-year-old youth to flee? In the 1980s and 1990s, raids by the Turkish military were regularly carried out in Kurdish villages. The uprising of the Kurdish population was not answered by the Turkish government with political means and talks with the Kurdish opposition, which was working politically at the time, but with brutal military deployment and war thus showing no consideration for the civilian population. Trying to solve the Kurdish question exclusively by military means is still one of the most important reasons for Kurds to flee Kurdistan today. In addition to military action and martial law imposed on Kurdish areas, the Turkish state has pursued a policy of depopulation and expulsion, as well as the systematic destruction of agricultural livelihoods and Kurdish settlements. Hunger, the closure of health centers and high infant mortality in North Kurdistan did the rest to encourage Kurds to flee. In the 1990s, one in five asylum seekers recognized in Germany came from Kurdistan. The aggressive mood against Kurds in the early 1990s can be described by a quote from the then Turkish president Tansu Çiller during the election campaign: "Every vote for me, is a bullet against the PKK". According to the report of a commission of inquiry of the Turkish parliament in 1998, a total of 3428 villages were destroyed and three million Kurds became refugees at that time. 5500 civilians were killed and 17 000 injured in this brutal war. 2200 out of 5000 schools and 740 out of 850 health stations were closed. In addition, the state took measures such as banning grazing and mining alpine roads. During these years (from 1987 to 2000), a total of about 300,000 Kurds applied for asylum in Germany. The flight of Kurds has not lost its relevance today. According to the BAMF, for example, in 2016 about 29% of all refugees from Syria were Kurds. (HD Campaign (2020): On the background of the flight of Kurds in the 1990s. In: "Halim Dener - Tortured. Fled. Banned. Shot.")
Racist police practice
Parallel to the situation described in Kurdistan and Turkey, here in Germany, after the PKK ban against Kurds in the early 1990s, the political and media public was aggressively stirred up. Extensive agitation was carried out in the media and a climate of fear was created. “New dimension of terror" was a headline. Leading the way was Kanther, the then Federal Minister of the Interior. He demanded the deportation of all Kurds. The police were given a free hand. Posters were hung at police stations saying: "Control Kurds only with drawn weapon". At the time, Federal Prosecutor General Kurt Rebmann declared the PKK to be the "main enemy of internal security." The so-called suspicionless controls of all black heads - that was the jargon of the police - was the order of the day. The checks were not infrequently carried out at gunpoint. Today, the procedure is called racial profiling and often remains deadly for those affected. We commemorate Oury Jalloh and Christy Schwundeck and about 200 other deaths since 1990 of black people, People of Color and people affected by racism in custody and by police violence in Germany.
This racist police practice was Halim's undoing. Halim Dener fled to Germany as a teenager from the Turkish torture state. He expressed his opposition to the Turkish aggression against Kurds with posters here in Hanover. In the process, he was confronted by two policemen and fled. During this escape he was shot by one of the officers. On this night of June 30, 1994, sixteen-year-old Halim was killed by a shot from the gun of a German policeman. He thus became one of many victims of racist police violence - one of many deaths that were never satisfactorily solved by the German justice system. What was his undoing here, in addition to the police being riddled with racism, is ultimately a foreign policy that the German government has consistently pursued to this day: In line with the AKP regime, the German state takes rigorous action against all those who show solidarity with the Kurdistan Freedom Movement. Instead of supporting the efforts for a progressive society based on gender liberation, ecology and grassroots democracy, Germany criminalizes all those who do so and provides the Turkish state with weapons for the destruction of this lived utopia. In doing so, the German security authorities blur the lines between domestic and foreign policy and use any pretext to crack down on the Kurdistan Freedom Movement in Germany.
Memory beyond official politics
Thus, the case of Halim Dener cannot be understood without the historical context of the early 1990s, without taking into account the history of migration, the relationship of Turkey-Germany-Kurdish diaspora as well as the system of racist police violence. Moreover, this case is an integral part of the history of the city of Hanover and requires reappraisal in the sense of a dignified culture of remembrance. Even if the official policy does not allow room for a memorial, it is the duty of all of us to commemorate and resist together. What sustains society and allows it to exist is not the city, the police or the state legal system, but its moral element and the collective memory. We need not expect anything from the nation-states of capitalist modernity. We know their principles and values. We know what kind of people they produce: Masses of people who do not feel responsibility even for the most serious ecological catastrophes. Let's strengthen the collective mind and the working capacity of social practice to successfully work towards a more livable reality. The phenomenon can be well described by the example of a memorial place for Halim: activists from Hannover, together with the `Halim Dener Campaign`, insisted on naming a place. The city has firmly opposed this and has so far rejected any demands for a memorial place, an exhibition or a documentation. Nevertheless, the memorial place demanded by the activists is called "Halim Dener Platz" by Hanoverians. Even the search engine "Google" recognizes the place as "Halim Dener Platz". Also a documentation in the form of a book "Halim Dener. Tortured. Fled. Banned. Shot.", published in the summer of 2020, democratic forces of the society have collaborated and realized a publication even without the support of the city of Hanover. A result of social practice, a remembrance and appreciation beyond official politics.
This year there will again be commemorative rallies, demonstrations and actions around the anniversary of Halim's death in Hannover. Dates will be announced in the coming weeks at http://halimdener.blogsport.eu/.
This article was first published in the May/June 2022 edition of the Kurdistan Report.