VAN, Turkey’s Kurdish region,— A domestic security bill prepared by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) stirred a debate in the country because it bans a traditional Kurdish garment called sal u sepik.

Many Kurdish citizens living in the southeast wear sal u sepik and pusi, a kind of scarf, in their daily lives as part of their traditions. In some cases, Kurds use traditional clothes only on special occasions such as weddings and celebrations.

The government’s security bill describes these traditional garments as uniforms for illegal organisations and requires a prison sentence up to three years for those who wear them.

Outraged by the bill, Kurds are protesting across the country to protect their right to wear their traditional clothes.

Kurdish members of the parliament recently protested the bill by wearing pusi to parliament sessions.

Pervin Buldan from the Democratic People’s Party (HDP) announced her criticism with a Twitter message.

Kurds also organised mass protests in cities such as Hakkari, Van, Semdinli, Cukurca and Yuksekova.

The co-chairs of the Hakkari City Assembly and the assembly members held their monthly meetings in traditional Kurdish clothes to voice their criticism.

Co-chair Lokman Ozdemir asked the government to revise the bill.

Ercis Mayor Diba Keskin said banning the clothes will not destroy Kurdish identity, culture or traditions.

“We will struggle in every way to defend our identity,” Keskin said.

Dilan Ihtiyatoglu, a university student in Hakkari, said the state still has no idea why the war continues between the Kurds and the government.

“The war continues because the state has been banning Kurdish culture, language and history for years. This old denial mentality is still continuing. If you ban our traditional clothes, you can’t talk about peace and democracy. An individual cannot live without his or her identity,” Dilan told SES Turkiye.

Dilan said there are people who never wore anything other than sal u sepik, and it is tragic to try to force these people to wear something else.

“People were sent to exile, they were taught a foreign language. They had to carry a foreign identity,” Dilan said. “I am not sure there is another group of people that are subject to government approval for their clothes. They are trying to eradicate us. Forget about young people, how are you going to force older generations to change their clothes?”

The president of the Hakkari Association in Istanbul, Semsettin Demir, said the group doesn’t recognise the new regulation.

“People can wear whatever they like. Bans like this will set the country back in terms of democracy. We talk about democracy but we never implement it,” he said.

Since the debate started, public interest in the Kurdish garment has increased. Muhammed Elmas, a Kurdish tailor, said he has been getting more orders for sal u sepik. “This is our heritage,” he said. “It is not a uniform. It is our culture.”

By Toprak Ekinci for SES Türkiye in Van
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Published by EKurd Daily on March 26, 2015