Saturday, April 2, 2016

Parrots of War: Turkey Edition

This story, partly reprinted here, written by Amberin Zaman, was published by the Middle East news website, Almonitor: The Pulse of the Middle East, March 30, 2016.

An African Grey Parrot, Not Heval

Animals among victims of southeast Turkey clashes

Boom! Boom! Boom! The crash of artillery fire rarely features in the vocabulary of a parrot, but that is the only sound Heval, a once-loquacious African gray parrot, emits these days. Heval, whose name means “comrade” in Kurdish, was marooned in the heart of Diyarbakir's historic Sur district during three months of bloody clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish youths fighting for the urban guerrilla arm of the ethno-nationalist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

“Heval was stuck in Sur for 10 days with no food or water. I was unable to rescue him because of the uninterrupted curfew,” the parrot’s owner, Aladdin Kilic, told Al-Monitor in an interview at his “breakfast salon” in Diyarbakir’s Yenisehir district. “By the time I got to him, he had almost perished from hunger and dehydration. He was picking at his own feathers in a state of extreme stress.” Kilic feeds Heval a pistachio pinched between his own lips before adding, “My boy is on antidepressants now.”

Heval seems to be on the mend. But other creatures were not so lucky. The conflict has reduced parts of Sur and other neighborhoods in the mainly Kurdish southeast to blackened, bullet-riddled ruins.

“It's impossible to keep an accurate count, but hundreds of cats, dogs and numerous species of birds have either died or been wounded since round-the-clock curfews were imposed [over Sur] in early December,” said Sevgi Ekmekciler, deputy director of Haytap, one of Turkey’s top animal rights groups. Ekmekciler told Al-Monitor that many of the animals were killed in the crossfire between security forces and the armed youths who barricaded themselves in the narrow alleyways snaking through the district. Other pets simply starved to death because owners who fled the violence were not permitted to re-enter Sur. Kilic said pigeon fanciers, who kept the age-old tradition alive in Sur, were among the worst hit, losing scores of their most prized birds. Ekmekciler and fellow animal lovers continue to scour the streets of Sur daily for wounded animals trapped under the debris. At the peak of the violence, undeterred by the bullets whizzing above them, her team would bully and plead their way through police barriers to feed and rescue the animals, including a donkey and a bowl full of goldfish.

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