Life After Prison: Kurdish Stone-Throwing Kids

In 2006, under Turkey's strict anti-terror laws, Kurdish youth began to be routinely arrested at demonstrations where some threw stones at police. As young as 12, the so-called "stone-throwing kids" were convicted as adults for supporting terrorism. Trials were short, sentences were long, and the story of a child lost to prison became a common thread linking families all over southeastern Turkey. Then, in July 2010, Turkey softened its anti-terror laws and the stone-throwing kids, numbering in the hundreds, were set free.

Accounts of their arrest reveal their scant understanding of the charges against them, but in the 15 months since their release, the stone-throwing kids have exhibited strong "feelings of revenge," according to human rights organizations. Opportunities at home stagnated during their imprisonment, and gaps in education make the already difficult prospect of integrating into Turkish society almost impossible. A study conducted by Turkey's Mersin University reported that many Kurdish youth consider throwing stones at the police their only viable "political stance."

What does the future hold for the stone-throwing kids? Will they follow the path of Kurdish assimilation, which demands trading cultural identity for opportunity? Will they resist? Has prison radicalized them? By calling stone-throwing a "terrorist act," has Turkey turned children into terrorists?

As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan travels the Arab world touting the "Turkish model" and condemning Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, Turkey's own marginalized youth struggle to be heard. The future of Turkey abroad is being determined by Erdogan's bold pronouncements, but is the future of Turkey at home being determined by the stone-throwing kids?

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