2046 - Turkey, Sirnak province, Hakkari mountains near the Iraqi border
This land was beautiful once. Snow capped mountains. Lush green valleys. My father, Demir, and I would hike through the Hakkari mountain range almost every winter. Our fellow hikers would regale us with tales of different cultures,spanning the hills of Europe and the Pacific Crest Trail of North America.
Now the mountains lay bare, too hot for snow to form even in the winter. The rivers are dried up and the few trees left were cut into firewood by the enemy standing before us. For eight years, Iled the Hakkari Mountain Warfare and Commando Brigade. We guard this region, but only in the last four years have we had to dig in as much as we have. My men are positioned at various lookout posts and camps built deep inside the Hakkari chain of mountains on the Turkish side of the border. Our drones fly across the valley, scanning areas too remote for us to monitor otherwise. Once, our job was simply to fight against invading militants and hold a stalemate with the Kurds, now we work alongside the Kurds to hold back an even greater threat.
Over one million Iraqi refugees wait in the valley below, on their side of the border. Some in the West say we should let them in, but we know better. If not for my men and I, these refugees and the extremist elements among them would cut across the border, my border, and bring their chaos and desperation onto Turkish lands.
Just a year earlier, February saw refugee numbers swell to nearly three million. There were days when we couldn’t see the valley at all, just a sea of bodies. But even in the face of their deafening protests, their attempted marches across our side of the border, we held them off. Mostabandoned the valley and traveled west to try and cross through Syria, only to find Turkish battalions guarding the full length of the western border. No, Turkey wouldnot be overrun. Not again.
“Remember, Sema, stay close to me and hold your head high with pride,” my father said, as he led just over one hundred student protesters out of the Kocatepe Cami mosque towards the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. “It may not feel like it, but we are fighting for the heart of our people.”
From an early age, my father taughtmy younger brothers and I what it truly meant to stand up for an ideal. His fight was for the welfare of those refugees escaping the failed states of Syria and Iraq. ‘It is our duty as Muslims to help our fellow Muslims,’ my father would say, ‘To protect them against the chaos of dictators and the extremist barbarians.’ A professor of international law at Ankara University, he believed in the liberal ideals that democracy afforded, and he believed in sharing the fruits of those ideals with all who yearned for it.
The Turkey my father grew up in shared his values. The Turkey my father grew up in wanted to lead the Arab world. But thenwhen the price of oil fell.
After the climate turned, it was as if the world decided oil was a plague. Within a decade, most of the world’s cars, trucks, and planes ran on electricity. No longer dependent on our oil, the world’s interest in the region disappeared. No more aid flowed into the Middle East. No more Western military interventions. No more humanitarian relief. The world stopped caring. Many welcomed what they saw as the end of Western meddling into Arab affairs,but it wasn’t long before one by one the Arab countries sank back into the deserts.
The scorching sun dried up the rivers and made it nearly impossible to grow food inside the Middle East. The deserts spread quickly, no longer held at bay by lush valleys, their sand blew across the land. With the loss of the high oil revenue of the past, many of the Arab nations couldn’t afford to buy what was left of the world’s food surpluses on the open market. Food riots exploded everywhere as people went hungry. Governments fell. Populations collapsed. And those not trapped by the growing ranks of extremists fled north across the Mediterranean and through Turkey, my Turkey.
The day I marched with my father was the day Turkey closed its border. By that point, over fifteen million Syrian, Iraqi, Jordanian, and Egyptian refugees had crossed into Turkey, overwhelming government resources. With severe food rationing already in place in over half of Turkey’s provinces, frequent food riots threatening local municipalities, and threats of trade sanctions from the Europeans, the government could not risk letting any more refugees through its well tread borders. This didnot sit well with my father.
“Remember, everyone,” my father yelled over the honking traffic, “the media will be waiting for us when we arrive. Use the sound bites we practiced. It’s important that during our protest the media reports a consistent message from us, that’s how our cause will get coverage, that’s how we’ll make an impact.” The group cheered, waving their Turkish flags and raising their protest banners high into the air.
Our group marched west on Olgunlar Street, chanting protest slogans and sharing in each other’s excitement. Once we passed Konur street, a large group of men dressed in red t-shirts turned onto the street ahead of us, walking in our direction.
“Captain Hikmet,” Sergeant Hasad Adanir call out, as he rushed up the gravel pathto my command post. I met him at the lookout ledge. “Our drones registered a build up of militant activity near the mountain pass.” He handed me his binoculars and pointed down the mountain to a junction in the valley between two peaks, just beyond the Iraqi border. “Over there. You see it? A few of the Kurdish posts are reporting similar activity on our eastern flank.”
I crank the binocular dial, zooming in on the area. Sure enough, there were at least three dozen militants running through the mountain pass behind the refugee encampment, shielding themselves behind boulders and mountain trenches. Most carried rifles and heavy automatic weapons, but a few looked like they were carrying rocket launchers and mortar equipment that could haveposed a threat to our lookout positions.
“Are the fighter drones ready to launch?”
“They will be airborne in five minutes, sir.”
I turned to the officers on my right. “Jacop, fly a drone towards that mass of people. I want them warned before we start firing.”
I looked through the binoculars again, something seemed off. “Hasad, did you notice something different about the refugees this morning?”
“No sir. What do you see?”
“Don’t you find it odd that most of the tents have been taken down, especially with this summer heat?” I panned the binoculars across the valley. “Many of their belongings seem to be packed as well. They’ve been planning.”
“What are you saying? You think they’ll rush us? That hasn’t happened in years. They wouldn’t dare!”
I turned to my team behind me. “Alert the line. I want every lookout team to ready their sniper rifles. Ender, Irem, contact the police chief at Cizre. If any make it through, his town will attract most of the runners. Hasad, just in case, contact central command, tell them we need a bomber squadron flown out here immediately.”
The summer heat was a grueling part of this assignment, but for most of the men, shooting down those desperate enough to cut across our border—men, women, even children—was the hardest part of the job.
“Father, those men,” I tugged at his shirt to grab his attention.
The group in red pointed at us with clubs and steel rods, then started walking faster towards us.Their faces were cold and calculating.
Father stopped our group at the sight of them. “Sema, go to the back.”
“But father, I want to—”
“Go. Now.” He pushed me backward. The students at the front pull me behind them.
“Professor, don’t worry, we’ll protect you,” said one of the larger students at the front. The men in the group pushed their way to the front, ahead of the women. Ahead of me.
“No, everyone, no. We will not resort to violence. That is not our way and that is not what I have taught you. No one needs to get hurt here today.”
The group in red neared and started yelling at us: “Traitors! No more Arabs!This is our land! Go home!“
“Nida, call the cops. Once they get here, we’ll be on our way. I’ll buy us time.”
Against his students’ objections, my father walked forwards to meet the men in red.
Surveillance drones hovered over aseaof desperate refugees along the full length of valley below.
“Captain, you’re live.” Jacop handed me a mic.
“Attention citizens of Iraq and the bordering Arab states,” my voice boomed through the drones’ speakers and echoed throughout the mountain range, “we know what you’re planning. Do not attempt to cross the border. Anyone who passes the line of scorched earth will be shot. This is your only warning.
“To the militants hiding in the mountains, you have five minutes to head south, back into Iraqi land, or else our drones will strike at your—”
Dozens of mortar rounds fired from behind the Iraqi mountain fortifications. Theycrashed into the mountain faces on the Turkish side.One hit dangerously close to our lookout post, shaking the ground beneath our feet. Rockslides rained down the cliffs below. Hundreds of thousands of the waiting refugees began sprinting forward, cheering loudly with every stride.
It was happening just like before. I switched my radio to call on my entire command. “This is Captain Hikmet to all units and the Kurdish command. Target your fighter drones against the militants. Don’t let them shoot off any more mortars. Anyone not piloting a drone, start shooting at the ground beneath the runners’ feet. It’ll take four minutes for them to cross our border, so they have two minutes to change their minds before I give the kill command.”
The soldiers around me ran to the edge of the lookout and start firing their sniper rifles as commanded. Ender and Irem had their VR masks on to pilot the fighter drones as they rocketed overhead towards their targets in the south.
“Hasad, where are my bombers?”
Peeking out from behind one of the students, I saw my father tug the wrinkles out of his sport coat as he calmly met the young leader of the red shirts head on. He raised his hands, palms out, non-threateningly.
“We don’t want any trouble,” said my father. “And there’s no need for violence today. The police are already on their way. Nothing more need come of this.”
“Fuck off, traitor! Go home and take your Arab lovers with you. We won’t let your liberal lies poison any more of our people.” The man’s fellow red shirts cheered in support.
“Brother, we are fighting for the same cause. We are both—”
“Fuck you! There’s enough Arab scum in our country, taking our jobs, eating our food.” The red shirts cheered again. “My grandparents died hungry last week when Arabs stole the food from their village.”
“I am sorry for your loss,truly. But Turkish, Arab, we are all brothers. We are all Muslim. We all follow the Koran and in Allah’s name we must help our fellow Muslims in need. The government has been lying to you. The Europeans are buying them off. We have more than enough land, more than enough food for everyone. We are marching for the soul of our people, brother.”
Police sirens wailed from the west as they drew closer. My father looked towards the soundof approaching help.
“Professor, look out!” yelled one of his students.
He never saw the rod swinging against his head.
“Father!” I cried.
The male students rushed forward and jumped on the red shirts, fighting them with their flags and signs. I followed, running towards my father who lay face down on the sidewalk. I remembered how heavy he felt as I turned him over. I kept calling his name but he didn’t answer. His eyes glazed, then closed with his final breath.
“Three minutes, sir. The bombers will be here in three minutes.”
More mortars fired from the southern mountains, but the militants behind them were silenced soon after as the fighter drones unleashed their rocket and laser hellfire. Meanwhile, looking down onto the valley below, the warning shots were failing to scare off the million refugees streaming towards the border. They were desperate. Worse, they hadnothing to lose. I gave the kill order.
There was a human moment of hesitation,but my men did as ordered, shooting down as many of the runners as they could before they started to funnel through the mountain passes on our side of the border. Unfortunately, a few hundred snipers could never stop a stream of refugees this large.
“Hasad, give the order to the bomber squadron to carpet bomb the valley floor.”
I turned to see the look of dread on Hasan’s face. I had forgotten he wasn’t with my company the last time this happened. He wasn’t a part of the clean up. He didn’t dig the mass graves. He didn’t realize we weren’t just fighting to protect a border, but to protect the soul our people. Our job was to bloody our hands so the average Turk would never again have to fight or kill his fellow Turk over something as simple as food and water.
“Give the order, Hasad. Tell them to light this valley on fire.”
WWIII Climate Wars series links
WWIII CLIMATE WARS: NARRATIVES
Southeast Asia, Drowning in your Past: WWIII Climate Wars P9
South America, Revolution: WWIII Climate Wars P11