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August 26, 2012, Sunday

What is the PKK trying to do?

Following the new wave of violence committed by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the question was raised: What is the PKK after?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions in Turkey, but there is no clear-cut answer. Is it after an independent Kurdish state or an autonomous Kurdish entity within the borders of Turkey? Is the PKK likely to settle for a decentralized and democratic Turkey?

I do not think that the PKK followers, and the PKK leadership, are clear about the objectives of the organization. This may be because the objective is irrelevant if the war is waged in the service of others. Orhan Miroğlu, a prominent Kurdish author, argues that the PKK's war is no longer the war of the Kurds but that of others. This is to say that the PKK has become a war machine, a proxy of other wars in the region.

I have always thought of the PKK as a creation of the Kurdish question. But for some time it seems that it has a life independent of the Kurdish question. Even if democratic Kurdish demands are met by Turkey, the organization will continue to survive and organize terrorist activities to destabilize Turkey.

The problem is that so long as the PKK exists as an armed organization with some degree of political support among the Kurds, it is unlikely that the Turkish state will take steps to meet the political demand of the Kurds. So the presence of the PKK complicates the matter and deters the government from taking political initiatives. The only way to resolve this dilemma is to negotiate a settlement with the PKK itself. But this is getting more and more difficult as the PKK increasingly targets civilians and attempts to take control of some areas in the Southeast. No government in Turkey would survive if it sits down and negotiates with the PKK out of weakness during the time of a major PKK assault.

The recent wave of terrorism only justifies the government's security-centric approach to the Kurdish problem. We all know that this is ineffective in resolving the issue and is certain to damage Turkey's standards of democracy, pluralism and human rights. The danger is that an increase in PKK terrorist acts is likely to accelerate the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) new tendency towards an authoritarian model of government. The fight against the PKK has always been a perfect excuse to limit some basic human rights like freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right to assembly and to form political parties, etc. The AK Party reign will not be an exception.

We know very well that the Kurdish question is a fertile ground for the securitization of politics in this country. The nature of the Kurdish question has enabled the state and nationalists to describe it as an existential threat to Turkey. Thus, on this issue democracy is postponed, human rights are ignored and pluralism is denied. In my last column here two weeks earlier I stated:

“Resolving the Kurdish question is the key to consolidating democracy in Turkey. This is so because this question has the potential to securitize Turkish politics and justify an authoritarian change which would seriously limit the rights and liberties of all.”

After the Gaziantep massacre by the PKK we have seen once again the potential of the Kurdish question and the PKK to securitize Turkish politics. This is nothing new. It has been the case since 1925, the date of the Kurdish rebellion and the establishment of a single-party government in Turkey.

What is the PKK trying to do? My answer to this question is: By increasing its terror activities, it is trying to force the government to adopt really harsh methods against the Kurds and become even more authoritarian in its style. Such a response from the government would justify the PKK's existence and activities and cover up the war which the PKK is waging on behalf of regional powers.

Previous articles of the columnist