Albert Einstein, who won the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, had said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
There is a lesson for Turkey in his words as the country is taking a long time to learn not to use the same thinking it had when it created its biggest problem: terrorism.
One encouraging sign in this regard came from a statement by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when he responded to the killing of 24 soldiers in simultaneous terrorist attacks staged by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeastern province of Hakkari on Wednesday. The prime minister called on the nation to act with common sense in the face of the attacks and stressed that expanding human rights and democracy is the antidote to terrorism.
He also said these attacks were aimed at provoking the Turkish people. “If anyone fails to control his anger in the face of this painful incident, the terrorist organization will have attained its goal. But we will not lose our patience and calmness,” he said.
Another encouraging response came from Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, who told reporters before the meeting of the Constitutional Compromise Commission that Turkey cannot take a step back in its efforts to draft a new constitution. The drafting of a new constitution is expected by society.
Even the often soft-spoken President Abdullah Gül reacted by saying those who have caused this pain will be faced with retaliation as he vowed “great revenge” for the attacks. His language might be harsher than usual perhaps because he was angered by the fact that the PKK carried out its attacks in a region he had recently visited to inspect troops on the Iraq border and boost morale.
The PKK apparently wanted to show that it is alive and well despite official or unofficial statements that it is about to be “finished.” Approximately 250-300 terrorists infiltrated Turkey from PKK camps in northern Iraq to stage the most recent attacks on military posts in Çukurca, a district in Hakkari province, which borders Iraq. There were simultaneous attacks on eight army posts. Wednesday’s incident was the deadliest PKK attack in 18 years and the fourth deadliest since the PKK started its campaign of separatist violence nearly three decades ago.
The PKK had intensified attacks in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast with its landmark attack in Diyarbakır’s Silvan district in July, killing 13 soldiers.
Professor Ümit Cizre of İstanbul Şehir University, who specializes in civil-military relations, commented: “We are all waiting for a serious, resolute and truly democratic opening, integrated with a new constitution, hopefully not thwarted forever by the PKK’s rising militancy since Silvan. However, it is true to say violence ruins every improvement made so far. It is very difficult for the government to initiate a political solution under these conditions. On the other hand, a package will have to come some time in the future.”
She added that if Turkey once again relies only on a military option, this will have detrimental effects. “Turkey’s ‘military option’ was, for many years, one of the sources of conflict. The irony is that just when the Turkish side -- the society as well as a government that is now strong enough to carry out its will -- finally came to feel the ‘fatigue’ of the military method, the PKK rediscovered it and raised the intensity and level of violence. However, the fatigue is gone now. Just when Turks accepted the counterproductive nature of violence in managing the Kurdish question, the PKK, for reasons of its own, has grabbed it as a new and unexpected strategy. Now, the state -- and the people -- is ready to focus its military resources on the Southeast,” she said.
On Thursday, news came from the military front as about 10,000 soldiers started to take part in an offensive against the PKK, making it the nation’s largest attack on insurgents in more than three years.
“It is urgent that policy measures be taken in addition to law enforcement measures in order to marginalize violence,” said Professor Cengiz Aktar of Bahçeşehir University.
As many other observers have indicated, Aktar said there is a golden opportunity in front of Turkey because it is engaged in the process of drafting a new constitution, which should include three basic concepts: a new citizenship definition to include all, decentralization, and the right to an education in one’s mother tongue.
“These three concepts would help tremendously in the genuine search for a solution to the problem,” he said.
One important aspect in this regard is that the government has a strong mandate to push for a change in the military coup era’s constitution and work on a compromise solution. Public opinion also views positively the government’s reaching out to PKK officials, as seen following revelations of the country’s intelligence unit being in contact with high-level PKK representatives by way of international mediation. This was contrary to the expectation that the public would not support establishing channels of contact with the PKK.
“Whatever happens, never quit the table, as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said,” added Aktar in reference to Britain’s problems with the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
But is society going to be able to take seeing another bloodbath? Everyone knows that “a great offensive” by the military means great losses, and observers warn that’s what the PKK wants -- to pit Turks and Kurds against each other in a civil war.
“I am greatly disappointed by what I see in television debates,” said Kurdish intellectual and author Orhan Miroğlu. He was referring to debates in which “security experts” are invited and talk about the military aspect of the problem.
“There needs to be many more civilians in these debates talking about the issue, not those so-called security experts,” he said. “There should also be Kurds speaking about their views on the issue.”
According to Miroğlu, who was arrested following the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup and released from Diyarbakır prison in 1988, the country has not yet faced up to its past mistakes, as the past is full of “dirty relationships” between some deep state elements and some deep PKK elements, and before this confrontation happens, it is hard to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem.
The most recent example of this is what Lt. Col. Onur Dirik, who has been sentenced to three years in prison for causing the death of a senior lieutenant and recently accused by the public prosecutor for failing to prevent the deaths of 12 soldiers in a PKK attack on a military outpost in Dağlıca in 2007, said when he commented that the PKK appeared to be “seriously” well-informed about the Dağlıca battalion. According to Dirik, his prison sentence is the result of an attempt to lay the blame for the results of the attack on him alone. Dirik, who was in command of the battalion that was attacked, has yet to face charges over his suspected negligence.
Moreover, Ayhan Çarkın, a former member of the National Police Department’s Special Ops Unit, in July said he would be willing to speak out on unsolved murder cases that involved illegal groups within the security forces. Çarkın made a series of confessions, which included Ergenekon suspect İbrahim Şahin’s orders to murder Kurdish businessmen and his involvement in the Susurluk Affair, an event that revealed illegitimate alliances between the criminal world, the police and the political establishment.
Akın Özçer, a former diplomat who served in France and Madrid and who has written about the Spanish system of fighting terrorism, said it should be understood that for the PKK to lay down its arms there should be a new law allowing PKK members political participation, and full or partial amnesty.
“That’s what Spain did in 1988 as a result of a pact among the political parties. Spain also made its democratic constitution in 1978. But it was only in 2011 when the ETA said it was about to renounce violence,” he said. “The most important reason behind the ETA’s decision to lay down its arms was the demand from its base.”
The ETA declared a permanent cease-fire in January but has not renounced the armed struggle as a tool for achieving an independent Basque state. The group has killed 829 people in bombings and shootings since the late 1960s. It is classified as a terrorist organization by Spain, the European Union and the United States.
The PKK, on the other hand, is branded as a terrorist group by the Turkish government, the US and the EU and took up arms against the state in 1984 to fight for Kurdish autonomy. More than 40,000 people have died in the conflict since.
“Sooner or later a solution will be found for the problem if Turkey sticks to taking democratic steps like Spain did,” Özçer said.
Long-time observers of the region and the Kurdish problem, like journalist Oral Çalışlar, noted in his column last week in the Radikal daily that a solution to the problem should have two aspects: One that is related to “how to silence the guns” and the other to address public demands regarding “identity” in a democratic way.
He indicated that this government has been doing more in that regard in comparison to previous governments, but said he had some questions. “Why were the negotiations [with PKK representatives] cut off? We don’t know. What is the goal of the broad KCK [Kurdish Communities Union, a political umbrella organization that includes the PKK] detentions? Why has Öcalan been isolated?” he asked.
Çalışlar is against KCK detentions and arrests and argues that these arrests will not contribute to efforts to find a solution to the problem because he says that if what the state aims for is to convince the Kurdish movement to lay down its arms and return to the domain of politics, it is meaningless to arrest politicians “who have not even held a weapon in their lives,” adding that those arrests serve to legitimize the PKK violence.