“The prime minister should engage with the legal Kurdish movement, take its grievances into account and make it feel ownership over reforms,” stated the report, titled “Turkey: The PKK and a Kurdish Settlement,” released by the ICG today.
Headquartered in Brussels with offices in New York, Washington and Moscow and a field office in İstanbul, the ICG report states that the Kurdish conflict is becoming more violent, with approximately 700 people killed in 14 months, the highest number of casualties in 13 years. The report also states that prolonged clashes in the Southeast, kidnappings of and attacks on civilians suggest hardliners are gaining the upper hand in the PKK.
“The government and mainstream media should resist the impulse to call for all-out anti-terrorist war and focus instead, together with Kurds, on long-term conflict resolution. There is a need to reform oppressive laws that jail legitimate Kurdish politicians and make amends for security forces' excesses. The Kurdish movement, including PKK leaders, must abjure terrorist attacks and publicly commit to realistic political goals,” the report said.
According to the ICG, politicians on all sides must legalize the rights sought by the majority of Turkey's Kurds, including providing education in their mother tongue, removal of discriminatory laws, ensuring fair political representation and more decentralization of government.
“Turkey's Kurds would then have full equality and rights, support for PKK violence would drop and the government would be better placed to negotiate insurgent disarmament and demobilization,” the report also said.
The ICG has been critical of the Turkish government, which it says “has zigzagged” in its commitment to the rights of Kurds:
“The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) initiated a ‘Democratic Opening' in 2005, but its commitment faltered in 2009. At times, AKP leaders give positive signals, including scheduling optional Kurdish lessons in schools and agreeing to collaborate in Parliament with other parties on more reforms. At others, they appear intent on crushing the PKK militarily, minimize the true extent of fighting, fail to sympathize with Kurdish civilian casualties, openly show their deep distrust of the Kurdish movement, do nothing to stop the arrest of thousands of non-violent activists and generally remain complacent as international partners mute their criticism at a time of Middle East turmoil.”
On the other hand, the ICG report said that contradictory signals have also come from the Kurdish movement, including leaders of legal factions and the PKK, which is condemned in Turkey and many other countries as a terrorist organization:
“They have made conciliatory statements, tried to stick to legal avenues of association and protest in the European diaspora and repeatedly called for a mutual truce. At the same time, few have disavowed the suicide bombings, car bombs, attacks on civilians and kidnappings that have increased in 2012. Hardliners promote the armed struggle, radical youth defy more moderate leaders, and hundreds of young men and women volunteer to join the insurgency.”
The 67-page report also noted that European and US counter-terrorism officials accuse the PKK of extortion and drug dealing.
“Mixed messages have convinced mainstream public opinion that Turkey's Kurds seek an independent state, even though most just want full rights within Turkey. The Kurdish movement needs to speak with one voice and honor its leaders' commitments, if it is to be taken seriously in Ankara and its grievances are to be heard sympathetically by the rest of the country,” it said.
The ICG acknowledges that finding the way to a settlement is hard, as terrorist attacks continue and the PKK mounts increasingly lengthy offensives; in addition, turmoil in neighboring Syria, where a PKK-affiliated group has taken control of at least one major Kurdish area near the border with Turkey, worries Ankara and may be inflating the insurgents' sense of power.
However, the report said that there is no clear conflict resolution strategy and Turkey's Kurds have not been convinced that their rights will be extended.
‘Turkish gov't should work toward ceasefire'
The International Crisis Group (ICG) recommends to the Turkish government that in order to establish an environment for progress they should work toward a ceasefire, urge insurgents to stop attacks, avoid large-scale military operations -- including aerial bombings -- and stand up to pressure for ever-stronger armed responses.
Additionally, they should urge the PKK to rein in factions that attack and kidnap civilians, plant bombs and trash property or throw Molotov cocktails in demonstrations, and pledge not to use a ceasefire to rearm, resupply or relocate; the security forces must limit aggressive crowd control methods, including tear or pepper gas, to an absolute minimum.
The report suggests that even in the absence of a ceasefire, they should:
- Address the legitimate, broad demands of Kurdish society for mother-language education, the lowering of national election thresholds, more decentralized local government and removal of discriminatory ethnic bias in the constitution and laws
- Change the Anti-Terror Law, Penal Code and other legislation to end the practices of indefinite pre-trial detention and prosecution of thousands of peaceful Kurdish movement activists as “terrorists,” and ensure that non-violent discussion of Kurdish issues is not punished by law
- Help inform public opinion about the international legitimacy of multi-lingualism in education, ethnic diversity and wider powers for local government
- Use the parliament and, in particular, its constitutional reform commission to facilitate discussion between political parties on reform and assure wide buy-in
- Make public a package of measures for reintegration and retraining of former Kurdish insurgents, once the time comes to agree on full demobilization.
The ICG's recommendations to leaders of the Kurdish movement include:
- Clarify what reforms Kurds want in language, education and public life; codify ideas for decentralization or devolution; identify precisely which laws and constitutional articles should be changed; commit to these reforms, advocate for them in Parliament and make a determined effort to explain them to mainstream Turkish opinion
- Stop demanding a “self-defense militia” in Kurdish-speaking areas, end any kind of illegal political organization in Turkey that could be construed as a parallel state and remain committed to ending the fighting and disbanding insurgent units.