Throughout my childhood my sense of Kurdish identity was always there. It was evident from our festivals, language and traditions, which my parents ensured that we experienced in diaspora. Over the last few years my understanding and outlook on Kurdish issues have become heightened, especially with the use of social networking. While Kurdish people have campaigned for ethnic rights in Turkey and citizenship rights in Syria and in many other regions, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has not given up its arms and has continued its military “resistance.”
When the PKK was first established it was because of a forced assimilation process in which many Kurdish people were forcefully displaced in Kurdish populated areas. Kurdish people were denied their identity and language, and Kurdish politicians who spoke out against oppression were persecuted. The tragic Dersim massacre between the summer of 1937 and spring of 1938, where an estimated 70,000 Kurdish people were killed by the Turkish government and many others were forcefully assimilated, illustrate the era the PKK was born in. While there is no denial of the historical persecution of Kurdish people in Turkey, equally no one can deny that the Turkish government has become more progressive and has granted Kurdish people some rights, most of which were long overdue. For decades, the PKK was an image of resistance and was symbolic of Kurdish grievances. They gained their legitimacy because of repression by the Turkish government, when Kurdish people had their literature banned, and when Kurdish activists and politicians were constantly being arrested, this secured more sympathy for the PKK.
We now live in an era where diplomacy is the answer to the Kurdish question, not armed resistance. The armed conflict has continued for decades, proving to both sides that the Kurdish people will not give up on their rights and that the Turkish government will not accept assaults on its citizens or soldiers. We can no longer afford to live side by side and continue killing each other. The PKK may have been perceived as a front for Kurdish grievances, but this is no longer the case, at least not for me. In the past three months, we have seen at least one or two attacks per week by the PKK, most of which have harmed civilians, and this is unacceptable. The violence perpetuated by the PKK has not solved the Kurdish question, and it certainly hasn’t done any favors for the Kurdish people.
It has led to the evacuation of many villages in Kurdish areas, the killing of dozens of PKK members and civilians and even the killing of a Kurdish politician, Yildirim Ayhan. A political answer to the Kurdish question will emerge through diplomacy and dialogue, not through bombs over the Kandil Mountains or from roadside bombs that kill Turkish and Kurdish civilians.
We can no longer live as enemies because Kurdish and Turkish people are not enemies, but in order for our relationship to prosper Kurdish people must be recognized as an ethnic group with constitutionally protected rights; our grievances must be acknowledged and even apologized for by the Turkish state. This conflict has damaged the economy of the Kurdish region, leaving many unemployed. Instead of the Turkish government spending millions on drones imported from Israel and F16s from the US, those funds can be used in Kurdish areas and eliminate the alienation the Kurdish people face. It will enable Kurdish youth to work towards a brighter future, which will prove to be mutually beneficial for both the Turkish state and the Kurdish people.
There are many steps the Turkish government could take that would gradually heal the wounds of the Kurdish people and pave the way towards a secure future for both sides. Kurdish people rightfully deserve an apology for forced assimilation in history and “ethnic cleansing,” and most importantly Turkish officials must not brand all Kurdish people as part of PKK. In order for peace talks to be initiated, the language of the 21st century must be used, not one that instigates violence over peace.
It is clear that the PKK cannot be controlled, and this means a political solution is the only solution. If Turkish intelligence had the ability to control the PKK we would not have seen the increased attacks in past months. Both Turkish and Kurdish people will benefit from a solution gained through diplomacy, and this is why it is important that we do not let attacks by the PKK become a setback for peace talks. Turkey could better its image internationally, and even regionally within the Middle East, if the treatment of Kurds were to improve. It could exert influence in the Middle East, but this is only possible when the Kurdish question is addressed through peaceful means, when Turkish officials end their enmity towards Kurdish people, and when our voices are not marginalized.
* Ruwayda Mustafah is a British-Kurdish writer, who blogs on Huffington Post, Kurdish Rights and Global Voices.