The recent wave of attacks on Turkish military personnel and Kurdish and Turkish civilians in the southeast of Turkey has many implications when we take into consideration its timing and the place of these attacks.
It appears that the Justice and Development (AK Party)’s constitutional reform package, whose implementation recently gained momentum is the main target of the new flare up in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) instigated violence. The PKK is also determined to deal severe blows to the growing ties between Kurdistan Regional Government and Turkey.
Recently, the AK Party formed an All Parties Committee to deliberate the content of the new constitution, and the Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) was also invited. The constitutional reform will have far-reaching consequences for Turkey and its Kurdish citizens in particular. The AK Party have made it quite clear that it intends to eliminate all undemocratic elements of the Constitution which was drafted in 1980s. Kurds have been the main victims of many of the articles of the current constitution, which deny them their ethnic identity and the right to use the Kurdish language.
During the last two terms of its reign, the AK party made significant strides in settling the Kurdish question, and these efforts were applauded in Turkey as being visionary and daring. Visitors to Turkey in the 1990s returning to the country will witness stark differences. The AK Party’s Kurdish policy has so far have led to serious transformations in the image Turks have of Kurds and destroyed many taboos with regard to Kurdishness in the country. The Kurdish region in Iraq is witnessing equally tremendous developments in the economic, political and cultural fields, and Turkey had a leading role in this too. There is unanimity among observers of the Turkish scene and Turkologists that the AK Party is the only political party in Turkey that has the will and means to address the Kurdish question in an untraditional and pragmatic manner. For the first time since the era of Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn ibn Ayyūb (Saladin) [His real name and what he’s most commonly known as] known , Turks and Kurds from Kirkuk in northern Iraq to İzmir in western Turkey, are talking of brotherhood and working together to build a new Middle East. This explains the unequivocal condemnation on the part of Masud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Northern Iraq, of the recent attacks by PKK on Turkish soldiers. Barzani deemed the attack an “onslaught on Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood.”
Timing no coincidence
It was no coincidence that the PKK attack coincided with the first meeting of the Constitutional Committee in Parliament. This made Cemil Ciçek, the head of the Committee, announce that the PKK attack will cast doubt on the work of the Committee. There is no doubt the new tension and bloodshed will not create conducive conditions for the AK Party to convince the mostly anti-Kurdish and pro-status quo Kemalist secular elite to accept its ambitious plans in favor for Kurdish rights in the writing of the new constitution.
Why is PKK reluctant to give the Constitutional Committee a chance to deliberate the Kurdish question in a peaceful atmosphere? We think the PKK is either being used by some regional powers as an instrument to settle scores with Turkey, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said. Or the PKK may think that raising the tension and putting pressure on government will bring about the release of its jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan and recognize the PKK as the sole representative of the Kurds. Besides, the PKK does not view the government’s peaceful approach to the Kurdish issue in a positive light. In the past, the PKK did not welcome any concessions government made to Kurds which were not made through its channel. The PKK thinks such measures will undermine her monopoly of influence over the Kurds and enhances the position of Pro-AK Party Kurds. Recently, regional governments such as those in Israel, Iran and Syria were not in pain to announce their intention to use PKK to settle their disagreement with Turkey. Israeli media last month published numerous accounts of the growing ties between the PKK and Israeli officials. Iran is equally infuriated with Turkey over the country’s decision to allow NATO to station missiles on its territory and Turkey’s support for Syrian opposition. The Iranians view these Turkish measures as threats to its national interest. Recently, Iran has struck a hasty ceasefire with the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), a pro-PKK force in Iran, to give the PKK a chance to concentrate its forces in the border area with Turkey. Furthermore, Kurdish sources have recently observed that a secret deal was signed between the Syrian regime and the Syrian branch of the PKK. During the last few weeks pro-PKK Kurds opened many cultural and youth centers in the Kurdish regions in Syria. It is unfortunate that the PKK allows itself to be used by these powers that have bad records of their behavior against Kurds.
Turks will not yield to pressure
Moreover, a basic familiarity with the Turkish mindset and history show that Turks are very nationalistic and proud people, and they are not the kind of people who yield to pressure easily. PKK should realize it is a futile to try and obtain Kurdish rights by means of violence. The age of armed resistance by nationalist forces is some thing of the past and the new age has given oppressed people new means to attain their rights.
It is equally important to point out that in escalating its violence, the PKK is once again driven by considerations of narrow party politics and not the broader interest of the Kurds. In 2005, for example the government’s decision to open a 24-hour government-run Kurdish TV channel, known as TRT6, was not welcomed by the PKK. The PKK launched what can easily be labeled as a smear campaign against the new channel. Murat Karayılan, a PKK commander in Kandil, called for a boycott of the channel, and PKK leader Öcalan, commenting on the channel via his lawyers on Jan. 2 and Jan. 8, 2009, said it was a US-driven policy: “These are all impositions by America. These are part of their view of the Kurdish solution.”
Besides, the PKK have stamped out any attempt by Kurdish Islamist and liberal elements to create a democratic environment in the southeast, and the PKK has so far violently opposed non-PKK civil societies in the region. The organization continues to dismiss all alternative ideas and have threatened Kurdish intellectuals such as Kemal Burkay, Muhsin Kizilkaya and Orhan Miroglu. Even Shivan Perva, the popular Kurdish singer, having been threatened by the PKK, dares not to return to Turkey. Consequently, a new pluralistic constitution which is currently being discussed will deny the PKK the opportunity to thrive on the blood of its martyrs, and will break its repressive monopolistic hold on Kurds.
In addition, the PKK new policy of escalation of violence may have serious and harmful consequences for the pro-Kurdish BDP. Now more than ever this party needs to keep a clear distance between itself and the PKK. Even the traditional supporters of the BDP in Europe and he US blame the BDP of failing to have done so thus far. Recently, the French Foreign Ministry called on the BDP to distance itself from the outlawed PKK and its violence in order to play a role in addressing the Turkey’s Kurdish issue, and earlier this month Turkish news portal ntvmsnbc.com reported. “The BDP should decide whether to be the voice of the Kurds in the Turkish Parliament or the political arm of the terrorist PKK organization,” said Hannes Swoboda, the vice-chairman of the Socialists, the second largest group in the European Parliament, and former Turkey rapporteur for the EP. Swoboda said the EU is disappointed in the BDP’s current policy of putting itself under PKK tutelage.
The PKK hopes that the government, as reaction to its new violent attacks on Turkish soldiers, will lead to a series of repressive measures against the Kurds to discredit the government in the eyes of the Kurds. Thus, the PKK will have a chance to give credibility to her often repeated argument that AK Party government is no different from previous governments, who were bent on vengeance on Kurds when the PKK attacked targets in Turkey.
Therefore, we need to stay calm in this situation and deny the PKK a chance to polarize the climate between Kurds and Turks. While addressing the PKK’s new violent measures, the Turkish government needs not avoid falling in the trap of the PKK, and engulf the whole region in a new war. The KRG on its part, should address the situation seriously because the PKK is using its territory to the southern Kurds’ detriment. Barzani needs to accelerate his efforts to reach moderate Kurds within the BDP and encourage them to engage peacefully with the AK Party to settle the Kurdish issue peacefully. The Turkish opposition should stop its selfish and destructive manipulation of the current events to heat up nationalistic feelings which will create further instability in Turkey and polarize people on ethnic lines which will play into the hands of the PKK.
*Dr. Othman Ali, PhD, is the head of the Turkish-Kurdish Studies Centre in Erbil, Iraq