Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Kurdish issue

I grew up with news of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) attacks in the South East and East Turkey. Soldiers, teachers, doctors (most of them sent to the South East from other parts of the country) would be killed. I wrote a while ago that as more people die for a cause, the more difficult it is to find a solution acceptable to both sides. (If it's not acceptable to both sides, it is not a solution anyway.) I have never travelled to those regions. I don't see how I can claim that they are part of my country when I'm not able to travel there out of fear.

Now, our military could keep on destroying PKK cells and kill terrorists and carry on with their air raids and even carry out another cross-border operation into northern Iraq. Our judges could start investigations against pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) deputies as much as they want. The Constitutional Court can shut down the party. Turks all over the world can start nationalist groups in the Facebook. With all their capabilities, they could not eliminate the PKK or the DTP in the past twenty-four years. You might say "it's foreign countries helping PKK and DTP!" It's not the Dutch or the Syrians fighting on behalf of PKK. They are recruiting Kurdish youth, and the local population obviously sympathizes with the PKK and DTP.

But their support is not blind. Back in 2005, Erdogan was hailed during a visit to Diyarbakir as the first Turkish prime minister to recognize the “Kurdish issue” and acknowledge the responsibility of the state in the problem. Although the reform momentum stalled considerably after the negotiations with the EU started in October 2005, the AKP took some steps to relax bans on Kurdish education and broadcasting. The party won many votes at the expense of the DTP in the general elections in July 2007, branding itself as the only party capable of reaching out to Kurdish communities.

However, support among the Kurds for the party started to wane as the government gave the military free rein in its operations into northern Iraq. Although the government unveiled a $ 18-billion investment programme in May to revive the Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP), which will involve the building of new dams, expansion of irrigation networks and loans for entrepreneurs, the local populace seems far from impressed.

Moreover, the AKP, which narrowly escaped closure by the Constitutional Court in July, has remained silent about the closure case facing the DTP. The DTP, meanwhile, has adopted a harsher rhetoric as it views its closure imminent, and tries to secure support for its successor party in its last remaining strongholds in the region, such as Diyarbakir, Batman and Tunceli in the local elections in March. The protests they organized during Erdogan's 21 October visit to Diyarbakir drew large crowds, many of them children, and many shop-owners closed their shops either in support of the cause or in fear of violence. Support for the PKK and the DTP has never been so visible since the 1990s.

The AKP seems to lack a genuine interest in improving the democratic rights of the Kurds, and merely follows a pragmatic approach: Trying to secure the support of the Kurdish communities while avoiding discontent among Turkish nationalists. By not seeking a genuine solution in good faith, it is actually playing into the hands of the PKK and DTP, who derive their power from the continuation of the conflict. By not talking to them, we are speaking their language.

No comments: