The promise of progression in the Kurdish opening and a true resolution to Turkey’s age old Kurdish dilemma has slowly disintegrated.
Rather than a positive climate that should been created by AKP’s historic success at the recent elections with anticipation of democratic reform and a new constitution combined by a record number of Kurdish PM’s elected to parliament, the last few months have served as an ominous prelude to a growing social divide, increased bitterness and rising inter-communal tension.
The PKK continues to cast a hefty shadow on the Kurdish landscape yet the government refuses to negotiate with them, and continues to attack them culturally, politically and militaristically thereby punishing all Kurds.
Underpinned by a Kurdish boycott of parliament and a contentious declaration of democratic autonomy much to the fury of Ankara is a number of controversial trials of Kurdish politicians and a deepening Kurdish-Turkish divide created by a growing number of Turkish casualties in an escalating war with the PKK.
With signs of a dangerous increase in the polarisation of Turkey, sentiments are hardly helped with the recent high-profile charges against Kurdish politicians.
Only this week Turkey charged over 100 Kurdish politicians, 98 of which are former mayors, for signing a demand over two years ago that called for better conditions for imprisoned former PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.
Prosecutors had deemed that such demands constituted terrorist propaganda, whereas for the Kurds it merely reemphasised the prevalent out-dated mentality and approach of the Turkish judiciary. The politicians could face years in jail and the trials will almost certainly placate growing Kurdish resentment towards Ankara.
As witnessed by the huge Kurdish uproar and protests that came with a number of pre-election arrests and charges, the Kurds are increasingly determined to stand up to what they see as Turkish political aggression against the advancement of the Kurdish cause. The BDP have maintained a boycott of parliament in retaliation for the stripping of jailed deputy Hatip Dicle of his seat.
The proclamation of more trails comes hot on the heels of popular Kurdish deputy Aysel Tuğluk who was elected to parliament last month been given a two year sentence for similar charges.
Placing a dark cloud on reconciliation and soothing of sentiments is the high-profile “KCK trials” which includes 12 Kurdish mayors and dozens of other politicians. Ankara has accused them of been part of KCK, an umbrella organisation of the PKK.
The nature of these trials has cause greater enmity amongst the Kurdish community and even criticism from the European Union and international observers. The continuing harassment of Kurdish political parties and the application of ruthless outdated penalties in cases where there is subjective evidence at best, not only damages the chances of a breakthrough via Kurdish political channels but yet again places the Kurds into opposing camps of thought.
The Turkish government has vehemently refused to negotiate with the PKK on an official level, yet the continuing disillusionment in Kurdish circles and the suppression of any Kurdish political vehicle, means that the PKK remains as entrenched a part of the Kurdish problem and thereby its solution as ever.
Only this week Abdullah Ocalan in a detailed and emotive statement ended talks with the AKP, claiming “If they want me to resume a role then I have three conditions, health, security and an area where I can move freely”.
It is clear from the statement that the AKP has long been in discussions with the PKK. However, while refusing to legitimise the demands of the PKK against a backdrop of hawkish circles, it at the same time tries to muster peace.
Ocalan accused both the AKP and PKK of using him as a ‘subcontractor’ and for their own purposes. Ocalan claimed the AKP wants war and does not want to resolve the question.
While some claim that Ocalan’s apparent criticism of the current PKK command and those who rally around his name, is a sign of dissent within PKK circles, it is not clear how much sway Ocalan had in any case from his prison cell. Ocalan’s name continues to be used as a figurehead and to strengthen the PKK identity, in reality the PKK is the result of a greater Kurdish problem and not an Ocalan problem. Even if the PKK were banished, under the current hostile climate another off-shoot will quickly emerge.
Turkish nationalism and suffocation of the infant Kurdish political renaissance means more than ever the PKK remain the default representation of the Kurds and the only true interlocutors to the Kurdish problem.
It seems that after thousands of lost lives, billions dollars of lost expenditure and decades of failed policies towards the Kurds, Ankara still doesn’t come to term with the limits of any military solution. In recent weeks the Turkey has reaffirmed its commitment to attack the rebels with all its might. The life of either a Kurd or Turk is equally sacred and tears of a mother are equally regretful. After 40 years of confrontation and painful memories, it is time that all sides see that bloodshed must be ended.
Only recently Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan boldly proclaimed, “there is no Kurdish problem; only a PKK problem.” And that the issues of the Kurdish citizens in Turkey are not to do with the PKK.
On the contrary, the PKK has not been eradicated because Turkey has refused to see that the problem is not 5000 guerrillas but 15 million people. Without resolving the root of its age-old conundrum, Turkey’s continual cutting of branches will never bear any fruit.
The issue of the 5000 guerrillas and the 15 million people goes hand in hand. More than ever the PKK is intertwined with the struggle of the Kurds in Turkey.
Too often Turkey’s policies have meant that Kurds have been trapped with no real alternative. Not for the first time, the Kurdish political campaign has ground to a halt and the PKK remains the noose by which Ankara can control and intimidate the Kurds. Ankara too often not only tries to resolve the problem without the PKK but without the Kurds themselves.
Turkey’s policies continually place the Kurds into the hands of the PKK, yet ironically the Turks then use this as an opportunity to charge Kurds for been supporters of the PKK.
It is Ankara’s policies and continual labelling of any pro-Kurdish figure as PKK or terrorist related that has given the PKK more weight.
This general labelling of Kurds in Turkish circles as separatists or PKK collaborators has fuelled inter-communal friction. Not all Kurds support the PKK lest all Kurds been supporters of violence or having anti-Turkish sentiments.
This is demonstrated with the strong support for the AKP in previous elections, and even though they were over shadowed by BDP’s record success at the recent polls, the AKP still mustered 30 seats.
But clearly the Kurds feel that they have given the AKP enough time and support, but the AKP has not lived up to its pledges and bold pre-electoral promises.
The problem is that although the AKP has made a number of positive steps and breakthroughs in resolving the Kurdish problem in last decade or so, their hands are tied by the nationalist elite and general nationalist euphoria that plagues Turkish society.
Keeping the Kurds content with piecemeal gestures in the east yet appeasing nationalist circles in the west has proved almost impossible.
On the back of the recent spate of Turkish casualties in fighting with the PKK, inter-communal tension has become dangerously high.
Popular Kurdish singer Aynur Dogan was heckled off the stage by the audience at a concert for singing in Kurdish after the death of Turkish soldiers. This was preceded by protests and attacks by both sides in Istanbul.
This attack on Kurdish identity shows the progress that Turkey still needs to make. There appears this mentality that an attack on a Turk by a small group of Kurds is akin by an attack by all Kurds.
The younger generation of Kurds, with growing expectations and resentment towards Ankara, will be more difficult to appease. This standoff between expectant and frustrated Kurds and the government’s tentative dealing of its Kurdish problem will only lead to a wider gulf.
The only solution is a new Turkey that embraces the Kurds as true partners and as a key component of their society.