The Kurdish position in Turkey is a far-cry from decades of denial, persecution and second class status but has Turkey comes to terms with its past policies?
The carnival atmosphere last week in Diyarbakir with Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani side-by-side with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and famous Kurdish artists was an unprecedented event.
The theme was one of brotherhood, peace and a prosperous future of co-existence. The mere idea that a Turkish MP would utter the word “Kurdistan” was unthinkable just years ago, let alone by a Prime Minister.
The increasing conciliatory ties and a dose of reality from the Turkish state are welcome and take the Kurdish standing in Turkey to new levels. The reality of a population of over 20 million with a rich history, culture and separate ethnic identity was cynically ignored in Turkey to its detriment.
However, Turkey has a long way to go before national sentiments will truly sway. The Kurds have a bad label, a tainted image in Turkey and seen as the aggressors and overreachers. In 2013, with the Kurds as strategic actors on the Middle Eastern stage and with the Kurdistan Region long established, it speaks volumes when the word Kurdistan stills stirs such nationalist emotion.
The fact of the matter is that until Turkey comes to true terms with its past and its crimes against the Kurds, a new age and a new future based on unity and co-existence will never come to fruition. The account of the conflict is acutely one-sided with the media and state policy playing a strong hand in the psychology of the greater population against the Kurds.
The West of Turkey never had the full picture of the Kurdish issue and state atrocities. The scene of the battle always seemed like a distant, backward, lawless and secluded land, not a land that constitutes such a major part of Turkey.
Without forgiveness and understanding, brotherhood will never arrive. Turkey must at the same time look at its past with a deal of justice, repentance and regret.
Many dark chapters in Turkey’s history where concealed from the public eye. Only recently with some prosecutions and trials in the Kurdish region have of some these tales come to light. The Kurds have resorted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the past, but it is the Turkish justice system that must take ownership and responsibility. Too often perpetrators of state injustices of the best have been sheltered and defended.
Recent trials have focused on the dark days of the 1990’s when the war with the PKK was at its peak. Thousands of villages were burned and destroyed, with millions of Kurds forced to migrate and with thousands killed or disappeared. Some of the horrid accounts were revealed by soldiers themselves.
Yet the acts of the 90’s scratch the surface. Only in 2011 did Erdogan take the bold and unprecedented steps of apologising for the killing of over 13,000 Kurds in Dersim in the 1930’s.
Violent means of achieving your rights should not be condoned and no war is without casualty but the whole Kurdish population was suddenly branded with the PKK or terrorist bush. If one village supported the PKK, it was as if the whole village supported such views.
Furthermore, the state repression of the Kurds goes back decades before the onset of the PKK.
If the Turkish government has genuine intentions to build a new future of brotherhood then the unbalanced view of the Kurdish struggle must be addressed.
The greater Turkish population must understand the crimes that were committed by state forces and the suffering that was inflicted on the Kurdish population.
Whether in Iraq, Syria or Turkey, the attitude to the repressive government policies of the past is an indicator of real sentiment in the future. Has the atmosphere really changed or is just been masked with mere rhetoric and policies that strengthens short-term goals of individuals?