'We are not going to surrender' read placards held by Kurds
Whilst pro-Kurdish politicians remain locked up in Turkey, accused of terrorism allegations and as the number of pro-Kurdish politicians who are in jail keeps on increasing each day, we can say that this is the result of a failed campaign which was launched by Ankara to gain the support of its Kurds with the peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, which since 1984 has fought a bloody war for greater rights for Kurds.
The underlying reason to why Turkey carries out a purge on its pro-Kurdish politicians who raises the Kurdish problem in Turkey is based on the past. The problem of limiting it to the ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP, is insufficient to understand the problem itself and its consequences. Therefore, it is useful to descend into the root of this problem.
The historical agreement the Kurds made with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, against the harsh conditions of the Treaty of Sèvres which meant the partitioning of Turkish lands, resulted in victory for Mustafa Kemal with the War of Independence from 1919-1923. During this period, Ataturk, who conducted negotiations with Kurdish tribes and leading figures, undertook that the autonomous structure of Kurdistan and Kurdish rights will not be interfered after the war. Although the Turkish Constitution of 1921 had a partially pluralistic structure, the Mustafa Kemal administration, which did not see Turkey under threat anymore after the Treaty of Lausanne, took internal steps.
In 1924, a new constitution was introduced. This was very contrary to the agreement made and the commitment to accept the autonomous nature of Kurdistan. This constitution was built on an understanding which ignored the existence of different identities and beliefs, therefore it foremost denied its largest ethnic minority, the Kurds. The Turkish state did not take into account the demands of the Kurds every time, but went on the path of violence. Since then every rebellion has been suppressed in a very bloody manner and the aggression has continued.
But when the 29th rebellion came with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, unlike the previous Kurdish rebellions, was able to carry on its existence to today by conducting guerrilla warfare. Although there has been peace talks with the PKK, which has political and military wings in all four parts of Kurdistan of Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq, and the ruling AK Party, the conflict between both sides have always continued. A negotiation process put to start in 2013 ended with fighting in the summer of 2015, and this is only deepening.
There is a fundamental reason why the Turkish state has shelved the peace process, this is the “persistent problem.” Turkey is aware that the borders of the Middle East drawn years ago have changed and that the balances of power will not be as before. The scenario that emerges with the Syrian Kurds in the aftermath of the Syrian civil war scares Turkey quite a lot. Ankara firmly believes that the cantons of Rojava, the autonomous self-declared region in northern Syria, which has been fundamental to the rise of the PYD-affiliated Kurds in the Syrian war, will have a share on their own borders. They are therefore branded as ‘terrorists’ and the Syrian wing of the rebel PKK. Again, with military methods like they did in the past, Ankara wants to prevent the success, the recognition and existence of this region.
The reasoning that comes into effect above is the classic mind-set of the state. Besides this, there is the Erdoğan factor which is Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s love for the presidency. President Erdogan, gaining strong public support, started a solution process by saying “I will solve the Kurdish problem” with a pragmatic approach. This can be called a pragmatic approach because Erdogan wanted to become the president by winning the support of the Kurds in this way. On the other hand, supporting proxies in Syria against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, YPG militia, Erdogan wanted to assert Turkish control across the border too. The powers that prevented both of these demands were the Kurds: the PYD in Syria and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, the HDP, in Turkey. The PYD prevented Syria from taking shape in the direction of Erdogan’s request, as Erdogan had wanted in the Syrian civil war, by not falling under the roof of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army, but by taking a neutral path.
In Turkey, the HDP won a large vote and became the first Kurdish majority party to enter Turkish parliament in the July 7 elections in 2016, preventing Erdogan’s AK Party from becoming the ruling party. After this, the seizure of the sister Kurdish Democratic Regions Party, DBP, municipalities in the southeast of Turkey and the purges of DBP municipality co-chairs, officials and elected HDP MPs, its co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, were put to start. Erdogan was expecting a lot of support for himself from the peace process, but that did not happen. This was a modern-day method, similar to the approach against Kurds when the republic was being built.
Erdogan, known for his pragmatic approach, went on to change tactics afterwards. He decided to stop playing at the base of the HDP and headed for the ultranationalist base of the Nationalist Movement Party, the MHP. Thus the start of physical and political attacks against the Kurds were launched. In many Kurdish towns, the fight for autonomy was suppressed with mass killings, notably in the town of Cizre where at least 178 people trapped in three basements were killed in February 2015 as part of the operations launched against the PKK’s urban youth wing in 2015. The MHP base began to be won over with operations in Kurdish towns, and succeeded with an early general election in November 2015.
Erdogan is pursuing a policy against Kurdish towns, institutions, politicians and MPs in order to win the MHP base and guarantee the presidential system. It is necessary to take the arrest of the DBP and HDP officials, the seizure of Kurdish municipalities, the stripping of jailed HDP co-chair Figen Yuksekdag from her parliamentary status as an MP, and the arrest of her counterpart, Selahattin Demirtas, who has recently been sentenced to five months of prison on this basis. Erdoğan is trying to take revenge on pro-Kurdish politicians and also taking the support of MHP base in this way. In doing so, the state uses the classic methods of historical suppression, division and polarization. Yet Kurds are not the same Kurds that will bow down with these old methods.
On the other hand, the European Union, which has ceased membership talks with Turkey, stands unable to effectively intervene on the arrests and purges of pro-Kurdish politicians as Turkey threatens to halt the bilateral migration deal with Greece over the Greek court’s ruling not to extradite eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt of July 15. However, there is a Kurdish reality that goes beyond the regional revolts and it has reached millions of support in four parts of Kurdistan, this is the truth when the military power of the Kurds are being expressed in 100 thousands. It seems that they will have the rights they have fought for years at a time when they are effective at using diplomatic relations and power balances within themselves. Although Turkey does not accept it and continues on jailing pro-Kurdish politicians, there is no choice other than accepting it with time.
This article was first published on Vocal Europe
- Aylina Kilic
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