Turkey: Kurdish Issue Heating Up
Recent weeks have seen the Kurdish issue in Turkey intensify and become more violent, in many ways marking a return to the kind of activity seen in the 1980's and 90's, at the height of the conflict between the Turkish military and the guerillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
In late July, PKK militants essentially took over a chunk of territory surrounding the town of Semdinli, near where Turkey's border meets those of both Iran and Iraq, and then fought a 20-day battle with the Turkish military before finally being dislodged. Last week, a PKK unit operating in eastern Turkey kidnapped a member of parliament from that region, releasing the MP -- Huseyin Aygun from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) -- after 48 hours. And although there has been no claim of responsibility, the Turkish press has been quick to blame the PKK for a large car bomb explosion that occurred today near Gaziantep in southern Turkey, in which at least eight were killed and 60 injured.
Meanwhile, the growing violence is starting to put a strain on Turkey's already polarized domestic political scene, pitting the country's major political parties against the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Several senior members of the party are being investigated by a prosecutor after they were seen in a recent video chatting with and hugging PKK members at a roadblock in southeastern Turkey.
“Embracing these people is a show of not fearing Allah. No one loves them in this country,” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Sunday.
These domestic tensions are being further exacerbated by Turkish concerns over developments in the Kurdish region of Syria, where local Kurdish political organizations and militias have been able to assume more control after Syrian forces recently withdrew from that part of the country in order to protect Damascus and Aleppo from rebel forces. As mentioned in this previous post, the appearance of a nascent "autonomous" Kurdish region in Syria alongside that of the already established Kurdish region in northern Iraq is leading to strong fears in Turkey that the country may soon be confronted with a "Kurdish crescent" that will empower the Turkey's Kurds to seek their own autonomy.
Writing in the Hurriyet Daily News, analyst Semih Idiz suggests that the current situation is ultimately the result of Ankara's failing to take significant political steps to solve the decades-old Kurdish issue. From his column:
The sad fact in all this that Turkey is nowhere nearer today than it was 10 or 15 years ago to sorting out its own Kurdish problem in a political and democratic way. Had that matter been resolved, the existence of a stable northern Kurdish Iraq and a stable Kurdish northern Syria would not have posed such a challenge today, but would have provided advantages to all concerned instead.
Positive economic and political developments in ties with northern Iraq over these past few years point clearly to this. But the inability to start a meaningful political process with its own Kurdish population, the largest in any country, is sullying the atmosphere in this respect, even with northern Iraq.
What makes it sadder is that the situation in terms of Kurdish cultural rights is much better than it was a decade ago, and the government has the strongest mandate from the electorate any government has had over the past four to five decades. Given this situation, the government was in a position to take bold steps aimed at solving the Kurdish problem.
Instead of moving in that direction, however, it has moved in the traditional direction of considering the Kurdish problem as one that is not political in nature but a simple question of security and terrorism. If it were that simple, the problem would have been resolved a long time ago.
Like the situation in Northern Ireland, Turkey’s Kurdish problem was always a political one with social and economic dimensions. Terrorism, on the other hand, is the offshoot of the inability to face this fact.
With developments unfolding as they are in Syria now, the problem is being aggravated further and the government appears unable to come up with any creative ideas to address it. The prospects for solving the Kurdish problem soon, therefore, do not appear good, which unfortunately points to more bloodshed and increased ethnic estrangement.