Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1237, (12 - 18 March 2015 )
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1237, (12 - 18 March 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Kurdish Newroz

The spring festival celebrated by Turkey’s Kurds for once coincides with political progress over Ankara’s approach to the Kurdish question, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid from Ankara

Al-Ahram Weekly

Newroz, which coincides with the Northern Equinox and the Kurds celebrate as a spring festival, is approaching. From across Turkey Kurds will descend on Diyarbakir, the city they consider their capital, waving flags and placards featuring a golden sun with glowing rays.

The most conservative estimates place the number of Kurds in Turkey at 15 million, or 20 per cent of the population. During Newroz they sing, dance, chant and declaim the names of their many martyrs.

They will also reaffirm their allegiance to leader Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdish leader serving a life sentence in Imrali, the island prison in the middle of the Marmara, west of Istanbul. When evening comes the crowds will disperse, most likely beneath clouds of teargas.

For three decades Newroz has served as an annual reminder that the Kurdish question remains stuck at square one. It has not moved since the first Kurdish guerrilla attacks on Turkish soldiers 31 years ago, when the prime minister was Turgut Özal, a man who was part Kurd himself.

But will this year’s Newroz be different? Is there any hope that this year will bring the beginnings of a solution to a crisis that has been gnawing away at Turkish society for far too long?

There are some signs that cautious optimism may not be misplaced. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) may want to maintain the status quo but last summer’s presidential elections, which saw Recep Tayyip Erdogan become Turkey’s twelfth president.

The elections also brought a breakthrough for Selahattin Demirtaş, head of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), who won 11 per cent of the vote. Within weeks, the Kurds’ newfound political clout was bearing fruit.

On 17 October, two days after the expiry of the ultimatum Öcalan had given the government to take serious steps to show its commitment to peace negotiations, a new roadmap was announced for talks with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Though details of the roadmap have not been made public, some elements — including changes to the terms of Öcalan’s confinement — have appeared in the press.

Öcalan, it appears, is now able to meet with representatives of civil society organisations and the media, including officials from the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), an organisation founded by the PKK. Many commentators have interpreted this as signalling that the Kurdish leader will soon be released.

The Turkish Zaman newspaper reported a story, carried by Der Spiegel online, in which Volker Kauder, parliamentary group leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said that in the battle against the Islamic State (IS) group, Berlin has not ruled out arming Kurdish groups other than the Peshmerga, and suggested the PKK could be among these other groups.

“I know the problems that Turkey has with the PKK,” Kauder was quoted as saying. “But to sit back and watch IS take important border towns and increasingly threaten global security is not an option.”

Kauder’s criticism of Ankara’s ambivalent approach to Turkey’s radical jihadist neighbours did not go down well among Turkey’s ruling circles. But then he went further. Kauder dismissed fears that arms sent to the PKK to fight IS might eventually be turned against Turkey once IS is defeated on the grounds that the IS threat is much more pressing.

Within days of Kauder issuing his statement, on 16 October, Syrian Kurdish leaders announced the creation of an autonomous region, Rojava, comprising the towns of Al-Jazira, Afrin and Kobani.

The developments have reinforced Öcalan’s hand. “I did not have nearly so much leverage and influence before I was put behind bars. Frankly, I have become more influential since being detained here. Those who sent me to this fortified island never anticipated such a result,” says the man the Turkish media until recently would not mention without appending the epithet “terrorist” to his name.

Öcalan’s boast is mirrored among his newly confident supporters. According to a report in Sabah newspaper, the mayor of Diyarbakir has sent out formal invitations to attend Newroz celebrations to a number of foreign officials, including French President Francois Hollande, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the president and prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani and Necirvan Idris Barzani.

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