Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1256, (30 July - 5 August 2015)
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1256, (30 July - 5 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan targets Kurds

Developments in Turkey have assumed alarming proportions amid the overlap between the government’s interventionist designs abroad and the setback it delivered to the Kurdish question, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid in Ankara

Al-Ahram Weekly

It was a coldblooded act to take a gun and fire a bullet each into two unarmed men while they were asleep. This was the crime, carefully planned and executed, carried out against two Turkish police officers last Wednesday by members of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The scene was in Ceylanpinar, in southeast Turkey, an area that has had few moments of tranquillity and happiness, especially since the outbreak of popular wrath in Syria against the ruling Baath regime four years ago. Last Wednesday, the area was still reeling and grief-ridden following the massacre of dozens of innocent people from a suicide bombing two days earlier.

The assassination of the police officers kindled the zealotry of Turkish ultranationalists who used the incident to carry out yet another attack against the pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party (DPP). This time the target was the party’s headquarters in Kemer, a tourist resort town in the southern province of Antalya. The attackers broke into the premises, vandalised its contents and tore down and destroyed the party’s posters, flags and emblems.

In order to pour fuel on the flames and further polarise the country in the hope of generating a climate that would enable the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) to recuperate the losses it sustained in the 7 June general elections, Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan lashed out against critics of the military operations that were launched last week against “terrorists”, by which he referred not to IS (the Islamic State) but to the separatist PKK which appears to have reverted to the tactic of stealth crimes. On his personal Twitter account, Akdogan charged that the members of that organisation “who killed children in the past” were now trying to “kill those who have not yet been born by abducting midwives on the way to their patients”. At dawn Saturday, four gunmen attacked an ambulance in the district of Tekman in Erzurum, in northeast Turkey, taking its three-member crew as hostages.

Meanwhile, in the southeast city of Suruc in Sanliurfa family members continue to mourn the victims of the suicide bombing specifically targeting Kurds. Some 32 people, all Kurds, were killed in this massacre and 104 wounded, of whom 20 are still in critical condition. The second bombing massacre carried out in the midst of a Kurdish political gathering in less than two months has further inflamed an explosive climate, as many Kurds hurl charges of complicity and negligence against the JDP government and others call for retaliation and revenge.

Such is the prevailing condition in Turkey these days. On the one side are the Islamist authorities and the far-right ultranationalists, both of which camps regard all others as evildoers who should be annihilated. On the other side stand the Kurds, supported by the liberals and democratic secularists who are convinced that the rulers in Ankara are determined to set their country on fire and tear it apart in order to perpetuate their grip on power. Turkey thus appears to have reverted to that period three decades ago in which civil strife and armed confrontations claimed thousands of military and civilian lives.

When the JDP rose to power in 2003, it seemed determined to end the decades-long conflict with the Kurds. Cautiously, yet persistently, it set into motion a process that led to secret and unpublicised negotiations in Oslo and soon the signs of a solution to the Kurdish question appeared on the horizon. As a gesture of good faith, PKK fighters withdrew from Turkish territory into the Qandil mountains in Iraq Kurdistan in order to help clear the way for a political solution. This process received the blessing of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been serving out a life sentence in the high security prison on Imrali Island in the Sea of Marmara to the west of Istanbul. Now the JDP appears to have performed another of its trademark U-turns, sending the Kurdish question back to square one.

Curiously, instead of initiating investigations into the possible security lapses that enabled the Suruc massacre, the JDP government decided to unleash a wave of aerial strikes against what it described as “strongholds of separatist rebels”. The attacks triggered outpourings of anger and indignation, and not just in the predominantly Kurdish regions but also in many urban areas in western Anatolia.

Figen Yüksekdag Şenoglu, co-chairperson of the DPP, held that the IS and terrorism were not the real target behind the Turkish government’s bombardments of PKK camps in Iraqi Kurdistan. On her Twitter account, she wrote that the JDP’s real aim, after failing to form a coalition government, was to push for early elections in the hopes that it would bring different results from the last ones, which put paid to Erdogan’s dream of entrenching his dictatorship. Her party’s ability to pass the parliamentary threshold, win 13 per cent of the vote and acquire 80 seats was a chief cause of that dream’s demise. As a result, Yüksekdag pointed out in her tweet, the temporary minority government has become “a temporary war government that does not speak peace”.

PKK leaders put this in other terms. Because of the attacks, the truce between the Ankara government and the PKK “no longer exists”, they declared.

The Republican People’s Party (RPP), the largest of the opposition parties, strongly opposes terrorism but shares the opinions of the DPP. It too holds that the government’s actions in the provinces and abroad have nothing to do with the war against IS and everything to do with inflicting collective punishment on the Kurds for being the stumbling block that upset the balance of powers, the JDP hegemony, and Erdogan’s dictatorial dreams. One Turkish commentator put this more explicitly: “To the world abroad and international media, the government is pretending to fight Daesh (IS) whereas in reality it is directing its fire against that area in northern Syria where the Kurdish Democratic Union Party succeeded in rescuing Kobani from the clutches of the jihadist militias supported by the politicians in Ankara.”

Other commentators reminded readers of the leaked recordings from a security meeting in which Ahmet Davutoglu, who was serving Erdogan as foreign minister at the time, spoke of a Turkish intelligence plan to stage fake missile attacks from Syria and to use these as a pretext to intervene in that country.

In all events, developments in Turkey have assumed alarming proportions because of the overlap between the government’s interventionist designs abroad and the 30-year setback it delivered to the Kurdish question. The situation is such that columnist Murat Yetkin felt compelled to caution that what we see today is merely a prelude of worse to come. He therefore cautioned everyone to summon a sense of responsibility, to leave their personal interests aside and to prioritise the welfare of society and the nation as a whole.

While this remark clearly implied an attack against Erdogan, his demagoguery and his JDP-centred and autocratic priorities, its general substance still holds true. Turkey must revive the stalled reconciliation process. The country cannot sustain a revival of a protracted armed conflict involving a major ethnic component of Turkish society, all the more so at a time when the reversion to the death and destruction of the 1980s and 1990s will wreak untold attrition on an economy and standards of living that are already reeling from numerous shocks.

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