Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Kurdish violence flares

Explosions rocked Ankara this week, even as Ocalan calls for a truce, reports Sayed Abdel-Meguid

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Tuesday was no ordinary day for the inhabitants of the Turkish capital, especially those residing near the headquarters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the upscale neighbourhood of Balgat. Just as people were getting ready for bed that evening several loud blasts in succession caused their windows to rattle. They rushed to turn on their televisions and waited anxiously for an explanation. Moments later all regular programming was interrupted as television screens throughout the country began to broadcast the news in grisly detail. Fortunately, there were no casualties. But the simultaneous attacks against the AKP headquarters, the Justice Ministry and the Telecommunications Workers’ Union raised alarm. Was this a beginning of a wave of terrorist attacks? Surely it was no coincidence that the bombings occurred at a time when radical leftwing and ultranationalist factions were escalating their sometimes menacing rhetoric in opposition to the negotiations taking place between the government and the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

For government leaders, who had been anticipating a qualitative breakthrough in the form of a renunciation of violence on the part the PKK, the bombings raised the spectre of the destruction of months of hard work and untold damage to their credibility and standing. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was in Copenhagen at the time, made an urgent phone call to his minister of interior seeking an assessment of the ramifications and repercussion of the terrorist against the AKP headquarters.

Back in Ankara, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin rushed to his ministry to inspect the damage done by the hand grenades that had been thrown at this building. There was only some minor damage to some cars parked in front of the ministry, but the significance was major. Some party or parties was bent on obstructing the country’s course of progress as it was on the verge of a resolution to one Turkey’s most intractable dilemmas: the Kurdish question, the source of vicious and still ongoing warfare in southeastern Anatolia with dimensions of the battle spilling over into northern Iraq and, more recently, northern Syria.

Vice Prime Minister Bÿlent Arõnç, co-founder of the AKP with Erdogan, described the bombings as attacks against the democracy to which Turkey aspires under the AKP. His party, he said, has been steadfast in its efforts to end divisions and tensions arising from ultra-chauvinistic tendencies, and to lead the country to more tolerant and harmonious horizons with all ethnic components of the population. This process must naturally begin with the Kurds who form a fifth of Turkey’s population, but it can not be achieved without putting an end to the fighting and engaging in dialogue and negotiation.

The vice prime minister’s remarks and other statements by government officials were a form of appeal to moderate Kurdish nationalists to offer a significant gesture to offset both the hardliners in their camp and the attempts of the AKP’s leftist and ultranationalist adversaries to sabotage progress in the negotiations between the government and the PKK.

On 21 March, the citizens of Diyarbakir, one of the largest cities in southeastern Anatolia and, with a predominantly Kurdish population, the Kurds’ cultural capital, assembled in the main squares. People in brightly coloured clothes held up bright green and yellow Kurdish flags and images of the sun. It was Nourouz, the Kurdish New Year which coincides with the northern equinox and welcomes the advent of spring. Also visible were pictures of the Kurdish nationalist leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The founder of the PKK had just offered an olive branch that day, calling for a ceasefire to the 30 year-old conflict between Kurdish militants and Ankara and, in the process, handing the beleaguered Erdogan a much needed favour.

There is no reason to believe that Ocalan, who has been serving out a life sentence on the Imralõ island in the Sea of Marmara, will not have to serve this sentence out in full. If these negotiations bring the conflicting parties over the threshold to peace, as planned, the PKK leader will have to be released, said Turkish political analyst Barakat Kar. He also maintains that while the Kurds now fully support peace talks with the Turkish government, the latter should not regard this as a one-way process. If negotiations are to succeed, Ankara must furnish guarantees that the Kurds will be granted their full cultural and political rights.

Ankara’s close ally, Washington, offered its hearty congratulations on the new development and the EU lauded the halt in the sound of arms in favour of the language of dialogue as a constructive and encouraging step.

But if officials breathed a sigh of relief that day and if AKP leader Erdogan began to see his prospects for the presidential election two years from now rise again, their sentiments were premature. A cloud passed over the festive climate on Nourouz when it struck home that the Turkish flag with its white star and crescent on a red field was nowhere in sight in the celebrations in Diyarbakir, leading some commentators to remark that the people of that city were on the verge of proclaiming an independent Kurdistan.

The scene, at least as it was constructed, ignited an outcry among broad segments of public opinion, including Kurdish moderates. In an attempt to mollify this “justifiable” anger, Erdogan charged that certain Kurdish politicians — who went unnamed — were trying to sabotage the nascent climate of concord, and he condemned the “hypocrisy” of the organisers of the festivities for having ignored the inclusion of the Turkish flag on a day that was meant to commemorate unity, solidarity and brotherhood.

Erdogan’s fury was not feigned. Nor was it an attempt to deflect the barbs and criticisms of his political adversaries. He was seething because once again he was staring at the prospect of losing the support of the conservative forces that had leveraged him into power and kept him there for a decade. He knows that they still harbour suspicions of the intentions of the Kurdish militants and now more than ever he will have to deliver guarantees, secured from those who agreed to negotiate with him, that Turkey will never be divided. Will he succeed? It is still too early to tell because the road forward towards a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish question is still laden with political mines.

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