Government vows to renew Kurdish initiative, but may face a Kurdish spring
The government claims that they will retake the initiative to solve the Kurdish issue amid tensions surrounding Newruz celebrations, prompting some to question whether Turkey will have a "Kurdish opening" or "Kurdish spring."
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Turkiye -- 20/03/12
The coming of spring usually portends the heating up of the Kurdish problem, as the snow's retreat from the mountains of southeast Anatolia typically brings renewed fighting between the PKK and Turkish security forces.
The BDP is mobilising its supporters to pressure the government. [Reuters]
Demonstrators celebrating Newruz, holding a portrait of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, walk past a burning mobile telephone relay station in Diyarbakir on March 18th. [Reuters]
PKK attacks this summer would likely harden the government's response, putting the military option to the forefront at the expense of a political solution. [Reuters]
While events surrounding this year's Newruz celebrations reveal once again the discontent -- and organisational capacity -- of Turkey's ethnic Kurdish minority, the government claims it has plans to renew its drive to end the three-decade-old conflict.
Before heading to the largely Kurdish populated province of Mardin on March7th, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a meeting of his AK Party provincial chairmen, "Whatever the price, we will resolve this issue with the support of the people. We will continue to struggle for that until our last breath."
The prime minister's visit to Mardin followed a day after his wife, Emine Erdogan, accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay, met with the families of 34 civilians who were killed in a botched air raid in the southeastern Uludere district late last year. The incident drove a deep wedge between the government and the Kurdish minority.
In his speech to Mardin residents, Erdogan called on them to trust the sincerity of the government. "The souls that were lost in Uludere are our souls. We will follow this issue in military and civilian courts until the end. We will not allow this problem to be exploited politically," he said.
However, it's not clear yet how the AK Party plans to give new breath -- beyond rhetoric -- to the failed 2009 Kurdish opening.
Atalay, who has taken the lead on tackling the Kurdish issue within the government, announced last week that the government is going to "take new steps on it" in four main areas.
"The security-focused struggle against terrorism will continue without losing pace. Second, we will increase efforts to draw nearer to the people in the region. We'll go to the most remote corners and reach out to the people. Third, there will be more efficient work concerning northern Iraq. And the fourth step is the continuing steps of democratisation," he said.
Mehmet Metiner, a Kurdish intellectual and AK Party MP, says the government has been planning a new democratisation package for some time, but it was delayed due to the Uludere incident.
"We have never forgotten our Kurdish citizens," he told SES Türkiye, reminding that the AK Party broke the state's traditional policy of seeing the Kurdish issue as only a terrorism problem by recognising the social, economic, and cultural dimensions to the problem.
"For the first time ever, under our party's governance, state institutions are working in sync to solve the problems," he added.
However, Nader Entessar, who authored the book "Kurdish Politics in the Middle East" and currently chairs the Political Science and Criminal Justice Department at the University of South Alabama, told SES Turkiye that despite promises for democratisation, it is not clear what these moves will entail, or how it will address specific Kurdish demands.
"Political circumstances today are less conducive for the Turkish government to take any drastic measures in this regard," she concludes.
Ibrahim Binici, a pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MP from Sanliurfa, told SES Türkiye the government needs to sit down and solve things through talks with Kurdish politicians, rather than "brainwashing the people".
"Dialogue is the only way to solve this problem, and as far as we see it, neither the AK Party, nor others, have the intention to do that," he said.
For his part, Erdogan accuses the opposition parties of hampering efforts to resolve the Kurdish question, saying that the attempt for peace have been undermined by "dark circles" at home and abroad who collude with the PKK to advance their interests. Yet many analysts say the government needs to be clearer on its initiatives to resolve the Kurdish problem.
Gunes Murat Tezcur, an associate professor of political science at Loyola University in Chicago who specialises in Kurdish nationalism, explains that the resolution of the Kurdish question has two dimensions.
The first is the expansion of the human, cultural and political rights of Kurdish people. The second is the pacification and incorporation of the insurgency into the Turkish political system.
"The government is likely to make some limited concessions regarding the Kurdish language education. It may offer Kurdish as an elective course in public schools," he told SES Türkiye, adding that this would be far from satisfactory for Kurdish activists, who demand a clause in the new constitution that would guarantee Kurdish language education.
With the government unlikely to grant autonomy, the problem is not just the existence of spoilers -- hardliners committed to violence in the PKK -- but that even the most moderate BDP representatives are asking for at least some form of autonomy, he says.
Tezcur also reminds that the number of activists who are in prison on vague terrorism charges in the on-going Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) case has significantly increased in the last three years. This deterioration in the human rights situation is directly related to the government's attempts to hamper the Kurdish nationalist movement's mass mobilisation capacity and reduce the political influence of the insurgency, he argues.
"The Kurdish nationalists demonstrated their mass appeal in the 2009 local elections, 2010 referendum, and 2011 parliamentary elections. The government wants to weaken both the political party and insurgency while making some limited concessions in the field of cultural rights."
Cigdem Nas, an associate professor of international relations at Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul, says it seems that the government intends to take some measures regarding the cultural rights of Kurdish citizens.
"The main idea behind the government’s approach to the Kurdish question is to differentiate between acceptable demands within the system from secessionist demands and endeavours. Hence, the clampdown on the KCK is an endeavour to marginalise the PKK and its sympathisers," she told SES Türkiye.
For Nas, the ultimate aim is a negotiated settlement to the Kurdish issue. The government is making tactical moves, trying to bolster its own position against the BDP and PKK by expanding cultural rights.
However, PKK attacks can be expected over the summer. "Such events put pressure on governments to give in to demands for a more stringent policy on the issue," she said.
Since fall 2011, security forces have been aggressive against the PKK, inflicting significant losses on the PKK's guerrilla cadre. But as Tezcur points out, the government does not have the military capacity to effectively end the insurgency, putting the PKK and the military in a "stalemate".
"My hunch is that the stalemate would continue with seasonal variation in armed conflict. I expect to see an increase in fights next month with the advent of spring," Tezcur concluded