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 Kurdish opening lands Erdogan in tight spot

 Source :  AFP | Agencies  
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Kurdish opening lands Erdogan in tight spot  28.10.2009 

October 28, 2009

ANKARA, Turkey, — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan risks losing a large part of his support base and deepening social tensions as his plan to expand Kurdish rights and end a bloody insurgency faltered at the outset, analysts said Tuesday.

The government has been under fire since last week when a group of rebels from the outlawed Turkey's Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) crossed from Iraqi KUrdistan region into Turkey in symbolic surrender to show support for Ankara's so-called Kurdish opening and were set free shortly.

Although Erdogan initially hailed the group's arrival as a boost to his reconciliation plan, the subsequent hero's welcome organized for the rebels by thousands of Kurds chanting pro-PKK slogans soured the mood.                          

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Amid accusations of showing leniency to "terrorists" behind a 25-year rebellion, Erdogan announced that the arrival of a second rebel group had been postponed and that his government would take a break to assess the situation.

The development was no surprise, said Soner Cagaptay from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as the government's plan was "misconceived" and "doomed for failure from the beginning".

"It is very likely that support for the governing party has eroded significantly, especially in the vast Anatolian hinterland, where the Turkish government is basically seen as legitimizing terrorism and the PKK," he said.

Political analyst Dogu Ergil said scenes of the freed rebels dressed in combat fatigues addressing jubilant crowds had infuriated the Turkish public opinion shaped by the official rhetoric of "separatist Kurdish terrorists".

"We were expecting the rebels to express remorse and serve jail time, which would have enabled us to say we had defeated them. But the PKK refused to play the role it was supposed to... and we were offended," he said.

"The vision of peace in our minds is one of bringing the other side to its knees," he said.

Remarks coming from the PKK since last week were defiant.

Several rebel leaders said the next step now was for Ankara to cease military operations and agree to a dialogue with the PKK -- demands that the government categorically rejects.

"The government's view was that the PKK would lay down weapons and come into the Turkish society and just fold in but the PKK is saying 'no, we will not lay down weapons,
www.ekurd.netwe are going to come as we are and enter politics'," Cagaptay said.

"To me, that gap is very hard to bridge because it will basically require Turkey to accept the PKK entering politics with its weapons."

The government has said its opening will involve steps to expand Kurdish freedoms in a bid to "strengthen bonds of brotherhood between Turks and Kurds" and address past grievances although it is yet to announce any details.

Ankara hopes the reforms will erode popular support for the PKK and that the rebels will be further weakened through persisting military action.

But Cagaptay warned that giving specific group rights to Kurds was creating resentment across larger parts of the society where nerves are still raw over the PKK's armed campaign for self-rule that has cost some 45,000 lives since 1984.

"The government's policy has probably increased social distances between Kurds and non-Kurds in Turkey... In other words, the opening not only failed to alleviate the problem, but in fact compounded it," he said.

The arrival of the first rebel group has sparked demonstrations across Turkey denouncing the government's policy and several people have lodged legal complaints against Erdogan and prosecutors for letting the militants go free.

"What we are seeing shows that it is not that easy to digest peace," columnist Markar Esayan wrote in the liberal Taraf daily.

"Certainly no one expected that people who believed their sons died to keep the country united would immediately realise that brothers killed brothers for nothing," he added.

Since 1984 the PKK took up arms for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey (Turkey-Kurdistan) which has claimed around 45,000 lives of Turkish soldiers and Kurdish PKK guerrillas. A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels. Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority.

The PKK demanded Turkey's recognition of the Kurds' identity in its constitution and of their language as a native language along with Turkish in the country's Kurdish areas, the party also demanded an end to ethnic discrimination in Turkish laws and constitution against Kurds, ranting them full political freedoms.

The PKK is considered a 'terrorist' organization by Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

The government is currently working on fresh reforms to expand Kurdish freedoms, but insists on rejecting dialogue with the PKK and says the rebels should either surrender or face military action.

Erdogan in July launched his so-called Kurdish initiative, backed by the European Union, which calls for expanding political and cultural rights for the country's estimated over 20 million Kurds.

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