Kurdish opening lands Erdogan in tight
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
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
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
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
"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',"
"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,www.ekurd.net
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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