Violence dims hope of solution to Turkish
Kurd conflict: Analysis
September 3, 2012
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. Photo: HPG
ISTANBUL,— Images of smiling Kurdish MPs
hugging rebels, rifles slung over their shoulders,
at a remote roadblock in Turkey's Kurdish
mountainous southeast hit a raw nerve.
The embrace, depicted in Turkish newspapers as
battles raged with government troops, fed a climate
of animosity which is undermining hopes of a revival
of secret talks to end a 28-year-old separatist
Escalating violence could instead now entrench a
primarily military response from Ankara to an
insurgency that has killed more than 40,000 people.
Nine Turkish police and soldiers were killed over
the weekend in clashes with Kurdish rebels.
The roadside meeting came as Kurdistan Workers Party
(PKK) rebels, inspired by the growing influence of
an allied Kurdish group in Syria, laid siege to
Turkey's mountainous district of Semdinli bordering
Iraq and Iran.
"It is a vicious cycle," said Soner Cagaptay from
the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"Whenever there is a spike in violence, Turkey's
willingness to consider a political solution becomes
Ankara sees the hand of Damascus in the PKK's new
found energy, accusing it of arming the rebels and
allowing a PKK-linked party to control parts of
Syria to prevent locals joining the 17-month
uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
"The PKK has been excited by the developments in
Syria and is trying to prove its worth and
credibility by trying to take parts of Turkish
territory, however temporarily," Cagaptay said.
In a show of strength, the PKK has set up roadblocks
and kidnapped Turkish officials and is believed to
be behind recent deadly bomb attacks on the western
coast of Turkey and in the city of Gaziantep, near
the Syrian border.
"The aim of these acts is to show that no place in
Turkey is safe, that they are capable of spreading
terrorism to every region...and prove their control
and influence," said retired major general Armagan
Kuloglu, an analyst at a think-tank in Ankara.
He said the attacks were aimed to sow discord
between Kurds and Turks. The PKK had little prospect
of drawing Ankara back to the negotiating table with
such a strategy.
The PKK is considered as '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.
Talking to the PKK was long unpalatable to Turkish
public opinion. While recordings leaked last year
from secret meetings in Oslo between the
intelligence service and the outlawed group
suggested times may have changed, that window for
negotiations may be closing.
Erdogan, whose opening to the rebels was
unprecedented, will be under pressure to adopt a
harder line on the Kurdish problem as he seeks broad
right-wing support ahead of his expected bid for a
restyled, powerful executive presidency in 2014.
Those talks were a bold and risky move by Erdogan,
with many Turks viewing them as a charade.
The roadside embraces did little to bolster the
image of Kurdish politicians as credible
interlocutors, serving rather as fuel for those who
oppose a negotiated end to the war.
Progress towards a political solution has also been
stymied by mutual recriminations among political
parties over the issue, which led the government to
block a debate on the violence in parliament this
In an apparent bid to revive political discussion,
Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek issued a plan
stressing the need for a more democratic and liberal
constitution and measures to boost economic
development in the southeast.
"This problem is not one that can be solved purely
by security measures," Cicek wrote in an 11-point
plan to end the insurgency. "It requires all
political parties, NGOs and all sections of society
to act responsibly together in harmony."
Government spokesman Bulent Arinc swiftly dismissed
Cicek's plan while a deputy leader of Erdogan's AK
Party blamed opposition parties for the impasse,www.ekurd.net
saying they had rejected government bids to work
together on a solution.
CRACKDOWN ON ACTIVISTS
Besides the human toll, the conflict has hampered
economic development in one of Turkey's poorest
corners and has added to instability in an already
fragile region bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Turkey's policy on the Kurdish problem also sits
uneasily alongside its courting of Iraq's autonomous
Kurdistan region, from where Ankara imports oil and
with whom it is increasingly a significant
investment and trading partner.
While the Syrian chaos has fed the violence,
analysts say the PKK is also encouraged by the
belief Kurds have been alienated by a nationwide
crackdown on Kurdish activists in Turkey.
Police have arrested thousands of activists accused
of involvement in the Union of Kurdistan Communities
(KCK), an alleged parallel state apparatus formed by
"The indiscriminate, wholesale detention of Kurdish
activists has suffocated the Kurdish political
movement and left little breathing room for it in
the political arena," said Sedat Ergin, columnist
with the Hurriyet daily.
The PKK is also exploiting disappointment at a
stalled government initiative in recent years to
boost the rights of some 12-15 million Kurds in
Turkey, mainly through language and cultural
"The PKK has decided to further polarize the
situation by using the intense disappointment with
the government strategy," said Henri Barkey, an
international relations professor at Lehigh
The reforms have failed to satisfy increasingly
emboldened Kurdish politicians, who demand Kurdish
autonomy and called last month for the release of
imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan - an idea
which would enrage a vast majority of Turks.
Ocalan, jailed on an island near Istanbul since
1999, has not seen his lawyers or family members for
the last year.
Kurdish politicians' growing defiance was
illustrated dramatically by their warm response to
the PKK rebels who halted them at the Semdinli
roadblock. The pictures of the impromptu meeting
triggered an investigation by the state and
opposition calls to lift their immunity from
Nearly all of the nine MPs in the delegation were
from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the most
popular in the southeast alongside the AK Party. The
incident could add to the risk of it being banned
like other pro-Kurdish parties before it.
The European Union has called on the BDP to clearly
distance itself from the PKK. But while the BDP
rejects violence or any material link to the
militants it shares a similar goal of Kurdish
autonomy and looks sympathetically on them.
"Embracing them is a completely humane thing because
we see those people as our children," BDP
co-chairperson Gultan Kisanak told Reuters in an
The PKK has several times proposed peaceful solutions regarding Kurdish problem,
Turkey has always refused saying that it will not negotiate with “terrorists”.
Since it was established in 1984, the PKK has been fighting the Turkish state,
which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a Kurdish
state in the south east of the country. More than 40,000 people have since been
But now its aim is the creation an autonomous region and more cultural rights
for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more
than 20 million.
A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK
The PKK wants constitutional recognition for the Kurds, regional
self-governance and Kurdish-language education in schools.
PKK's demands included releasing PKK detainees, lifting the ban on education in
Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey,
reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action
against the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish constitution.
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
By Daren Butler - Reuters (Additional reporting
by Tulay Karadeniz and Pinar Aydinli).
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