The biggest fallout for Turkey from the Syrian crisis will not be the refugees streaming in across the border, but developments relating to its perennial “Kurdish problem.” Refugees will eventually go back. Turkey’s Kurdish problem, whose foreign dimension has taken on unexpected turns with developments in Syria, however, is here to stay; unless, that is, a reasonable solution can be found to it.
The idea of another entity like “Kurdish northern Iraq” developing along Turkey’s borders with Syria, which also borders northern Iraq, is a nightmare scenario for the Turkish establishment and for nationalist Turks in particular. The fear is this will pave, in time, the way to a “Greater Kurdistan” that will also incorporate much of Southeast Anatolia.
Given that separatist terrorism by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK) has peaked since spring, it is not surprising that every body bag containing the remains of a Turkish conscript killed by this group is making Turkish blood boil even more in terms of the Kurdish issue.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
and other senior government officials vehemently deny accusations that they never foresaw what is transpiring in northern Syria, where most of that country’s Kurds live, and now appear to be heading for some kind of autonomy.
For the public at large, however, developments belie this.
The general impression is of a government that literally woke up one day to face the prospect of another autonomous Kurdish region along Turkey’s borders, and does not know how to react to this now, except by means of empty threats.
If, on the other hand, the government had indeed factored this possibility into its calculations from the start, then, the feeling is, it did little to show it was taking the matter seriously. The appearance is of an Ankara
that was so fixed on Bashar al-Assad’s departure that other matters were never considered properly.
The sad fact in all this that Turkey is nowhere nearer today than it was 10 or 15 years ago to sorting out its own Kurdish problem in a political and democratic way. Had that matter been resolved, the existence of a stable northern Kurdish Iraq and a stable Kurdish northern Syria would not have posed such a challenge today, but would have provided advantages to all concerned instead.
Positive economic and political developments in ties with northern Iraq over these past few years point clearly to this. But the inability to start a meaningful political process with its own Kurdish population, the largest in any country, is sullying the atmosphere in this respect, even with northern Iraq.
What makes it sadder is that the situation in terms of Kurdish cultural rights is much better than it was a decade ago, and the government has the strongest mandate from the electorate any government has had over the past four to five decades. Given this situation, the government was in a position to take bold steps aimed at solving the Kurdish problem.
Instead of moving in that direction, however, it has moved in the traditional direction of considering the Kurdish problem as one that is not political in nature but a simple question of security and terrorism. If it were that simple, the problem would have been resolved a long time ago.
Like the situation in Northern Ireland, Turkey’s Kurdish problem was always a political one with social and economic dimensions. Terrorism, on the other hand, is the offshoot of the inability to face this fact.
With developments unfolding as they are in Syria now, the problem is being aggravated further and the government appears unable to come up with any creative ideas to address it. The prospects for solving the Kurdish problem soon, therefore, do not appear good, which unfortunately points to more bloodshed and increased ethnic estrangement.