Meanwhile, on the Kurdish front…
Since July 15, the night of the bloody coup attempt, Turkey has been experiencing great turmoil. The plotters of the coup, their allies (and probably some innocent people, too, unfortunately) have been detained, interrogated and jailed. The state, especially the armed forces, is also going through a major purge, which is worrying, but also only understandable in the face of such a major insurrection within.
Meanwhile, as if all this were not enough, Turkey’s other war, the one with the armed and outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist group by most definitions, is also going on at full speed. Since the beginning of August, PKK militants have launched several attacks in the southeast, killing more than 50 people, some of whom are civilians. (Kurdish civilians, actually, whom the PKK supposedly defends.) In the past three days alone, three major bombings have killed 12 people in three southeastern cities, Van, Elazığ and Bitlis.
Add to this the threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as well, and you get a picture of Turkey that has every right to be in a “state of emergency.” There is no other country in the world now that has to fight two bloody terror groups at the same time, while roughly half of all its generals are under arrest for a recent coup attempt. Critics of Turkey first should see this major crisis the country is going through.
Had the PKK have any sense of reasonableness, it would not escalate its attacks in such difficult conditions, which could give the Turks some respect for the group, and lay the ground for renewed peace talks. I am still in favor of such talks, which is the only way to a “solution,” but I am more and more convinced that the biggest obstacle is the PKK’s zealotry.
In other words, I do support the Turkish state’s right to defend itself, and its citizens, against the PKK with a counter-insurgency campaign. The latter, however, included a controversial step this week, which also impacts the realm of the freedom of the press: The closure of daily Özgür Gündem, for “acting as if it is a publication of the armed terror organization,” and the arrest of its staff, which includes the famed writer Aslı Erdoğan.
Here is my two cents on this matter: Özgür Gündem is often cited in Western media as being “pro-Kurdish,” but that is inaccurate. Being pro-Kurdish is not a problem in Turkey; the problem is being pro-PKK. Özgür Gündem’s “writers” include PKK commanders positioned in the mountains of northern Iraq and who lead the PKK “battalions” that bomb Turkish cities. It is really like having a publication that carries out a clear pro-ISIL or pro-al-Qaeda publication in the West.
Would that be allowed in Western democracies? Well, the United Kingdom just gave an answer, by imprisoning Anjem Choudary, a radical preacher who used to act as a propagandist for ISIL. So, if “ISIL propaganda” can be a crime, why should “PKK propaganda” not be a crime as well?
However, there is a key nuance here: People who worked at Özgür Gündem, and who wrote there as writers, cannot be penalized if they did not openly support or praise the violent acts of the PKK. That is the case with some of the detained people, as I understand, including Aslı Erdoğan. They can be among the “naïve Turkish leftists,” as I call them, whose eyes are open only to the crimes of the state but not the anti-state forces. Yet naïveté does not constitute a crime.