Too much ‘surge’ on the Kurdish front
Turkey’s most lethal problem, the Kurdish question, is bleeding again. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist group motivated by a blend of ethnic nationalism and communism, is attacking not just Turkish military posts but also civilian targets. Recently, one of their female suicide bombers hit the eastern province of Bingöl, killing herself and two other people, including a mother who used her body as a shield at the last moment to protect her children.
It is simply a huge pity that we have come to this point again. Just two years ago, the government initiated a “Kurdish opening,” which included plans for the disarmament of the PKK, and engaged in secret talks with the PKK leadership. It was a time of optimism.
Nobody exactly knows why that would-be peace process failed. Some speculate about the factions in the PKK, and their manipulation by outside forces, most plausibly by Syria. (It is quite telling that recently in Beirut, PKK supporters joined a pro-Assad rally, holding in their hands posters of both the Syrian dictator and the jailed PKK leader.)
The real reason, I nonetheless believe, is that the PKK’s demands were just too high for any Turkish government to accept. They basically want political autonomy in the southeast, in which PKK fighters will become police forces and the whole society will be organized by the PKK beginning with “village communes.” No Turkish government can accept such a reward for terrorism and then survive.
Having seen that its demands were not met, the PKK began to attack again, and the government responded with counter-attacks. This is most legitimate, for no government can choose pacifism in the face of terrorism. But the dose, the methods and the purpose of counter-insurgency are crucial.
Here, I see worrying sings of hawkishness. Some pro-government commentators in the Turkish press, for example, are arguing these days that “the PKK can be finished off in 3-4 months.” The Turkish security forces, they proudly explain, are now better equipped and disciplined than ever.
To me, this is not just wishful thinking, but also a very dangerous illusion. The PKK has at least a few million fans, and there is simply no “military solution” to such popular militant groups. You can only use carrots and sticks to force them to a reasonable political solution. But if you use too much “surge” in the sticks side, you will only gain a Pyrrhic victory, planting the seeds of further violence.
Another dangerous escalation in the state response to the PKK is the arrest of hundreds of Kurdish activists for being members of the KCK, or the “Peoples’ Confederation of Kurdistan.” This is an illegal network that wants to establish totalitarian PKK rule in the southeast. There is also good evidence to believe various act of terror, such as the throwing of bombs and Molotov cocktails at civilian targets, are orchestrated by the KCK.
In other words, it is only justified for the state to go after the KCK. But, in a way similar to what happened in the Ergenekon case, the prosecution seems to have gone excessive, for some people are arrested for simply having phone conversations with KCK members or joining public protests organized by the network.
The recent arrest of two respected intellectuals, Dr. Büşra Ersanlı and publisher Ragıp Zarakolu, seems to be yet another excess in this KCK case. All they did, apparently, was to speak at platforms organized by the KCK and engage in conversations about “rebellion” or “resistance.” These should be considered within the freedom of speech.
The core of the problem is Turkey’s draconian “Anti-Terror Law,” which criminalizes “propaganda on behalf of terrorism,” and which often punishes mere opinions. The AKP government should urgently reform that law.
It should also save itself from the dangerous illusion that the PKK will be finished off by bombing enough targets and arresting enough people.
* For all of Mustafa Akyol’s works, including his recent book, ‘Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,’ visit his blog, TheWhitePath.com. On Twitter, follow him at @AkyolinEnglish.