Last Sunday, a young Kurdish protestor who masked his face entered a Turkish Air Force base in the predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakır. He climbed up the pole, reached out to the Turkish flag, and took it down. The military personnel, somehow, could not stop him. Later, the chief of staff announced that the soldiers at the base had refrained from shooting the militant, as he was a teenager.
The incident, however, has turned into a national controversy, adding to the growing tension in the southeast between the government and Kurdish militants. The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, said the youngster who brought down the flag should have been “shot right in his forehead,” voicing the reaction among Turkish nationalists. Bahçeli also condemned the government over the “peace process,” which he sees only as treason to the homeland and surrender to terrorism. Kurdish nationalists, on the other hand, accuse the same government of not moving forward with the “peace process” and using it only to buy time.
In other words, the government of Tayyip Erdoğan is in a dire strait regarding the most lethal problem of Turkey — the Kurdish question. But no matter what we think of Erdoğan and his policies on other issues, he should be supported to continue with the peace process, because the alternative, which is a re-escalation of the conflict, is quite scary.
The conundrum is that there are entrenched political camps in Turkey, which do not help the problem. Many of Erdoğan’s opponents, who have many good reasons to oppose him on various issues, oppose the peace process as well, simply because they have become deeply suspicious of whatever Erdoğan does. They need to be more nuanced.
On the other hand, Erdoğan has zero nuance, too, for he accuses every critic of the “peace process” of being malicious enemies of peace who again want to see terror and bloodshed. (He even used the term “necrophilia,” adding to the long list of insults he throws at his opponents.) This Manichaeism blinds the government from hearing reasonable criticisms, such as the fact that the government does not have a well-worked out roadmap for the process and suffers from the lack of a transparency.
Even bigger problems are visible on the side of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK) as well. The organization, which is a terrorist group by most international definitions, speaks of its commitment to “peace” all the time. But it keeps its militants under arms, and keeps recruiting more. Recently, it recruited more than a dozen teenagers (committing a violation of the international laws concerning child soldiers) despite the ongoing protests of their families. Moreover, all narratives coming from pro-PKK sources show that the organization wants not just mere “peace,” but an autonomous southeast dominated by its own iron fist.
Here, a party that deserves blame is Turkey’s leftist “democrats,” who have been rightly outspoken against state misconduct, but conspicuously silent about the violence and totalitarianism of the PKK. They need to see that the goodwill on the state side is hardly seen on the other side, with the possible exception of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK. But for the fragile peace process to move on, we need progress on the Kurdish side as well, towards reconciliation with Turks and pluralism among Kurds.