How to avoid becoming Syria

How to avoid becoming Syria

“They have not started the real fight yet,” my source told me. He was a man from Tunceli, in his 50s, once a leading member of a leftist group, now the founder of an NGO. He was in touch with all Kurdish groups, including the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) and the leadership of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). “They are simply practicing self-defense in the areas that are under security pressure.”

It is hard to believe in this logic. Since July 10, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has killed more than 40 people in uniform and has caused considerable fear and economic loss in Turkey. Besides the fact that it is forcing voters and ordinary citizens into nationalism, there is very little sensible evidence in the breach of the cease-fire from the side of the government. 

Turkey’s sudden U-Turn in the Kurdish peace process has created a vacuum and also a spiral of violence that can quickly get out of control. The PKK has lost faith in the process since last spring. That is why the much-expected letter from jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan this year in Nevruz was quite a disappointment for many. 

Urban militias had started ID checks, local courts and tax centers have been formed. The Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), the urban and youth branch of the PKK, has even started recruiting personnel for security positions. All this happened in front of the watchful eyes of Justice and Development Party (Ak Party)-appointed governors.

But let’s rewind to the historic Nevruz of 2013, when the first letter from Öcalan was read in Bağlar Square in southeastern Diyarbakir to millions. “This is not the end, but in fact the beginning of a different kind of struggle,” Öcalan’s letter had said. The leader of the PKK was framing his arguments for a greater Middle East cause.  

The breaking point in the peace talks came during the siege of Kobane, when Turkey shied away from an open confrontation with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Kurdish sources claimed these events created an emotional separation from the peace process, as Kurds feared they would be left to the mercy of ISIL had it come to Turkey. Not surprisingly, stories of distant villages around Muş, Adıyaman and Batman filled with local ISIL supporters spread like wildfire in the southeast. So, PKK leader Cemil Bayık’s expressions about “Kurds defending themselves” became almost a firing shot. The Ak Party’s reluctance towards ISIL reminded them of the years of state-supported Hizbullah’s presence in the 1990s.

So is there a way out of this? Turkey can recalibrate its policies towards the PKK. According to an intelligence report that was written (and most likely ignored) in 2008, the Turkish state could have been better off not dealing with Öcalan at all. Now, with all the credit given to him, Öcalan feels he is the savior of all secular Kurds and Turks. As politicians like Deputy Prime Minister Yalçin Akdoğan openly refer to him as the “decision maker” of this messy situation, real elected figures like HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş are becoming obsolete and discredited. The PKK’s leadership group in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq should also act according to the realities of the election results and at least create a peaceful state for ordinary Turks by avoiding killing police officers and soldiers. 

When Syrian opposition took to the streets in 2010, nobody thought it could get this far. As my friend Mona had said, “Turkey should not fall into the trap that has broken so many Middle Eastern states.”