Syrian crisis affects Turkey’s Kurdish dialogue

Syrian crisis affects Turkey’s Kurdish dialogue

A 22-year-old suspect, Hakan Tunç, who is accused of carrying out actions on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), got into a row with the judge at a criminal court in Turkey’s eastern town of Erzurum on Nov. 5. He refused to give a personal defense but made PKK propaganda and demanded that the government continue the dialogue with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, as reported by semi-official Anadolu Agency.

The same day, after visiting him in İmralı Island prison, south of Istanbul, Öcalan’s daughter, Fatma Öcalan, told reporters that he had said that although he was in favor of the “continuation of the process, no one from the government has been talking to him” for a while.

On the other hand, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, who is coordinating efforts in pursuit of a political solution to the Kurdish problem, said again on Nov. 5 that the “process” had not been interrupted, but rather that the government has been working on future steps. In the same statement, he added that the government was “not building a wall” to separate the Turkish border town of Nusaybin from its twin on the Syrian town of Qamishlo, but “just reinforcing the fences for border security.”

This is important because Nusaybin mayor Ayşe Gökkan, who is on the list of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which shares the same grassroots as the PKK, has been on hunger strike since Oct. 30 in protest at the construction of the wall. Highlighting that Turkish and Syrian citizens of Kurdish origin are living in both Nusaybin and Qamishlo, she claims that it is “another step to separate Kurds from each other.”

Turkey has seen hunger strikes before. The latest was ended a year ago, on Nov. 18, 2012, after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan sent his intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, to Öcalan to start the dialogue process. However, all strikes so far have either been for better prison conditions or for certain democratization demands in the political scene; not against a foreign and security policy issue like this.
The civil war in Syria has been negatively affecting Turkey’s Kurdish dialogue, not only regarding border security. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Syria, which can be considered the Syrian branch of the PKK, claims that the al-Qaeda affiliated militant groups in Syria such as al-Nusra or the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), against which it is fighting over the control of border towns, have been receiving support from within Turkey and the Turkish authorities are turning a blind eye to this support. The Turkish government denies those claims. However, the alleged links of radical Islamist groups within the country adds to the existing problems regarding the continuation of the dialogue between the government and the PKK. It is also a problem between Turkey and its main ally the United States.
Hakan Tahmaz of Peace Assemblies of Turkey, a civilian initiative mostly active on the Kurdish problem, is concerned over the tension that has “started to escalate again” as “question marks pile up about the future of the process.”

“We do not want to have to try to prevent the PKK from starting its armed actions again” he told the Hürriyet Daily News. “We want to see Parliament reach a consensus on the Kurdish issue, like it did in solving the headscarf problem. But the government has to take the first step for that.”

Tahmaz says he is afraid that a new wave of hunger strikes or civil disobedience actions could start in protest at the government, which could put at risk the whole “peace process.”