Permanent war for the ‘New Turkey?’

Permanent war for the ‘New Turkey?’

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan spoke the other day on Turkey’s ongoing war with the PKK, the armed and outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. “We will continue fighting until the last weapon is silenced,” said, ruling out the option of renewed talks with the terrorist group. He explicitly noted:

“Those who are currently meeting with the terrorist organization speak of ‘negotiation.’ But there are no issues to be negotiated. There are now two paths for terrorists who target our citizens with bomb-laden vehicles: Either they surrender and accept the ruling delivered by the judiciary about them, or they are neutralized in the place where they are trapped.”

So, either the terrorists will surrender to justice, or we will kill them until they are finished off. Both options may sound nice to millions of Turks who are fed up with with PKK violence over the past three decades. Both options, however, seem very unlikely. 

First of all, the PKK will never surrender, as its long history proves. Second, the PKK will never be fully finished off either, again as its long history proves. Since 1984, security forces have killed more than 30,000 PKK militants, but they were always replaced by new ones. For this is not a small band of isolated zealots. It is rather a huge organization with mass support and widespread grassroots.

Hence, the determination to wipe the PKK out with weapons has only one practical promise: The state will kill more PKK militants, while in return, the PKK will kill more Turkish policemen and soldiers. Meanwhile, lots of civilians will die as well, as “collateral damage.”

That, in fact, is clearly what is happening. As President Erdoğan, somewhat proudly, declared a month ago, “we killed 3,100 terrorists in the year 2015.” In return, “we lost 200 security personnel, and also some [unarmed] citizens.” Some can feel happy at seeing this kill ratio: 10 to 1! However, we should rather hope to see an end to all this killing.  

How we can stop all this killing is not rocket science: Only through the “negotiation” option that Erdoğan just ruled out. We just have to give the president his due on that, however. He actually was the only leader in Turkish history who openly supported and initiated negotiations with the PKK, which gave us two-and-a-half years of a bloodless “peace process.” Now Erdoğan holds the PKK responsible for the collapse of that process, and frankly he is not totally wrong about that. 

Yet is that really the right lesson to take from the failure of the peace talks? Once they failed, should we go back to permanent war, which will bring only more bloodshed to this country?

I am not sure whether the president really means to engage in such a permanent war, or whether he is rather standing tough for the time being, to give the PKK heavier losses, and also to score some public approval in the wake of the battle for the “presidential system.” I am also not sure whether everybody in the government thinks like him. Prime Minister Ahmet Davuoğlu took a softer tone last weekend in Diyarbakır, where he said “all can be discussed if we return to May 2013,” or the time when the PKK declared a farewell to arms.  

This moderate line should be nurtured and supported – not just by us, Turks, but also Turkey’s allies, including the United States government who sees Ankara’s fixation on “the Kurds” as a big problem in northern Syria. That trouble will end not by bashing Ankara, but by helping bring it and its Kurdish foes back to the peace table.