Vicious cycle on the Kurdish front

Vicious cycle on the Kurdish front

When I woke up yesterday, I saw two breaking news: First, around a dozen members of the Turkish Parliament, all from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), had been detained by the police. Second, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist group that fights for Kurdish autonomy, had bombed the police station in Diyarbakır, killing eight people and injuring almost a hundred.

Then I opened my Twitter application, only to face the third line of breaking news: Twitter was not working.

 Neither was WhatsApp or Skype. The Turkish government had apparently decided that, for a while, we need some national “peace of mind.”

This is the sad reality we live in Turkey in the fall of 2016. It is particularly sad because we once had much better hopes. Two years ago there was a “peace process” between the government and the PKK, and nobody was dying in terror attacks or counter-terrorism measures. Politicians of the HDP were not detained or jailed, but rather were dialogue partners of the government, as was evidenced by the famous Dolmabahçe summit of February 2015.

How did we get to today’s situation? The answer is often given in the West by only pointing to decisions made by President Tayyip Erdoğan, but things are not quite so simple. 

First of all, the PKK is indeed a bloody terrorist group. It not only carries out a “guerilla war” against the Turkish army, it also continuously bombs urban settings, careless about the dozens of civilians it kills as “collateral damage.” The fact that the PKK’s ideological brethren in Syria are fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) should not hide this ugly truth.

Second, the HDP indeed does have links with the PKK. It may be fair to describe the party as the “political wing” of the PKK. An imperfect analogy would be Sinn Fein and the IRA, but in that case Sinn Fein used to control the IRA. Here, the PKK has more control over the HDP than vice versa.

That is the logic Turkish prosecutors use when going after HDP politicians. Accusations against them include charges like “terrorist propaganda” or “venerating crimes and criminals,” in reference to sympathetic statements by HDP politicians about “the guerillas.”

But, alas, it was the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government itself that brought forward a legal reform in 2013 that narrowed the definition of “terrorist propaganda” to the praise of specific acts of terror, not mere sympathy for a terror group. (Nobody remembers this reform today, especially the AKP itself.) So unless there is veneration of specific violent acts by the PKK, or evidence of participation in a terrorist act, which may be the case in a few instances, politicians should not be prosecuted.

That is the legal level. Then there is the political level as well. HDP politicians are sympathetic to the PKK for a simple reason: There are a few million Kurds who are also sympathetic to the PKK, and that is why they vote for the HDP. That is why the matter at hand is not simply a security problem, but also a political problem. As a result, while the PKK must be fought, the political channels must be kept open, as political problems can only be solved through political settlement. 

Ironically, the AKP was the only party in Turkish history that once agreed with the assessment above, and it did try to achieve a political settlement. When it failed, however, the AKP reverted back to “old Turkey” habits. It reverted back to the old vicious cycle, which will have no peaceful end.