Why is Turkey’s ‘peace’ crumbling?

Why is Turkey’s ‘peace’ crumbling?

In the past 10 days, Turkey made global headlines with its belated entry to the coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) led by the United States. This was, perhaps, good news of sort. Meanwhile, however, some bad news also came: Turkey’s three-year-old cease-fire with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ended, and the 30-year-old war with the militant Kurdish party was reignited. 

These are, of course, somewhat related developments. When an ISIL suicide bomber killed 32 pro-Kurdish socialist youngsters in Suruç on July 20, it not only opened Ankara’s eyes to the ISIL threat within its own borders. It also angered all Kurds, especially the PKK, which holds the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government (rightly or wrongly) responsible for the rise of ISIL in the region. Hence two days later, PKK militants assassinated two Turkish policemen in their very apartments, while they were sleeping with their families. In return, Turkish war planes hit PKK headquarters in northern Iraq. In return, the PKK assassinated a Turkish officer while he was strolling the streets with his wife and daughter. 

In other words, the vicious cycle of violence that Turkey was able to put on hold since 2012 thanks to the “peace process” with the PKK began again. This is a major threat to Turkey’s peace and stability, perhaps even more serious than the threat from ISIL. After all, ISIL may have just a few thousand sympathizers in Turkey. The PKK, however, have millions. 

Why did all this happen? Why did the “peace process” become derailed? Naturally, both sides, that is, the AKP government and the PKK, blame each other. The real problem, however, was that there was always a big gap in their visions of how “peace” would be achieved. For the AKP, it was the securing of the Kurds’ cultural rights and the disarmament of the PKK. For the PKK, it was the creation of an autonomous “Turkish Kurdistan,” which the PKK itself would dominate and rule.

More lately, the AKP (or, more precisely, President Tayyip Erdoğan) also contributed to the downfall of the peace process. In his usual pre-election maneuvers to garner nationalist votes, Erdoğan made statements that disillusioned many Kurds, and even condemned the famous “Dolmabahçe agreement” that his own AKP government signed with deputies from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The AKP’s Syria policy, which seemed to prefer Salafi jihadists to the pro-PKK Democratic Union Party (PYD), also added to the bitterness.

However, it would be unfair to blame only the AKP and Erdoğan for the crumbling of the peace process – as many voices in the Turkish liberal-left seem to be doing. The PKK’s own militancy, arrogance and fanaticism also constitute a big problem, if not the biggest one. 

One credible voice who pointed out this problem is Masoud Barzani, the very leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.  “The Turkish government has taken positive steps, and has adopted a positive attitude for a peaceful resolution,” he said the other day to the press. “However, we have seen that some sides [the PKK] has taken it as a matter of pride and did not utilize these opportunities.” He also criticized the PKK for “having a monistic attitude and interfering in other regions where Kurds live.” In other words, for trying to dominate every Kurdish space, from Turkey to Iraq, to Syria.  

For “peace” to be re-established, it is imperative that the PKK backs off from this authoritarian militancy. It is also imperative that the AKP/Erdoğan side thinks long-term rather than merely according to the next elections. Sadly though, both of these seem a bit unlikely now.