Kurds and the government are playing a dangerous game

Kurds and the government are playing a dangerous game

The tension stemming from the weeks-long siege of the Kurdish town Kobane in northern Syria by the jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has gripped Turkey.

Thousands of people took to the streets to protest the government’s inaction on the situation even as mortar shells and bullets increasingly hit Turkish villages. At least 18 people were killed in the clashes during the protests, which started after calls by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The situation in Kobane, from where over 150,000 Syrian Kurds have fled to Turkey, is unacceptable, and the ISIL jihadists, who have taken barbarism to another level in the name of Islam, should be stopped at all costs. Turkey should continue providing humanitarian support to the Syrian Kurds, hit ISIL positions if mortar shells continue to fall inside Turkey, and seriously consider meeting the demand of a corridor to allow People’s Protection Units (YPG) members to travel to Kobane to defend the town.

One of the reasons behind the protests is the belief that the government has supported (and is still supporting) ISIL, which government officials categorically deny. Kurds say that if Kobane falls into the hands of ISIL, the government-led Kurdish peace process will crumble and the 18-month-long cease-fire that the PKK declared unilaterally will come to an end.

The government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have increased their tone against ISIL since the the former’s visit to New York for the U.N. convention last month. Both Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Erdoğan now define ISIL as a terrorist organization, a term they had avoided using until the last couple of weeks, instead preferring the term “ISIL elements.” Davutoğlu has also repeatedly said ISIL’s main power source was “oppressed and angry” Sunnis, blaming the sectarian polices of ex-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

But the government’s failed policies cannot be an excuse for the violence that the protesters resorted to. Kurdish politicians should acknowledge that the violence, coupled with their rather provocative action calls, is not helping their cause, but is in fact damaging it. The situation is increasing the skepticism among the public about the peace process, while also creating a suitable environment for anti-Kurdish messages to spread with the help of social media, which has turned into a haven for racism.

The government’s stance is not helping, either. On the one hand, state officials, including National Intelligence Agency (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan, are holding talks with the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Öcalan. On the other hand, Erdoğan says ISIL is “no different” than the PKK, calling on the coalition also to target the PKK. This is not a way to go while you are involved in talks and have even created a legal basis for a solution to the decades-long problem.

Another danger in the situation is the resurfacing of a deadly conflict in the southeast. Most of the victims in the protests were killed in clashes between protesters and other groups, not with the security forces. Eight were killed in Diyarbakır in clashes between Kurdish protesters and members of the Free Cause Party (Hüda-Par) during an attempt to attack the party’s building.

The party was founded in December 2012 by members of a defunct association with reported links to Turkish Hizbullah, used as a tool by the state in the 1990s against the PKK and Kurdish politicians. The organization was behind hundreds of murders committed in the region until it was the target of police raids in 2000.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has created enemies as a way of doing politics for years. First it was the military, then it was coup plotters, then it was Gezi protesters, and the latest “enemy of the national will” is the Gülen Movement, dubbed the "parallel state" by AKP officials. In times of crisis, people tend to support the strongest party and the leader, which are without doubt the AKP and Erdoğan in Turkey.

The party's supporters were quick to try to make use of the situation, portraying the situation as a “combined attack” on the government.

“The PKK-HDP-parallel state serve the international purpose of using ISIL as a tool to undermine the government,” AKP lawmaker Şamil Tayyar wrote on his Twitter account yesterday.

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools." The government and Kurdish politicians are playing a dangerous game over the lives and pains of the people; we will soon see if anyone has learned anything.