Division between Turks and Kurds growing

Division between Turks and Kurds growing

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is emphatic that there will be no return to the dialogue process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). He says the only way to go forward is to destroy this terrorist group. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has also put paid to speculation that the government is considering a return to the “solution process.” 

That process entailed indirect talks with the PKK, but ended abruptly after the general elections on June 7, 2015 when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority. Why the war with the PKK flared up overnight after those elections, and the question of whether this was instrumental in enabling the AKP to regain its parliamentary majority in subsequent elections on Nov. 2, 2015 will be debated for a long time.

It is clear that the PKK was smarting for a fight because it was unhappy with the solution process, which would ultimately have undermined its reason for being as a group (unless, that is, it is accepted as a legitimate political party). The fact that the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) passed the 10 percent electoral barrage and entered parliament in both elections was clearly not enough.

The PKK has been around for over 30 years. Such a long period brings vested interests that the group’s leadership wants to retain. The situation in Syria, where the Kurds have grabbed a historic opportunity to gain political privileges, clearly played a role too. Especially when one considers that the groups spearheading the Kurdish struggle in that country are PKK offshoots.

Many argue that the AKP also secured political advantages with the war against the PKK, which it does not want to lose. Whether there was any calculation on the part of the AKP, as this arguments implies, in ending the solution process will remain an open question.

It also remains to be seen whether the PKK can be destroyed the way Erdoğan wants. Groups like the IRA in Northern Ireland, which have a sociological base as well as an ideological orientation, were not defeated militarily in the end, but brought to heel at the table. 

Another mindset has to emerge before this can happen in Turkey. Hürriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi, a name close the AKP, cited a poll in his piece yesterday and wrote that only 27.3 percent of Turks want a return to the solution process, while support for this was around 72 percent among Kurds.

He did not indicate who carried out the poll, but he suggested it was reliable. One assumes it was a private survey commissioned by the government. If true, it means that a majority of Kurds want a political solution to the PKK problem, while a majority of Turks want a military solution. If true, this also undermines the government’s claim that this is not a fight against Kurds but a fight against terrorism.   

The PKK, which has been around for decades, is still standing, despite many determined operations by the Turkish security forces and military. The group’s recruitment strategy also remains strong, especially among young and angry Kurds. If Selvi’s figures are correct then one has to consider whether a military solution to the problem is possible.  

Of course, no country can afford to cave in to terrorism. Turkey can maintain this fight for a long time, despite the cost in lives. But it is also up to governments in such situations to consider all possible means to end the bloodshed. That requires a cool-headed approach, which is what many of Turkey’s allies are exhorting too. Turks, however, have been too agitated and angered by PKK murders to think along those lines. Governments, however, have to act from a broader perspective. It is not clear how long it will take before this is accepted in Turkey. 

Selvi’s figures show that the ethnic divide is growing, which is hardly promising for the future of peace and stability in this country.