No way to solve this problem

No way to solve this problem

In one part of the country there was reveling into the wee hours of the morning on New Year’s Eve. In the other there was anguish, resentment and fury as villagers buried 35 of their loved ones killed in a “friendly fire” incident involving the Turkish military. 

What this provides is an image of a country where the divide between Turks and Kurds is continuing to grow, with a parallel increase in violence. Many question now if the Erdoğan government is up to solving this problem, especially after its often contradictory positions on the issue. 

It appears the government still has difficulty discerning between the Kurdish problem and the question of PKK terrorism. The best example of this is Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin, who caused uproar recently when he indicated that pro-Kurdish poetry, paintings, articles and so forth were the new “psychological and scientific” methods by which the PKK was running its terror campaign. 

The contradiction here is that while Sahin was saying this, another minister, Besir Atalay, who is overseeing the efforts to solve the Kurdish problem, was saying the opposite; namely that a new democratic package was on the way with regard to the Kurdish problem, which would also lift all restrictions on freedom of expression.

But the problem is not restricted to the government’s inability to consider the Kurdish problem separately from the PKK problem. Ultranationalists - and they are strong, crossing party lines as they do when it comes to the Kurdish issue - are now vesting hopes in remarks by the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, Devlet Bahceli.

Bahceli is suggesting that the 35 killed in Uludere may now have been mere smugglers, smuggling fuel and cigarettes over the border with Iraq to eke out a meager living. His bottom line amounts to saying “how do we know they were not aiding the PKK one way or another?”

Those who have latched on to Bahceli’s words are clearly hoping to blur the issue so the Turkish state does not have to apologize for this mass killing, pay compensation and punish the guilty. Meanwhile readers’ comments in the internet editions of Turkish papers on the incident were enough to show the lack of mutual sympathy across the Turkish-Kurdish divide. 

The picture on the other side is no better though. The attempt by a mob – most likely PKK agitators – to lynch the government prefect of Uludere as he tried to offer his condolences to the bereaved families can’t be explained away as “the product of understandable fury.” 

At any rate it was the responsible Kurds in the region who prevented an ugly incident that would now have brought shame on the Kurds as a whole. Looked at this general picture, though, it is clear the Kurdish problem will not be solved in this way. The government needs to take bold steps and stand behind them in the face of the inevitable criticism that will come from Turkish nationalists. 

It got a strong mandate from the public in the last elections and is in a position to do this, provided, that is, it can muster the political will. On the other hand, it is not clear if the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has what it takes to rise to the occasion on this dangerous yet historic moment for Turkey in terms of both Turks and Kurds. 

Whatever the case may be, it should be known all around that this is Turkey’s most important problem at the moment and if it can’t be solved reasonably everyone stands to lose, not just one side or the other.