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Turkey

Erdoğan Makes A U-Turn On the Kurdish Conflict

Not so long ago, the Prime Minister surprised everyone by seeking reconciliation with Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Yet ahead of national elections next month, Erdo?an has changed his tune.

Kurdish protest in Istanbul, Turkey.
Kurdish protest in Istanbul, Turkey.
Mehmet Ali Birand

ISTANBUL - Those who take a look at Turkey's recent history will see that its biggest issue is the problem of its Kurdish population. Until now, Prime Minister and AK Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had taken bold steps in addressing it.

During his first years in power, he demonstrated courage that no one else had dared to show, and diagnosed the illness. And beyond identifying the problem, he also made efforts to answer the longstanding grievances of the Kurds living in Southeast Anatolia.

The state of emergency in the region was lifted, Kurdish TV started broadcasting again, some restrictions on the use of Kurdish names were lifted, and most of all, the so-called ‘Kurdish Opening" planned in 2008-2009 created widespread hope that the country was moving on.

Each of these decisions was a small revolution. A revolution that lasted until nationalists protested against members of the outlawed PKK Kurdish separatist group re-entering Turkey through the Habur checkpoint at the Iraqi border. This act was strongly condemned within Erdoğan's AK Party as well as by other parties.

This scared the AK Party. All the democratic opening attempts came to a halt. And now, with just a few weeks left before elections, the Prime Minister has taken a new approach.

"There is no such thing as a Kurdish problem. There are the problems that our Kurdish population faces," the prime minister said recently.

We fulfill the needs and wishes of our citizens, and we will work more on that. But the PKK (separatists) and BDP (a legal pro-Kurdish party) have a different agenda: they seek to damage our togetherness and unity."

Erdoğan mentioned as "acts of separatism" demands that Kurdish be made a primary language and the refusal to pray alongside the government-assigned imam. "These acts are like bombs laid at the roots of our foundation," he said.

This approach is reminiscent of the 1990s when the attitude was "There are no Kurds, there are only mountain Turks."

I am one of those who believe that Erdoğan can't embrace a militarist attitude today. The superficiality of it is obvious, and when compared to the Prime Minister's previous approach, its sincerity is questionable.

A question directed at the Prime Minister on Monday night was very appropriate. Why does the government engage with Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK? Isn't it a contradiction?

The Prime Minister argued that this was necessary, and supported his point by citing the decline in terrorist attacks. This of course made everyone a little more confused.

I don't think that the Prime Minister can carry on with this approach after the elections. Frankly, I don't want to believe it. We have had this approach for 30 years and look where it got us. Taking a step back is going to be much more brutal. I expect Erdoğan to change both his approach and attitude after the elections.

Photo - LindsayT

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