ISTANBUL - To understand the current stage of Turkey's so-called "Kurdish problem," rather than political analysis we are better off relying on the fundamentals of chemistry: The law of conservation of mass tells us that "nothing can be created out of nothing, and nothing can ever be completely destroyed.”
Therefore, promoting the concept that “there are no Kurds” to create an imaginary “Turkishness” was ultimately bound to be futile. Now instead, we are beginning to hear calls repeated that “there is no Kurdish problem, there is just a PKK problem.”
So, how much will this growing realization, reflected this week as troops of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) began to withdraw from Turkey, take us toward solving the Kurdish problem?
It seems that to realize this truth is not enough, there also needs some time for it to become accepted as such. But how does this happen?
There are those who now hope the PKK will withdraw silently “out of sight, out of mind...” We are expected to pretend as if the group no longer exists, even if we know that they do.
Turkish Prime MinisterTayyip Recep Erdogan’s words -- “Let them leave Turkey, it is not our business where they will go” -- show that this expectation was being created well beforehand. To put it in another way, new borders are being drawn for the public perception and questioning of Turkey’s concept of its Kurdish problem.
Where will the PKK members go?
But once the details emerged, as it is hard to believe, it was revealed once more that there is no real plan for this hastened process. The people who wonder “what will happen after this” seem to have no choice but to look at what has happened until today.
The slopes of Qandil
The PKK’s existence in Iraqi Kurdistan goes back to the early years of the rebel group. However, it was in the 1990’s when it cemented its position there, and took control of some swaths of territory. Despite the lack of official records, it is assumed that PKK controls about 500 villages along the border of Turkey and Iran.
Some of these villages are in the Bahdinan area which is known as the traditional population stronghold of the Kurdistan Democrat Party (KDP). The villages in this area under PKK rule are almost completely empty. The villagers mostly live in surrounding settlements or in various towns and cities of Iraqi Kurdistan. Access to the villages comes by PKK’s approval only, and just for the villagers to gather crops from their fields and gardens.
The situation is a little different at Soran area where the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is in charge. There are 78 villages at the slopes of the Qandil Mountain; also known as “Binare Qandil.” Access to those villages is also under PKK control, but life goes on normally, with schools and health services available as in other parts of rural Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Mahmur Camp
Another settlement zone sympathetic to the PKK is the Mahmur Refugee Camp. There is a completely different system at the camp, which had no relations with the Iraqi Kurdistan from its foundation in 1998 to 2004. Currently, the Mahmur Camp is part of the “debated” zone, which will have its fate determined with a referendum according to the Article 140 of the Constitution of Iraq; therefore, it is not subject to the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government. However, regional authorities are providing security in practice since 2004, as well as local wages and expenses for running the camp.
Does it exist if you don’t see it?
At the end of the day, the PKK has actually existed in Iraqi Kurdistan as a political authority above and beyond guerilla status for a long time; although this has largely been kept quiet until today.
The new process that has begun with the PKK's withdrawal from Turkey points to this authority’s recognition more than just a necessity of the “Kurdiyati,” or self-identity. Thus, 420 families applied to the Kurdistan Parliament just this week, demanding martyr status for their relatives who died in the service of PKK.
In the end, it is not easy to guess how the Kurds will overcome this challenge. However, it is possible to offer an interpretation of the "let them go away, we do not care what they will do" attitude of Turkey, by looking at the past. Turkey, it seems, is looking to buy some time by saying: "there is no PKK if you do not see it’ just like it used to be said that ‘there is no Kurdish problem if you do not think about it.’ And then what? This time, it is more likely that the Kurds will decide what happens next, and Turkey will be left to accept their decision.