In Turkey, Facing The Kurdish Problem Without Saying Kurd

Support for Ocalan at a pro-PKK rally in Athens last year
Support for Ocalan at a pro-PKK rally in Athens last year
Ismet Berkan

ISTANBUL — A one-page document. That's it.

All right, let's include the appendix — that makes a total of two and a half pages. And with a big font too.

I am talking about the Draft Law for Ending Terrorism and Increasing Social Unity, which the government recently presented to Parliament. Five articles in total, in this new bill.

The word “Kurd” appears neither in the law itself, nor its justification in the appendix. It is as if there is a kind of virtual “terrorism,” of which the origins are unknown, and this law is being created to authorize the executive branch to do whatever is necessary to end it. You would think the executive had until now not feel so obliged, and perhaps might not do what is necessary, if not for this law.

But no, this is not the aim of this law. Everybody knows what needs to be done, and the depth and scope are already quite clear. The aim of the law is indeed written in its fourth article.

“Article 4:

1) Duties assigned in scope of this law is immediately carried out by the related state bodies and institutions

2) People who carry out duties assigned in scope of this law do not have legal, governmental and penal responsibility."

Yes, this will be the only functional article of this measure, if it is approved by Parliament and is signed into law. The rest are a grouping of wishful thinking and rhetorical language. Of course, there is also the assigning of the Public Safety Undersecretariat for the coordination of the “solution process.” This is all there is.

But let us circle back a bit, and discuss why this law was needed.

The negotiations have been underway since the fall of 2012 — directly with Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) who is currently a convict at the Imrali Island prison, and indirectly with PKK headquarters in the Qandil Mountains.

The government side does not call what is being done “negotiations.” PKK and Ocalan, on the other hand, want very much to “negotiate” and for the process to be called that.

On and off the table

In a negotiation there are things that can be a part of the exchange, and others that cannot.

For example, you cannot negotiate issues that are considered basic human rights —including education in mother tongue, constitutional right of “equality before law" that includes Kurds, all political ideas up to separatism itself being discussed at political platforms or the wider democratization of the country. These are the things that should be done, whether or not you have an armed organization against you.

However, there are also demands such as “democratic autonomy” which could eventually lead into a federation. There are demands such as “forming self-defense forces” which means a separate military. These can be topics of the political negotiation of course.

There are also topics like a general pardon, re-integrating the PKK guerrillas to get them to come down from the mountains into society, somehow facing the grief caused either by the government or the PKK in the past and the status of Ocalan. The timetable for those should also be negotiated.

This is the broad picture I have but both Ocalan and the PKK started negotiations from somewhere else: the status of the Kurds in the Republic of Turkey and the status of the PKK at these negotiations.

The matter of Kurds having constitutional status (being mentioned in the constitution as a founding people) is not on the agenda anymore, but the status of PKK have always remained on the agenda.

The codename for PKK's status demand was “legal framework for the negotiations.” The government resisted this first, and we see in the current bill that it continues to resist.

But even before considering whether a legal status could ever be granted to the PKK, the word “Kurd” is not even mentioned. Finding a solution to the so-called "Kurdish Problem" is both a long and winding road.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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