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The Dangers Of Turkey's Mass Arrest Of Kurdish Politicians

Op-Ed: There will be a heavy price to pay for the recent detention of more than 150 accused of being part of a banned separatist Kurdish group. Those sure to benefit are hardliners on all sides as hopes grow dimmer for a democratic solution to the Kurdish

An anti-PKK demonstration this summer in Istanbul
An anti-PKK demonstration this summer in Istanbul

ISTANBUL -The size and timing of the recent wave of detentions of dozens of Kurdish politicians, alleged to be members of a banned separatist group, suggests that we are at one of the most important crossroads on the Kurdish question in recent memory.

In the public's eyes at least, it seems inevitable that these arrests will create scars comparable to the ones created by the images of Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) officials being handcuffed in Diyarbakir in December 2009.

Let's begin with the timing of the recent operation. It is striking that these arrests of more than 150 people -- accused of being part of KCK, an offshoot of the banned separatist group PKK -- took place less than 48 hours after the BDP deputies decided against boycotting parliament and were sworn in as MPs on Saturday.

Even though they didn't receive any guarantee concerning the release of their party's MPs who are still in jail, the BDP decided against a boycott. This concession on their part suggested that the Kurdish problem, which had been hurtling out of control, might be contained. But such optimism proved unfounded. Those who'd backed the BDP's decision to attend parliament are now feeling deeply disappointed.

This recent wave of detentions has put the BDP deputies in a very tight spot; it has hurt their ability to play a role in reducing current tensions, and indeed removed any opportunity for them to start anew. The hardliners who opposed BDP going to parliament no doubt now feel emboldened.

What is just as worrying is the possibility that this new situation will also damage the BDP's ability to contribute to efforts to draft a new Turkish constitution, and to create a broad consensus among different parties in parliament.

Peace efforts will be hurt

This most recent operation is a serious blow to the BDP, which is already reeling from dozens of smaller waves of detentions and arrests over the past three years. It has caused disarray and made it hard for the party to find the breathing room it needs. It is a fact that at this point the BDP is having a hard time recruiting in certain cities.

Inevitably, democratic impulses and options within the Kurdish movement begin to narrow. Peace efforts directed at quelling the renewed violence, and finding a political solution instead, will be crippled. It is clear that hawkish groups within the Kurdish separatist PKK movement who wish to continue the violence will take advantage of the current situation.

Undermining the BDP in this way risks stifling the will of a great many Kurdish supporters who wish to coexist with Turks. Unfortunately, this lack of faith in a democratic solution to the Kurdish question is taking root among Kurds, particularly among the younger generations, and is strengthening young people's tendency to take to the mountains and become guerrillas.

It is clear that the recent wave of detentions will add to the hardening of positions that began before elections in June, and has continued to steadily increase ever since. We are now at a time when negotiations are over, peaceful options off the table, and military solutions have once again moved to the forefront. The PKK will no doubt escalate its campaign of terrorism, particularly in big cities.

What rationale lies behind the government's decision to land such a blow against the Kurdish movement's political wing? Could Ankara be looking to create a situation where it totally frustrates both the BDP and the PKK on all fronts so that it can return to the negotiating table with the upper hand?

The government might well be pursuing such a strategy because it now believes in absolute victory. But if this is the case, there's a risk of being back to square one. Since the 1980s, when PKK terrorism first emerged, security-based policies aimed at eradicating the PKK have never worked; moreover, they also contributed to the strengthening of Kurdish nationalism that this time could also flare up in western Turkey.

For this reason, we should be fully aware that if the same path was to be taken again, it could greatly jeopardize the possibility of a coexistence between Turks and Kurds, as well as the future of a peaceful society within Turkey.

Read the original story in Turkish

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