Turkey's “Kurdish Question” Back To Center Stage After Elections And New Bloodshed

Op-Ed: By now, a resolution to Turkey’s most intractable internal conflict must include the PKK, which has both widespread popular support and blood on its hands.

A Kurdish New Year's celebration in Istanbul (Sean David Hobbs)
A Kurdish New Year's celebration in Istanbul (Sean David Hobbs)
Ismet Berkan

ISTANBUL - Sometimes it helps to discuss matters openly. Yes, the 30-year-old Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) is a terrorist organization with blood on its hands. But with that said, the PKK possesses a popular appeal among Kurds in Turkey that cannot be denied.

While the respective histories of the PKK and the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (PDP) are different, few would argue with the fact that these two leading Kurdish parties share the same political perspective.

In the recent national elections, PDP gained undeniably strong support, garnering 6.5 percent of the voters across Turkey. In some cities in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey, this support hovered around 60 percent. What is more amazing is that PDP made such a strong national showing while gaining votes from fewer than half of all possible provinces in Turkey.

It is good to look at all of these facts with an objective eye. Those who say, "the Kurdish Question is different than the PKK" are wrong. Like it or not, ‘the Kurdish Question" and the ‘PKK problem" are more intertwined than ever before – in essence, they have become the same question.

Imagining the PKK as just three to five thousand people with guns in the mountains, and ignoring the political support for these mountain terrorists, is the biggest mistake that could be made.

Still, violence continues. On July 14, 13 Turkish soldiers were killed in a clash with PKK militants in the southeastern Diyarbakir province. Following the attacks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, "There is no Kurdish Problem; only a PKK Problem." He added that "each Kurdish citizen has problems in his or her life, but the issues of Kurdish citizens in Turkey don't have to do with the PKK."

Separating the Kurdish Question from the PKK has been a standard view among government officials for some time. The unreliability of the PKK, the complexity of the PKK's leadership structure, PKK leaders who contradict each other are some of the factors that can lead to a lack of trust within government circles. Government leaders may think they are taking a huge political risk by considering a working relationship with the PKK, yet the government is unable to find anyone other than the PKK to truly speak for the Kurdish people.

Two problems, one people

I understand this is a very disappointing situation for government leaders. However, what I do not understand is concluding that there is no way the PKK and the government can work together. This viewpoint takes us back to before 2005 when the government would say, "There is a Kurdish problem and the problem is the PKK," and then exclude the PKK from any possible decision-making process for a lasting political solution for the Kurds of Turkey.

Personally, I have been trying to study closely the Kurdish problem since the 1980's. In my opinion, there once was a possible solution for the Kurdish problem, even a solution that would have excluded a terrorist organization like the PKK. However at that time, our government was in favor of not only trying to resolve the problem without the PKK, but also without the Kurds. Since the 1980's, the denial of the Kurds increased the growth of the Kurdish Question or Kurdish Problem, and drove Kurds to identify themselves more closely with the PKK. We have now reached a point today where people say, "Let Kurds be a part of the solution, but not the PKK."

I believe we have reached a stage where a solution without the PKK is not possible. In fact, government leaders have realized for quite some time that the PKK needs to be a part of resolving the Kurdish Question. Since 1992, on again, off again talks have been taking place directly or indirectly between the PKK and the Turkish government. Included in all of these discussions is the condition that the PKK will finally surrender, leave their guns, come down from the mountains and become a legal organization.

Of course there is always the "other" option. The second option is simple: make no peace and unified resolution with the PKK; instead try to "liquidate" the PKK. The recent 13 martyrs that we lost this month in attacks in the southeast of Turkey, should at least remind us that we have been trying to apply this "second option" to the Kurdish Question for 30 years.

It's up to you to make the decision: Should this Kurdish Question be resolved with the PKK or without the PKK?

Read the original article in Turkish

photo - Sean David Hobbs

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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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