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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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