If we were to believe Erdogan’s up-beat ‘anti-terror’ rhetoric, we might also be tempted to believe that Turkey, led by him, has been one of the most important states fighting terrorist organizations since the beginning of the current phase of the conflict in the Middle East—a phase that originally started with the Western engineered so-called “Arab Spring.” While the ‘spring’ has since long become a disastrous ‘winter’, the spate of violence continues to send political jolts across the entire Mid-Eastern political landscape, pitting states against states as well as non-state actors against states. And, nowhere is this tussle more evident and crucial than in the case of Kurds, who have been one of the most important groups successfully contesting Islamic State’s (IS) militant onslaught.
The struggle has been greatly successful and the more successful it becomes, the more uneasy is Turkish leadership getting. This is evident from Erdogan’s war against Kurds both inside and outside Turkey. Not only is Erdogan led Turkish regime paving the way for political intolerance against Kurds by projecting them as politically subversive, but also unwittingly pushing them to start more vigorous campaign for the protection of their rights.
The latest call in this behalf came in the last week of December when Peoples` Democratic Party (HDP) co-chairman Demirtas said that Turkey`s largest ethnic minority had to decide whether to live in autonomy or `under one man`s tyranny`. His call—although a reflection of political suppression Kurds have been subjected to—was, as could be expected, projected by Turkey’s ruling ‘janta’ as an ‘unmistakable’ evidence of ‘treachery’ and ‘treason.’ As could further be expected, the Government officials wasted no time in opening criminal investigation against him for crimes against the constitutional order over suggesting Kurds should push for autonomy in their stronghold of the southeast of the country.
`What the co-leader has done is clearly provocation, treason,’ Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday at Istanbul airport before leaving for Saudi Arabia. Referring to the criminal investigation against Demirtas, Erdogan said: `I believe that the treachery network dealing a blow to our country`s unity will learn a lesson it deserves from our people and from the law.’
An instance of political suppression and criminalization as it is, Erdogan’s war against Kurds has literally intensified manifold since the beginning of Turkey’s direct military intervention in Syria and Iraq. Demirtas’ call came amid this very highly intensified war against them. Tensions are running high in Turkey`s predominantly Kurdish southeast, which has been rocked by curfews imposed on several towns where the security forces have been battling PKK fighters.
Residents of the towns under curfew are reported to be facing food shortages and problems with water and electricity supplies. Many homes have been damaged by shelling. In the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, police was reported to have fired tear gas and water cannon against protesters who demonstrated against the curfew in the Sur district of the city. Nearly 2,000 protesters made up of representatives from left-wing unions gathered outside the city`s municipality but police blocked them from staging a march.
Erdogan’s ‘silent war’ against Kurds has been largely ignored by the West as the Western media continues with its high-praise mantra about Erdogan’s “new role” in the war against Islamic State. While Erdogan regime continues its brutal repression of Kurds, for Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, it is a ‘struggle against’ terrorism which will be fought to the end without compromise.
However, far from a so-called ‘struggle against terrorism’, the war against Kurds has become more like systematic massacre. According to the figures provided by the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, over 125 civilians have so far been killed and in total there have been about 150 days of “curfew” each of them lasting for the whole 24 hours, not simply overnight.
As the data shows, in Sur District of Diyarbakır (central district of Diyarbakır where 121, 75 people resides according to 2014 population census) curfews were declared for 5 times and longest of these continued for 9 days. 6 civilians (2 of them were children) lost their lives.The 5th curfew was declared on 2 December 2015 at 5 am, continued for 9 days, and was lifted on 10 December 2015 at 11 pm. After only 17 hours of break, curfew was declared again on 11 December 2015 at 4pm for the 6th time and it was reported to be in full enforecement untill December 25.
Having won his parliamentary majority by promising to bring stability to Turkey, Erdogan has greatly stepped up the war against the Kurds which he started during the summer. Since August 16, there have been 52 open-ended and round-the-clock curfews in 17 provinces of 7 Kurdish cities that house almost 1.3 million people. Numerous cases of civilian deaths as well as indiscriminate operation against Kurdish population have been reported since that time.
One of the most importnat cases reported—which is also, perhaps, the most importnat instance of political suppression of Kurds—is that of Cizre city’s mayor Leyla Imret’s dismissal in September. She was deposed by Erdogan’s government despite the fact that she had been elected by 83% of the voters in 2014. Leyla was not only deposed but also put under detention for warning of the risk of civil war breaking out in Turkey due to Erdogan regime’s brutal policies. Although she was reported to have been released soon after, she has been absent from the scene since at least December 16, 2015 when she put her last message on the internet informing the world about Turkish army’s shelling of her home.
Although the Turkish government believes that by crushing resistance in the towns under curfew, it will finally eliminate support for the PKK and Kurdish nationalism, opponents say current policies may have exactly the opposite effect. It is so because Erdogan regime is, by any stretch of imagination, not ready to politically accommodate Kurds within Turkey’s constitutional framework. A little information of the background will help us understand why this is so.
Until last June the PKK and the Turkish government were in serious peace negotiations and hostilities had stopped after years of a bloody civil war. However, in the June parliamentary elections the HDP, a leftist and Kurdish based party, became the third largest parliamentary force on the basis of rising class struggle and a politically vibrant Kurdish youth. This was by far the biggest setback for the AKP since it came to power in 2002 and considerably ruined Erdogan’s plans of changing the constitution to concentrate powers in his presidency. It was on this basis that Erdogan, leaning on his old nationalist foes, attempted to whip up nationalism by starting a civil war against the Kurds and leftist forces of Turkey. In reality, it was, and still is, only a means to exclude Kurds from all constitutional processes to pave the way for Erdogan regime to ease into a new constitutional framework.
And this is precisely what Turkish Prime Minister echoed when he recently stated that he would not hold talks on a new constitution with the pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples Democratic Party), which was until last spring the main channel for peace talks between the PKK and the government. Davutoğlu a day earlier had also denounced the HDP as “traitors” for condemning Turkey’s downing of a Russian Su 24 jet on 24 November.
Erdogan’s operation against Kurds is a clear example of his regime’s intransigent refusal to share power with Kurds within Turkey’s constitutional framework. This political intolerance is likely to translate into social intolerance, which in turn may literally take Turkey to the brink of a fully-fledged civil war and bring it in line with Iraq and Syria. For Erdogan to survive, a politically inclusive constitutional framework is needed and if his regime continues unabated to persist in changing the constitution to concentrate more and more powers in him, it would certainly turn out to be a recipe of disaster rather than stability.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.