Friday, August 24, 2012

Turkey and the PKK

Conflict between Turkey and northern Iraq has been a constant throughout the Iraq War.  Though the governments of Turkey and the KRG have improved relations (while the government out of Baghdad has gone the other way with regards to Turkey),  many problems remain including the hostilities that people feel on both sides.  Murat Yetkn's Hurriyet  column today that probably best captures the mood of those leery and distrustful of the PKK:

Turkey missed its chance when the PKK felt crushed by the arrest of Öcalan. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 changed the whole picture in a radical way, partly because Turkey’s Parliament barred the government from allowing American troops to use Turkish territory, and Iraqi Kurds became natural allies for the American troops. The PKK took advantage of the situation and began escalating its armed campaign once again from 2003 on.
Now there is a federal Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, bordering Turkey and Iran, where the PKK’s main headquarters are based. Despite complaints that the Iraqi government in Baghdad leans toward Iran, world energy giants are signing oil and gas contracts with the KRG one after another. The aim is to transfer the energy resources of Mesopotamia to European markets in a safe way beyond the reach of Iran, and probably Russia as well. Turkey, with its NATO membership and a brand-new anti-missile radar station, in addition to the decades-old İncirlik base, could be a safe option as a location for pipelines as compared to the extremely insecure conditions in the Persian Gulf.

The KRG is the Kurdistan Regional Government and there are some who will note that it was created in 1992 and that, the way the above unfolds, it sounds as though it were created in 2003.  Others will note that the PKK and the KRG are not the same thing and have no official ties to one another.  Both of the first two sentences in this paragraph deal with facts.  Facts are very important.  So are impressions and misimpressions.  When two groups are in conflict, there are basic facts and, just as important, there is what people believe -- whether it's right or wrong. With that in mind, here's Taha Ozhan, also from a Hurriyet column:

However hard the PKK may try to legitimize their existence and actions with help from outdated arguments of the third-world post-colonial left and trauma analyses, it nonetheless fails to address the following question: Does the PKK, in the context of Turkey’s Kurdish question, intend to lay down its arms under any circumstance? As we are going through the strongest regularization trend in Republican history, the PKK evolved from the single most important actor of the Kurdish question and into the “PKK problem of the Kurdish question.” This deep rupture introduced Kurdish neo-nationalism into the PKK’s main agenda at the expense of the Kurdish question’s resolution dynamics. Not accounting for the living conditions of the Kurds who are ineligible for citizenship in Syria, subject to serial executions in Iran and residents of a de facto political incubator in Iraq, the PKK continues to resort to terror at the expense of Turkey’s Kurds.

So those are two impressions, from Turkey, of the PKK and the KRG which are linked in the minds of some even though the KRG is a government and it has publicly repudiated the violence of the PKK.  Who are the PKK?   Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described the PKK in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk."

What is going on is what has gone on since the beginning of time.  One group pitted against another.  It's not even really about what Turks and Kurds want or think they need.  It's about their governments.  The Turks had the power and the numbers and their government -- as most governments do and certainly the United States, a relatively young country on the world stage, also has done this repeatedly in its own history -- elected to suppress a minority population.  The Kurds were actually suppressed and oppressed by a number of governments in that region and they remain the largest ethnic minority in the world without a homeland.  Turks today can look at some of the measures under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and feel that things have changed.

And certainly, things have changed since 1991, for example.  But to objective observers outside of the situation, it's not only not enough, it's that the changes are pretty much cosmetic.

In the US, the historical oppressed include the Native Americans, African-Americans and Asian Americans (especially with regards to westward expansion and WWII on the last grouping).  That's not a full listing.  (And I've left women off the list because the oppression of women tends to be a global issue).  To use just the Native Americans, how do you ever make up for a genocide?  How do you make up for driving people off lands?  For taking lands that were seen as belonging to all and individually stamping "MINE" on them and "KEEP OUT"?

Native Americans have been wronged by the US government.  A few cosmetic changes does not alter that nor does it bring them up to speed on the page of equality with other groups.

The same is true in Turkey.  The Kurds have been historically oppressed and a few cosmetic changes and 'We let them speak their own language now!' is really not cutting it and for those who argue that change takes time, the Kurds have been oppressed for how long?  Exactly how many decades or centuries are they supposed to wait for equal access and equal opportunity?

Oh, they can speak their own language in public and have a channel now that broadcasts in it?  That's something to cheer?  That's considered basic in most countries.  Nothing wonderful was awarded to them with that.

The Kurds are a growing population and that worries the Turkish government for a number of reasons including national identity.  In the US, there are often national identity concerns with waves of immigrants -- such as with Asian Americans and the westward expansion or with the wave of Latinos. We all like to think our culture, our beliefs, our ways of doing things are the best.  And we may kid ourselves that we don't think that but when we perceive the possibility of threat to them, we often act based on that belief.  The Turks (I'm speaking of the people, not the government) who fear the daily lives altering are not 'strange' or 'mean.'  They are honestly concerned because at the heart of the feeling of 'this is the best' is usually a way of honoring those who've come before.  And the notion that your way could vanish creates a panic that's often linked to the fear of one's own mortality.

There are a number of issues at play.  And we're noting them because it's very simple and very easy to say, "Oh, ___ is evil.  They are just evil people.  They just hate and evil."  And you can see this in any land dispute -- and land disputes are not simple no matter what the ass Chris Hill told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing in 2009. In any land dispute, outsiders rush to say, "This is the group to root for! They are noble and beautiful!  That other group is evil and barbaric!"

And the reality is we're all a mixture of many things.

Turkey's going to have to realize that, the people and the government.  They're also going to have to step back and look at life through the eyes of a Kurd and ask themselves how that is a fair and equal life?  They are the ones who will have to make the effort because they are the ones in power.  And making that efforts going to require losing a lot of ingrained impressions.

The bombings of northern Iraq by the Turkish warplanes never stop.  And nothing's being solved by them.  The PKK will not be 'killed' by violence.  It's not going to happen.  It does not happen that way historically.  And a really ugly side of the human spirit emerges with the boasts of we got X PKK in our bombings.  As ugly as it is, it's also very ignorant because you probably create, at a minimum, two more 'freedom fighters' for every one you kill.

Turkey (the government and the political elite) keep decrying the PKK and focusing on the PKK -- with bombs or words.  That's not how you're going to find peace or resolution.  The PKK was created by the situation in the region.  Only changing the situation for the Kurds ends the PKK.  At some point, wise leaders may realize that.  Otherwise, they're looking at more years of bombings and attacks and counter-attacks and the never-ending cycle of violence.

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