Thursday, June 24, 2010

Erdoğan’s choice

Almost all of those killed by Israeli soldiers during the raid on the Mavi Marmara were Kurds. This should not be a negligible detail.

It gives us clues about the state of mind of the young Kurds -- their urge to be engaged politically -- and the choices they stand before. They are, willingly, on the frontline, careless about the option of death, with almost nothing to lose.
Turkey’s Kurdish problem is in its fourth generation. The first three had to live a life under extraordinarily tough circumstances -- emergency rule (OHAL).

Forced to leave their habitat in the countryside, over 2 million Kurds (official figures talk about 400,000) settled in ghettoes in the mainly unwelcoming cities of Mersin, Adana, İzmir, etc. Unemployment peaked among the younger ones, who had to accept being treated as second-class workers in daily or seasonal jobs. The children became easy targets for gangs and were used in illegal activities in the big cities, while others, completely unsuccessful in school, drifted aimlessly, seeking a meaning for their existence. Hungry for a powerful language and hopes for a future, they fell prey to the authority of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or religious radicalism.

They have grown up with a growing hatred for the state and for Ankara, which they blame for making their life conditions worse, for ill-treatment, for the humiliation of their (grand)parents and for extreme poverty. Meanwhile, the elderly, parents and their parents, continue to be politicized, waiting, but also seeking a way out.

And the reminder, more than 80 percent of those killed (a figure that now stands above 40,000) during the bloody conflict with the PKK, have mainly been young Kurds, angry “recruits” or desperate “volunteers.”

Anyone with even a minimal knowledge of Turkey’s burning Kurdish problem is also aware of its large scope, which makes it almost incomparable to similar problems related to terrorism, such as that of the IRA or the ETA. The base on which the PKK operates is growingly fertile because of the immobility and hesitation of Turkey’s governments. Turkey is on the brink of losing (the faith of) its Kurds altogether, and the escalating violence, now spreading to the west and to the big cities, may be the final alarm bell.

The next step might be -- as was signaled by some local Kurdish politicians -- that municipalities in mainly Kurdish provinces may sometime soon jointly declare the area “autonomous,” breaking ties with the central administration in Ankara. That Turkey suddenly may face a situation like Kosovo is a chilling alternative not loudly talked about but silently reflected upon in the capital.

If the alarm bells are final, something more has to be done than tightening security measures and deploying the military in areas of conflict. The wisdom of civilian security forces is clear: Turkey’s denial of the social and political aspects of the problem, its refusal to see any link between the PKK and the Kurdish issue and focusing solely on military aspects of a solution have only made it worse. But there is still mental resistance: Some parts of the bureaucracy and the opposition are keen on reviving a blame game on Iraq, its Kurdish leaders, America and Israel.

The prime minister is at a crossroads. His address to Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies yesterday shows that he will not easily give up on the “Kurdish initiative,” but he fails to conceal the concern that time is working against him. A continued flow of violence may leave his government helpless, and pull it into a swirl of tougher measures.

The problem he faces is multifold: Undemocratic elements, mainly found in the bureaucracy, may not be very eager to cooperate for a civilian solution, as dialogue President Abdullah Gül initiated between political parties may end up in another impasse. It should not be forgotten that one of the main obstacles for the government to move ahead with legal reforms in the Kurdish initiative -- along with the maximalist stance of Democratic Society Party (DTP)-PKK circles -- has been the main actor, who in general resisted change over the past five years: the high judiciary. It closed a pro-Kurdish party, launched trials against local Kurdish politicians and served PKK members who returned home -- despite promises of immunity -- with harsh prison charges. The AKP’s hesitation, as seen over the past months, to advance legislation may also be explained by the fear that new laws expanding freedom and granting rights to Kurds may be rejected by the top courts.

If it means serious business with reforms -- in defiance of the violence -- Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has two choices now: He will have to seek dialogue with the BDP in Parliament or, challenging the entire political web knit by the juristocracy, slowly built to fully paralyze his government, declare early elections in the fall.

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