The reports on the military units firing at and killing two shepherds -- apparently collecting thyme -- whom they suspected to be Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, in the highlands of Hatay, came as yet more salt rubbed into the huge wound inflicted by terror.
The event followed an apparent disagreement between the government and the top command on allowing freedom of movement on the plateaus and roads that lead to them. Immediate suspicion was raised in yesterday’s columns on whether the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) was putting stumbling blocks before the delicate process of solution.
The incident in Hatay, as well as many others before it, such as the PKK attacks in Reşadiye and Tokat and the recent ones in Hakkari and Elazığ, need thorough civilian examination. That the Interior Ministry launched an inquiry on Hatay (at the inspector level) is definitely not enough; Parliament must be much more vigorous on moving in and subjecting these bloody events to commission-level inquiry. This should happen even if the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputies drag their feet. On the issue, the government looks like someone running from house to house, extinguishing fires as they pop up. Since the priority is silencing the guns and bombs, the question is where the cooperation and agreement between the army and the civilian executive branch is at the moment. And another question linked to this one is whether the drug-smuggling lobby (and its alleged ties within the security apparatus) is part of those who do not want to see an end to the bloody conflict. A report published by daily Radikal on Monday tells us about an increase in heroin trafficking, which has more than doubled in the past three years, from Afghanistan through Iran and provinces like Hakkari, Van and Ağrı.
But there is much more than this, and it is hard to predict what the government’s moves to extinguish the fire will be. The recent call to duty of NATO in the fight against the PKK (in Iraqi Kurdistan) by the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, may not be a very good idea at all, particularly because the US wants to end the military presence in that country, and the objection of Baghdad -- as well as NATO itself -- is a given. The only option for NATO interference would be if Iran (for example) had started an invasion -- and nothing else.
The government is also considering limiting the access of lawyers to jailed Abdullah Öcalan on the island of Imralı, in order to stop him from sending instructions and “political orders” to his movement. This may, too, backfire. A wiser move would be to allow access as before but intervene whenever the conversation shifts from legal and private matters to open political messages. The authorities should have a right to intervene if those “orders” are in favor of violence, and it should even be possible to prosecute the lawyers who act as carriers of them.
The unease with the violence in the mainly Kurdish provinces is actually mixed with feelings of disappointment and resolve (in traditional Kurdish demands for cultural recognition and administrative reform). The communiqué signed and declared by some 100 NGOs and professional organizations in Diyarbakır over the weekend was changed at the last minute into a double call to Ankara and the PKK to simultaneously declare a cease-fire. This means, very clearly, that the domination of the PKK is a remaining fact in the discourse and that it should be seen as a serious factor for Ankara. Blaming the common Kurds and foreign powers is an old habit and will not work. There is reason, once more, to reaffirm the unchangeable equation in which the chicken and egg puzzle is solved: Without a proper, bold constitutional and administrative reform, it will be very difficult to solve the Kurdish issue. Selahattin Demirtaş, leader of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), reiterated in an interview yesterday that if the government changes the constitutional articles which define Turkish as the “official language,” lifts the ban (Article 42) on education in the mother tongue and conducts administrative reforms (to establish a more autonomous provincial system) then “90 percent of the Kurdish problem will be solved.” Time and strategy have proven it will not be that easy for the Justice and Development Party (AKP). What the past 10 months of process has shown is that “the de-facto alliance of the powerful elements within the judiciary and the military,” sworn to pacify this government into total immobility, has been instrumental in moving the conflict ahead. The screws are being tightened around the constitutional reform package, which may at best be watered down by the top court, and the escalation of violence between the PKK and the army strengthens the latter’s position vis-a-vis the government, which have had (fading) hopes of appointing democratic, reform-friendly generals in top posts at the critical meeting in August.
The fight is for the speed of the democratization, and the intensity will remain high.