[Originally published in Turkish Daily News]
The Turkish Parliament has given the government authorization to order a military operation into northern Iraq in order to hit the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) terrorists. Thus we might see some action in Iraq soon. Yet I don’t expect a massive, full-scale incursion. There rather will be, I guess, pointed attacks to specific PKK camps. Some guerrillas might be killed — and I hope that no civilian will be harmed. But will this end the PKK terror as some hot-headed Turkish pundits wishfully think?
No, not really. Military action against the PKKwill give some harm to the terrorist organization, but it will not finish it off. Actually, even if our armed forces had managed to kill all the PKK fighters in arms — which is not even remotely possible — the problem would have not ended. Because the PKK is not a squadron of isolated and numbered aliens beamed from a far galaxy. It is a movement with popular support among some of Turkey’s Kurdish citizens. When the army kills a PKK militant, he is soon replaced by his cousin or nephew who is driven by the same sentiment and ideology. If that psycho-ideology remains alive, then so will the PKK.
Kurds? What Kurds?
It is hard to fully analyze that mindset which continuously feeds the PKK, but I think its root causes can be divided into two broad categories:
1) The sins Turkey has committed against its Turkish citizens.
2) Ethnic Kurdish nationalism, which was provoked by Turkey’s sins, but which has become a force of its own.
The first category refers to all the assimilationist policies that Turkey has inflicted on its Kurdish citizens since 1925. The latter had proudly lived as Kurds for centuries under the Ottoman rule, but the brand-new Turkish Republic suddenly decided that they are, in fact, Turks. In fact, the whole design of the Turkish Republic was a bit problematic. It was not constructed according to the aspirations of the citizens. Quite the contrary, the state started to construct the citizens according to its own aspirations. Therefore the principles of the Republic have a become rigid doctrine which deny the realities of the people. The very existence of Kurds, for example, was not accepted until the early 90s. Even the slightest usage of the Kurdish language was considered as a criminal act.
No wonder that during my childhood years in Ankara, I wasn’t aware of the existence of such an ethnic group in Turkey. The first time I heard two men speaking Kurdish in Istanbul, I thought that they must have been tourists from some Middle Eastern country.
It was impossible for most of our Kurdish citizens to avoid being traumatized by this repression. So there is a justification for their distrust towards the traditional establishment and its official ideology. But a democratic and free Turkey is also possible and we have been moving toward that direction for quite some time. Restrictions on the Kurdish identity have been eliminated gradually since the 90s. Under the incumbent AKP, and thanks to the EU process, Kurdish citizens have gained virtually every legal right that they had been dreaming of. The economic situation in the predominantly Kurdish southeast is also improving. So, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it has become pretty close.
But the PKK, which claims to stand for Kurdish rights, still carries out attacks and kills people at this hopeful moment. Why?
The answer brings me to the second root cause I have mentioned above: Ethnic Kurdish nationalism. Like all late nationalisms, the Kurdish one is romantic, irrational and furious. Its believers want not to live under a free and democratic Turkey, but to form a whole brand new country called Kurdistan. The formation of that state will be a bloody and messy affair, and it is even impossible for the foreseeable future, but these realistic troubles do not matter for the surrealist nationalist.
Inserting A Wedge
The PKK is driven to irrationalism because not only of this ideology, but also of the megalomania of its leader. Abdulllah Öcalan has speeches in which he compares himself to Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammed. When Jesus died, people cried for him only for three days, he once said, but I when I was captured, hundreds of Kurdish sons and daughters burnt themselves alive. So, he can well continue to order them to burn themselves — and the whole country — alive.
In the face of all that, Turkey should realize what its strategy should be. Since the problem is not Kurdish identity but Kurdish nationalism and especially its militant form, we should be very careful to distinguish between the two. The whole strategy indeed should be directed at wining the Kurdish citizens and marginalizing the Kurdish nationalists. All the policies should be directed at inserting a wedge between the two.
As for the Kurds in north Iraq, we should have no problem with them, too, as far as they don’t support the PKK. The existence of a Kurdish entity in Iraq doesn’t necessarily threaten us, if we can manage to make our own Kurds happy and satisfied.
The bottom line is that our enemy is not the Kurds or Kurdishness. The only enemy is the PKK and we can defeat it only by winning more and more Kurds on our side — whether that be in Turkey or in Iraq.