[Originally published in Turkish Daily News]
With the recent killing of 13 young soldiers of the Turkish army, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) once again proved that it is a brutal, monstrous terrorist organization. The nation has every right to hate it, and the government has every right to fight against it. But we should also understand why the PKK carries out such violent attacks, and especially at a time when Turkey’s Kurds have become freer than ever.
Yes, Turkey’s Kurds are living in their best of times. Since the beginning of the Republic, they had been the victims of a forced assimilation program. Their language was banned, their culture was suppressed. Their leaders and intellectuals, especially during the periods of military rule, were imprisoned and tortured. To be a Kurd who is proud of his identity was quite dangerous.
But things have changed. Starting with the revolutionary years of Turgut Özal (1983-93) the prohibitions on Kurdish culture steadily declined. Under the previous AKP government (2002-2007), and thanks to the European Union reform process, Kurds have gained so many cultural freedoms. Media and language courses in the Kurdish language are now possible. Even the state TV, the TRT, started airing programs in the Kurdish language. There is more way to go, but the distance traveled is quite noteworthy.
Peace Is Bad For The PKK
But it is obvious that in order to continue with the liberalization process, Turkey needs peace. Whenever the PKK carries out an attack, the tension in Turkish society rises and the nationalist sentiments get stronger. Indeed there are some pundits or politicians who argue that all the reforms that gave Kurds cultural freedoms have only “encouraged” the PKK. They think that in order to crack down on the PKK, Turkey needs less democracy, not more.
In the face of all that, one wonders why the PKK continues with its bloody attacks and provokes Turkey to give a military response which will even include the occupation of northern Iraq. It is very obvious that this will only block the efforts to nurture a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish problem. And that’s precisely the point: The PKK wants no such solution! Because it is not an organization which seeks to broaden the freedoms of Kurds in Turkey. It only cares about its own status as “the leader of the Kurdish people.” It sees that a peaceful solution to the problem will diminish that role. So it wants to block that path.
When we look at the recent history of the PKK, that becomes very obvious. Beginning with 1984, the terrorist group carried out a war against Turkish authorities until 1999, when its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was captured by Turkish security forces — and thanks to help of the Americans. During his trial Öcalan said that he regretted the carnage he caused, and added that he hoped to help building a peaceful solution to the problem. He ordered the PKK to stop armed struggle and declared that the organization does not aim the creation of an independent Kurdistan. The only thing he wanted, he said, was a democratic Turkey in which Kurds would be totally free.
These sugar-coated words were not only a defense maneuver in the court, but also the signal of what Öcalan was planning to become: He was hoping to turn into a Yasser Arafat, or even Nelson Mandela. He hoped that the EU would force Turkey to accept him as the political leader of the Kurds and welcome him a legitimate player in Turkish politics. From 1999 to 2004, the year which the PKK started to attack again, Öcalan’s aides in Europe tried very hard to promote his as a prophet of freedom and democracy.
But Europeans, except some marginal ultra-left elements, knew who Öcalan was: A ruthless leader of a bloody terrorist organization. That’s why the representatives of the EU continuously told the leaders of the Kurdish parties in Turkey (first to DEHAP and later the DTP), to abandon their links with Öcalan and renounce terrorism.
The Turkish daily Milliyet’s headline on Mar. 25, 2006 was all clear: “The EU hurt Öcalan.” According the news story, Leyla Zana, Öcalan’s self-styled Jeanne D’Arc, had told some EU parliamentarians that he was a figure like “Mandela or Arafat,” but he was deeply hurt when the EU officials called him a terrorist.
Losing the Kurdish Ground
Öcalan must have been deeply hurt by the results of the July 22 elections, too. In the predominantly Kurdish regions, the AKP won 54 percent of the votes, while the Öcalan-blessed independents won a mere 24 percent. It was obvious that the Kurdish vote was moving away from the PKK’s line. The more Kurds found freedom, respect and economic opportunities in Turkey, the more they opted for it.
Which all meant that the PKK had to do something to block the EU process, provoke Turkey’s ultra-nationalist forces, and create an atmosphere of tension and fear. For only in a medium of fear a terrorist organization can survive. And if the only thing you know in life is being terrorist, it is much practical to keep that medium alive than trying to find another job.
That’s why the PKK deliberately provokes Turkey to crack down on itself, and even in north Iraq. Turkey, of course, has the right to defend itself against this gang of terror, but it should not do it recklessly. That’s precisely what the PKK wants to see.