Turkey: Kurds rally for peace in Istanbul

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Jun 6 15:24:24 UTC 2008

Enough is enough Kurds rally for peace in Istanbul, *Gareth Jenkins* watches


On Sunday, over 40,000 demonstrators gathered in the Istanbul suburb of
Kadikoy to call for a peaceful solution to Turkey's Kurdish problem in the
largest protest against the 24-year-old war between the Turkish state and
the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) ever to be held in western Turkey.

The majority of the demonstrators appeared to be ethnic Kurds who had
migrated to Istanbul from the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey,
where the fighting between the Turkish state and the PKK has devastated the
local economy and led to widespread human rights abuses on both sides. Some
of the women were dressed in traditional Kurdish costumes. Many of the
protesters carried placards in Turkish and Kurdish calling for an end to the
conflict. Others chanted *Edi bese!*, Kurdish for "Enough is enough!"

Most of the anger was directed at the Turkish authorities, particularly the
ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP). Although it has made minor
concessions on Kurdish cultural rights since first coming to power in
November 2002, it has refused to lift many other limitations on the
expression of a Kurdish identity. For example, it is still illegal to call
openly for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state or to found an
explicitly Kurdish political party or NGO. There are also still many
restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language, particularly in
broadcasting, and it remains forbidden in education except for private
language courses.

Although the JDP has been more willing than most Turkish political parties
to acknowledge the existence of Kurdish ethnicity, it has consistently
refused to grant Kurds political rights and has adopted the traditional
official mantra of the Turkish state that the PKK is merely a terrorist
organisation rather than a symptom of a more deep-rooted socio-economic and
political problem. Many Kurds have been frustrated by the JDP's refusal
either to contemplate an amnesty for PKK militants or to enter into
negotiations in an attempt to persuade the organisation to abandon violence.

On 27 May, during a visit to Diyarbakir, the largest city in southeast
Turkey, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced that the JDP government
would provide over $15.5 billion in additional funding to complete the
Southeast Anatolian Project, an ambitious irrigation and hydroelectric
scheme in nine predominantly Kurdish provinces in southeastern Turkey.
Erdogan promised that the money would create nearly four million new jobs in
an area where unemployment amongst young people frequently rises to 50 or
even 60 per cent. "This is a social restoration project, which will reduce
the terrorist organisation's ability to exploit people," declared Erdogan.

But many Kurds remain deeply sceptical about the JDP's promises,
particularly about where the government will find the money at a time when
the pace of economic growth in Turkey is manifestly beginning to slow.
Others suspect that the JDP is trying to buy their votes with promises in
the run- up to the local elections in March 2009.

Such suspicions were exacerbated by the JDP's refusal to send any
representatives to Sunday's rally in Kadikoy, which was attended by several
leading members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party and liberals
such as independent MP and peace campaigner Ufuk Uras.

"What we are demanding is that state institutions adopt an inclusive policy
rather than look to war, conflict and death," said Murat Celikkan, one of
the members of the committee which organised the rally. "The Kurdish problem
is not a question of violence or public order. It has cultural, social and
human dimensions. Kurdish identity, language and culture should, like all
cultures, be included in the public sphere. There should be freedom to speak
openly and to organise. People who have a Kurdish identity should be able to
express this identity in the political arena. The socio-economic
inequalities between regions should be eradicated."

The Turkish police quickly made it clear that, for the time being at least,
such freedoms will remain a hope rather than a reality. When they realised
that a television camera was being used to provide a live feed to the
Kurdish television channel Roj TV, which is based in Denmark and which the
Turkish authorities claim has links with the PKK, police officers promptly
forced the camera crew to stop filming.

Nevertheless, the fact that the rally was allowed to be held at all is a
sign of how things have changed over the last 20 years in Turkey. In
addition to calling for peace, the rally in Kadikoy was also a fervent
demonstration of Kurdish culture, something which would have been
unthinkable in Turkey's largest city even a few years ago. Until relatively
recently, the Turkish state officially insisted that Kurds simply did not
exist but that the people referred to as such were "mountain Turks" who had
forgotten their true Turkish identity. Before 1991, speaking Kurdish was an
imprisonable offence even if -- as was often the case in more isolated areas
in southeast Turkey -- people did not know any other language. Although the
Turkish state still continues to resist allowing the country's Kurds full
cultural and political rights, there is now at least a general
acknowledgment that denying their existence is simply unsustainable.

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