Turkey: A new phase for the Kurdish issue

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat Feb 28 01:38:06 UTC 2009

A new phase for the Kurdish issue

The parties to the "Kurdish issue" are going through a radical mental
and political transformation. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has
halted its attacks under a de facto cease-fire, and there are reports
that its violent attacks will end completely.

The debates caused by this radical change in policy are triggering
conflicts within the organization. On the other hand, a Kurdish
national congress led by Massoud Barzani is in the making. It is very
unlikely that this congress, which will be attended by Kurdish
political groups from Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, will start a
pan-Kurdish political movement. The Turkish government and state
officials, too, are seeing radical changes in their perception of the
issue. In Turkey, the term "government" refers to the ruling political
party and the civilian bureaucrats that act as instructed by that
party, while the "state" represents the military and, to some extent,
diplomats. The change in the government's policies toward the Kurdish
issue is sufficiently salient. The question is whether there is really
such a change in the state policies.
State policies

A report submitted by the Middle East and Balkan Studies Foundation's
(OBİV) Foreign Politics and Defense Group (DSA) to the National
Security Council (MGK) is proof that the "Kurdish issue" has entered a
new phase even for the Turkish state. The two-page report contains the
following remarks: "Turkey must be able to settle the Kurdish issue
'from within.' ... The perspective that views the issue only as a
public order problem should be immediately abandoned and, instead, a
package of economic, social and culture measures that are designed to
resolve various aspects of the issue should be drafted and implemented
with a political vision." What makes these sentences meaningful is the
composition of the group that prepared the report. This report has
been prepared by a group that includes numerous high-profile retired
civilian and military bureaucrats who have long tended to view the
issue only as a security problem. İlter Türkmen, a doyen of diplomacy,
and hawkish retired Air Forces commander Gen. Aytaç Yalman are
examples of these figures.

The short and concise report is largely quoted without citing any
references from the previously published report by the Foundation for
Political, Economic and Social Research (SETAV), titled "The Kurdish
Issue: Problems and Proposed Solutions." SETAV's report summarizes a
perspective that is also largely adopted by the government. Since the
DSA's report does not advocate an academic opinion, but suggests a
policy, this convergence implies that the "military solution" thesis
is being replaced with a civilian solution.

The fact that the military vision that views the "Kurdish issue" as a
terror issue and argues that it should be settled with military
measures is being substituted by a new approach that suggests that the
issue should be treated "with a political vision" does not represent a
change at the state level only. It also hints at that the emergence on
the opposite side of an approach that prefers "political vision" over
violent conflict. This picture is indicative of the possibility that
the dissolution of the PKK and the resulting end to terrorism could
give way to these suggested options via politics alone.

When Ahmet Türk from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP)
spoke in Kurdish during a meeting of the party's parliamentary group
on Tuesday, this served as a good opportunity for testing the level of
preparedness amongst state and government officials for this new
policy. The test showed the failure of the government officials.

Civil disobedience

The civil disobedience thesis first developed by US writer and
transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau had given Gandhi
great political leverage. Türk's speech in Kurdish basically relies on
this form of political action. Türk his action was just like those of
other civil disobedience activists, aiming to show "the
meaninglessness and unfairness of bans."

 Civil disobedience is a non-violent form of revolt against authority.
These non-violent acts are intended to show the general public the
unfairness of laws and the injustice of the authority. If necessary,
laws are violated so as to ensure massive detentions. In this case,
the state will either have to implement the bans that are being
targeted or abolish them. When Gandhi started to sell books banned by
the British administration, going from one village to another, the
British administration had to abolish the ban on those books. There
are two methods by which one refuses to surrender to authority:
violence or disobedience. One is a military method, and the other is a
civilian one.

The proof of the "meaninglessness and unfairness" that Türk attempted
to show with his civil disobedience is the relevant article of the
Political Parties Law, which was cited by the Parliament Speaker's
Office as a justification for stopping the live broadcast of Türk's
speech. The Parliament Speaker's Office referred to Article 81 of this
law, which reads: "Political parties shall not use any language other
than the Turkish language in drafting or publishing their bylaws or
programs, in holding their party congresses, indoor or outdoor
meetings or rallies or in making their publications." If this article
applies to Türk's speech, doesn't it equally apply to the single
sentence uttered in Kurdish by the leader of the ruling Justice and
Development Party (AK Party) at the party's election rally in
Diyarbakır? Isn't there a ban on using any language other than Turkish
in political rallies? Doesn't this give credence to Türk's argument
that speaking Kurdish is forbidden for Kurds, but free for the state?

The raison d'etre of the PKK and the DTP are the bans on the Kurdish
language or, more correctly, the meaningless of these bans. This is
the reason why the launching of a Kurdish-language TV channel by the
state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) offends the
PKK and the DTP the most. The PKK has been urging and warning
residents in the Southeast not to watch this channel. The DTP leader's
speech in Kurdish shows that these bans are vital for the continuation
of identity-based Kurdish politics. If the bans on the Kurdish
language are abolished, identity-centered politics will become


What Türk did was an act of civil disobedience, and it achieved its
goal, regardless of anything you may argue to the contrary. In this
new phase of the Kurdish issue, everyone should at least know the
theory or rationale of civil disobedience. However, there is confusion
about the political solution that is being offered as an alternative
to the military solution. The mentality that rejects the political
solution as the "politicization of terror and separatism" has not been
sufficiently discussed.

The statement made by Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet
Bahçeli in response to Türk's speech in Kurdish is proof that people
are very confused in this new phase. While complaining about the
"legitimization of political separatism," "the emergence of separatism
in the political arena" and "the PKK's politicization strategy,"
Bahçeli does not realize that he is completely ruling out the
"political vision." Bahçeli should have a clear understanding of where
those words he uses lead and what they imply. On the other hand, the
change in Turkey is obvious. The Kurdish issue is being transferred
from the mountains of the Southeast to policymakers in the corridors
of Parliament. This issue will now be solved not by people with
weapons, but by Bahçeli.

Politicization means the end of violence, not the settlement of an
existing problem. Democratic politics means choosing between attacks
on military posts and civil disobedience. What Bahçeli is complaining
about actually implies the stopping of the bloodshed. Turkey cannot
settle its ethnic issue without stopping this bloodshed. It follows
that this issue must be politicized to the highest extent possible.

The latest developments are sufficient to show that the Kurdish issue
is moving from the weapon-based solution to the political axis.
Kurdish politics is more prepared for this new condition than the
political circles close to the state.


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