A blast caused by a suicide car bombing hit the centre of Ankara on Sunday evening (March 13th, 2016) resulting in over a hundred casualties. The Turkish authorities were very quick to announce the identity of the suicide person: a Kurdish woman in close relation with the Kurdistan Workers Party. Nevertheless, this terror act in Ankara, followed by a new one on March 19th in Istanbul, once again opened the “Kurdish Question” which is in direct connection with the question of Kurdistan’s independence and terrorism as the political instrument in the realization of the national projects and ultimate goals.
The Kurds are mostly discriminated and oppressed in Turkey in comparison with all present-day states of their residence. The Kurds are not recognized in Turkey as separate ethnolinguistic minority with their own language and culture regardless the fact that they compose one-fifth of total Turkey’s inhabitants and being together with the Greeks and the Armenians the oldest population in Turkey living in Anatolia almost 3.000 years before the first (Seljuk) Turks came there at the end of the 11th century.
There are three fundamental specific reasons for the current Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey out of the common Kurdish wish and right to have their own national state as one of the oldest ethnolinguistic people in both the region of the Middle East and the world:
- Visible economic underdevelopment of the Kurdish eastern part of Turkey compared with the rest of the country as a result of asymmetric economic and development policy by Ankara.
- Stubborn reluctance of any kind of the Turkish government to recognise the Kurdish separate existence as the ethnic group of its own specific language and culture as a result of the Ottoman/Turkish assimilation policy of all Muslim inhabitants of the country.
- The Turkish rejection to recognize a minority status of the Kurds with granting a national-cultural or political autonomous status for Turkey’s Kurdistan that is a consequence of continuation of Ankara’s unlawful administration of part of ethnographic Kurdistan as such autonomy was internationally recognized by the Peace Treaty of Sèvres in 1920.
Ankara’s discrimination and oppressive anti-Kurdish policy led finally to the establishment of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK) in 1978 for the sake to fight for unrecognized the Kurdish minority rights using and guerrilla warfare as a mean to achieve its proclaimed national-political goals. Ankara from its point of political view, declared the PKK as both illegal and terrorist organization fighting for destruction of the legal and institutional system of the country what is true from a very technical viewpoint as it was also true that the Kosovo Liberation Army (the KLA) was doing the same with Serbia’s legal and security system in the 1990s but in this case politically and morally supported by Ankara. Undoubtedly, the PKK committed numerous of terrorist actions across Turkey in which, according to the official governmental sources, around 6.000 people were killed only during the first decade of the PKK activity. The limited fruits of such PKK tactics finally came as Ankara was forced to recognize at least formally the Kurdish cultural distinctiveness if not ethnic and linguistic ones. However, here the crucial question is: How it is possible to have a separate culture without а separate language and even ethnicity? It is a widespread approach that basically separate ethnolinguistic features create and separate cultural identity as ethnolinguistic and cultural identities are usually understood as the synonyms but this formula does not work in Turkey in the case of the Kurds and several other (unrecognized) ethnolinguistic minorities.
Anyway, the PKK’s requirement for either territorial-political autonomy or independence of Kurdistan is unacceptable for Ankara. Subsequently, from the mid-1980s Turkey is directly faced with its own “Kosovo syndrome”. The Turkish authorities reciprocally answered to the PKK brutal warfare by also brutal treatment of the Kurdish civilians in the war zones in the East Turkey. Hundreds of the PKK activists are imprisoned and tortured each year by the Turkish state security forces which succeeded in 1999 (a year of NATO’s military intervention against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia declaratively for the sake to prevent state terrorism over Kosovo Albanian civilians) to arrest the PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan (known as Apo) who became under the mockery trial sentenced to death with the state brutality against the Kurds continued. Nevertheless, only due to the direct pressure by the EU’s Commission in 2002 the pressure against the Kurds became to certain extent eased as Turkey as a candidate state for the EU’s membership was obliged to adopt new liberal laws by which the Kurds were granted with the rights to maintain their own culture followed by the protection against arbitrary imprisonments and politically coloured court investigations. In one word, in order to become the EU’s member state, one of the requirements is to grant every citizen the right to cultural expression, including Turkey’s main minority people, the Kurds, whose aspirations had long been suppressed in pursuit of nation-building goals by successive Turkish governments.
The Kurdish desire to establish Kurdistan as an independent state is opposed by all governments of the current states in which the Kurds live. In the region, especially Turkey is a country which undoubtedly suffered from different aspects of terrorism-related activities and different types of political violence. A long standing separatist conflict in Turkey caused thousands of lives and imposed the state terrorism or “terrorism from above” by Ankara against its own citizens in the East Anatolia including and a martial law in the 1980s. The similar situation was in Iraq during the time of Saddam Hussein. That was and in Turkey still it is a clash between two levels of terrorism: the state terrorism vs. sub-state terrorism. Both sides were and are making war crimes, executions, torture and destruction of material property but the reactions by the West, especially by the US’ administration, are of the double standard nature as accusing only the Kurdish side for terrorism (the PKK) but not and the Turkish government. However, for the matter of comparison, during the Kosovo Crisis in 1998−1999 both the West and the US saw the terror acts carried out only by Serbia’s government but not by the KLA – a typical terrorist organization as a replica of the PKK, the IRA, the ETA or the Hezbollah. Nevertheless, the most “strange” thing is that Ankara never saw the KLA as a terrorist group or organization and opening at such a way the doors for the moral legalization of the PKK as the freedom fighters political-revolutionary party. Ankara made even more serious precedent by recognizing the independence of Kosovo in 2008 – the state that is governed by ex-KLA’s commanders (as the US’s clients). Subsequently, there is no one reason not to recognize the independent Kurdistan governed by the PKK’s commanders with Abdullah Öcalan as the President (as Hashim Tachi – a commander of the KLA in the 1990s, became a President of the Republic of Kosovo in 2016).
A similar state terrorism policy emerged in Saddam’s Iraq as he time to time enacted oppression of the aboriginal Kurds like it was the case with the “al-Anfal Operation” that was carried out in 1982 (during the Iraqi-Iranian War of 1980−1988) when approximately 8.000 Kurds were arrested and executed. The most brutal military action against the Iraqi Kurds was done in 1988 when the army of Saddam Hussein used a chemical weapons and destroyed more than 2.000 Kurdish villages but at that time without any US’s sanctions as Saddam was at that time an ally of Washington in the US’s struggle against the (Shia) Islamic Republic of Iran regardless the fact that the estimations of the killed ethnic Kurds in this organized genocide range up to 200.000.
Turkey’s policy upon “Kosovo Question” is already returned back as the boomerang to the Turkish home and is going most probably to be solved according to Kosovo pattern.
Prof. Vladislav B. Sotirović is currently the Associate Professor of the Institute of Political Sciences at Mykolas Romeris University, Vilnius, Lithuania. The views expressed are his own and may not necesarily coincide with ones of the ORIENTAL REVIEW Editorial.