Turkey: The civil war that never was

“The Justice and Development Party is the only political party that can bring back PKK to the negotiating table“, said first directly elected president of Turkey and the leader of Turkeys’ largest political party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the midst of the November 2015 general election campaign.

He won the majority in the Grand Assembly of Turkey, negating the results of the previous general election held in June of 2015 which gave Turkey a “hung parliament“. Erdogan’s’ message of confidence, that he will provide peace in Turkey between the government and the Kurdistan workers’ party (an extreme left-wing militant organization), resonated with Turkish voters that feared major conflicts and they gave Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) a clear majority in the Grand Assembly.

“Well that settles that“, someone might say, “The party that promised peace and diplomacy over crisis and civil conflicts won, so all is well now“.

Well actually no. Just today president Erdogan accused Russia of providing PKK with weapons. If we add to that the incident when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that crossed into Turkish airspace we can assume both countries still hold a grudge against one another.

Police curfews, civil unrests, policemen killings, and open conflicts between PKK and the government forces of Turkey are still going on in the border regions of Turkey with Syria and Iraq.

While optimists would certainly say that intensifying violence between two sides is nothing new since the conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (seen as a terrorist organization by Turkey, United States and Europe) and Turkish government lasts for over 30 years (started in 1984) and that all is going to end well, we have to take a few new facts into account that have a power to really test anyone’s (including my own) optimism.

First of all – almost every neighbor country of Turkey in Asia is on fire right now, and the Turkish government, as well as the PKK, are in one way or another participating in those neighborhood conflicts. In Syria, Turkish government supports the opposition and is an outspoken critic of the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. At the same time, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party supports the YPG (People’s Protection Units), an armed political organization in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). The YPG is seen as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government who fears that separatist intentions of YPG in Syria might incite the same in Turkey.

In Iraq there is a similar situation. Iraqi Kurdistan and their leadership have close ties with the PKK while Turkey bombed PKK positions in Iraq on March of this year, after the terrorist attack in Ankara that killed at least 37 people. Turkish government accused the PKK for the attack and retaliated by bombing PKK positions in Iraq.

It is understandable as well that autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan is too seen as a threat, by the Turkish government.

Adding “insult to injury“– metaphorically speaking or an additional problem to this whole crisis is, of course, the refugee crisis that is shaking most of Europe and Turkey as well.

And as if all the listed problems weren’t enough there is also a huge political conflict between the democratic parliamentary parties of Turkey. The results of November 2015 general election in Turkey weakened the position of the pro-Kurdish HDP party (Peoples’ Democratic Party) that lost 21 seats in the Grand Assembly and served as the primary target of Erdogan’s AKP party during the campaign. Erdogan accused HDP of close ties with PKK and placed all the blame for the ethnic tensions in Turkey solely on them, (I guess) forgetting the fact that HDP served as the intermediary between the AKP led Turkish government and PKK countless times in the past.

Other political issues that place a strain on political relations in the country is the plan of the ruling AKP party to change Turkey’s democracy from a parliamentary system to a presidential one, giving the president of the republic much more power.

However, the whole crisis comes down to answering just one main constitutional question – what should be the constitutional position of 12 – 20 million (depending on the sources) Kurdish people in Turkey and does the current government have the strength and the power to end this conflict using diplomacy. PKK strives for the right of self-determination of Kurds in Turkey while the government wants to save the territorial integrity of its country.

Optimists might say, “I hope the lessons of Syria and Iraq will resonate with both sides of the conflict and the peaceful solution will be found – to end this civil war that has lasted for more than 30 years but somehow never was”.

by John D. Stanley (pseudonym)