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16 April 2014, Wednesday
 
 
Today's Zaman
 
 
 
 
COLUMNISTS 1 January 2012, Sunday 1 0
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ŞAHİN ALPAY
s.alpay@todayszaman.com
ŞAHİN ALPAY

Future of the Kurdish question in Turkey

On the night of Dec. 28 air force bombing killed 35 civilians about to enter Turkey from the Iraqi border together with their mules carrying cigarettes and diesel oil.

Most of the dead were kids under the age of 18, and 29 of them belonged to a single extended family. It was soon established that the dead belonged mostly to a family who served as village guards fighting against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) insurgents on the side of security forces, and were engaged in smuggling not without the tacit knowledge of local authorities. There are different explanations for the tragedy.

The government and the military made statements admitting that air strikes claimed the lives of civilians due to misleading intelligence that they were, as was previously the case on several occasions, PKK militants disguised as smugglers entering Turkey to target military posts. Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) declared that this was an “intended massacre by the state.” There were reports in the media on the other hand that the PKK, by providing misleading intelligence through double agents, had achieved a double purpose. It did not only punish the village guard family, but also succeeded in fanning broad indignation among Turkey's Kurds who were recently showing signs of increasing disfavor with the PKK.

It is necessary that the tragedy is investigated thoroughly to determine those responsible for the massacre. It is also necessary that the state authorities apologize for the tragedy and pay indemnities to the families of the dead. The lesson to be drawn once more is this: The PKK insurgency cannot be dealt with by military means alone. Violence breeds violence. It is necessary that reforms to officially recognize the Kurdish identity are adopted without delay and that through negotiations an agreement is concluded with the PKK for a permanent end to violence.

Leyla Zana, winner of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and a BDP deputy, in an interview she gave to the Rudaw website (affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq) just one day before the tragic event said that they (probably meaning the BDP) previously demanded autonomy within Turkey, but today no longer believed it was enough. She added that “The Kurds should determine their future through a referendum. We will accept the results of the referendum which could be autonomy, federalism or independence.”

I believe that Zana's proposal needs serious consideration. I agree, in principle, that if Turkey is ever going to resolve the Kurdish question and consolidate democracy, Kurdish citizens must be given a chance to determine their future. They should be able to freely choose between the options of having their ethnic-cultural rights secured, autonomy in the Kurdistan region, federal restructuring of the country or independence from Turkey. I find Zana's proposal reasonable, on the condition that the rights of Turks living in the Kurdish-majority region and Kurds living in the Turkish-majority region are guaranteed their basic rights whatever the decision by referendum is.

I would, however, like to strongly remind Zana and the like-minded that in order for such a proposal to be taken seriously even by the Kurds, let alone the Turks, it is absolutely necessary that the PKK lays down its arms, engages in a peaceful democratic struggle, gives up its false contention of being the sole representative for the Kurds of Turkey, and stops trying to impose its will on them by threat or use of force. Unless Zana also advocates this, her proposal for a referendum does not make sense.

Zana's statements on the other hand once more raise the question as to what the future looks like for Turkey's Kurdish question. As I see it, the majority of both Turks and Kurds are sick and tired of violence, be it perpetrated by the state or the PKK, and they agree that the Kurdish identity must be recognized and support negotiations with the PKK for an end to violence. The majority of Turkey's Kurds seem to unite behind three basic demands: that the constitution defines citizenship without any ethnic reference, that Kurdish families are allowed the choice of having their children educated in Kurdish alongside Turkish, and that broader self-government rights are recognized for the Kurdish-majority region. The majority of citizens of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq favor amicable relations with Turkey. There exist, therefore, favorable conditions for Turkey to solve the Kurdish question and preserve its territorial integrity by restructuring itself as a country state or a citizens' state that separates state and ethnicity, if there is political will to do so. Failure to address the Kurdish demands and insistence on dealing with the PKK insurgency by military means alone raises the risk, however, of leading the country into eventual dismemberment.

 

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