Editor’s Note: Fadi Hakura manages the Turkey Project at the London-based Chatham House, Royal Institute of International Affairs. The opinions in this article belong to the author.
Fadi Hakura: It's likely we'll see more violent confrontations between Turkey and Kurds
Political solutions are only way toward a settlement of Kurdish issue in Turkey, he says
Turkish police detained on Friday the two co-leaders of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party and 11 other parliamentarians for links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Public authorities at the same time blocked access to the WhatsApp messaging service, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has identified the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as an immediate danger to Turkey and has adopted a more robust attitude against Kurdish nationalism since the July 15 failed coup. PKK militants have mobilized in the rural areas and city centers in Turkey’s Kurdish-populated southeast and carried out major bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara.
Erdogan has declared his ultimate aim is the elimination of the PKK.
He has enacted emergency laws to close down pro-Kurdish media outlets, dismissed or suspended more than 11,000 teachers over alleged PKK connections and has selected at least 24 government appointees to replace Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, mayors, including in the Kurdish-majority city Diyarbakir.
Turkey’s military activities in northern Syria, under the tacit support of Russia and the United States, is designed to check-mate the recent territorial gains made by the Syrian PKK affiliate, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. Turkey’s air force targeted the YPG in October to prevent the emergence of a contiguous autonomous zone along the Turkey-Syria border.
These developments point to widening fractures between Turkish and Kurdish nationalism after the collapse of a reconciliation process in mid-2015. According to an opinion poll by Ali Carkoglu, a leading Turkish pollster, the majority of Turks and Kurds do not see eye to eye on policies to resolve the Kurdish question. It revealed that 60% of voters for Turkish parties believe that the Kurdish political movement’s ultimate aim is an independent Kurdish state, whereas the rate of the same opinion among pro-HDP voters is 33%.
It is now likely that we will see more violent confrontations between Turkish armed forces and Kurdish militants in Turkey, Syria and perhaps in Iraq. This would further complicate Turkey’s relations with Washington. The United States is currently collaborating with the YPG in the fight against ISIS – to the consternation of Ankara.
Erdogan is lobbying the Obama administration to discard the YPG and cooperate instead with Turkey to dislodge ISIS in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa.
Erdogan is also frustrated at the US refusal to grant a formal role to the Turkish military in the current campaign in Mosul, Iraq. He is worried that the PKK may secure a presence in that strategic city and other parts of Iraq.
Given the sheer number of mutually exclusive disagreements, even the prospect of a new US president may not soothe relations between the two countries.
Only by addressing the social divisions in Turkish society, arriving at regional understandings with the United States, Iran and Russia over the PKK and YPG, and engaging in credible peace negotiations with moderate Kurdish nationalism will the heightening tempo of violence be averted. Political – not military – solutions are the only way toward a lasting settlement of the Kurdish issue in Turkey.