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Turkey Election Special: The "Kurdish Problem" and the Problem of Protests

In less than a week, Turkey will have a new government.

Anticipating the Parliamentary elections on Sunday, EA takes a look at the differences between the parties on key issues. Today: Protest and the Future of the Kurds.

Prime Minister Erdogan Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said, “There is no Kurdish problem but there are problems of Kurdish people”. After the killing of 12 members of the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) on 14 May, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc offered a more confusing formula, “There is a Kurdish problem but it is not productive to say that there is a problem as it is in the solution process."

After the bloodshed, 300 people went to northern Iraq to receive the dead bodies of the militants and the Peoples’ Initiative declared three days of mourning in the southeastern region, demanding the closure of shops. 

Many in the media asked if this attack against PKK, which had already declared passive resistance, was an act by the “deep state” --- a.k.a. “Ergenekon” --- of political and military figures moving against Erdgogan's ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) before the elections. The co-chairman of the the pro-Kurdish BDP  (Peace and Democracy Party), Selahattin Demirtas, angrily blamed the Government: “First and foremost, PKK members are not terrorists; they are the children of this region’s people. Now, I am asking: ‘Are these 12 people of members of PKK or of AKP? If there is an operation against AKP, then why are PKK members killed?”

According to Demirtas, Erdogan must have known of the operation. On 19 May, the Prime Minister said: “Isn’t my army going to fight against terrorist groups that want to enter with heavy weapons from northern Iraq? MPs of a political party go there and protest for them. They go into an unsettling tendency in the whole country by permanently opposing our armed forces."

PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan was furious and gave a deadline to the government of 15 June:  “If we get positive results from meetings we make with the government, the democratic solution will be on. Until elections, probably in the beginning of June, we will make another meeting and I will offer more pragmatic proposals. The government will make a decision. If it is not positive, it will be totally different for everyone after 15 June. It will not be a Turk-Kurd clash, but between AKP’s governing forces and democratic autonomous forces. The guerilla shall determine its pragmatic solutions, according to those conditions of that time.” 

On 20 May, Ocalan followed up to legitimize his tactic in the eyes of Kurds. He said that Washington and Ankara had already come to an agreement for which the latter would help the former reshape the “new” Middle East,  in return “Kurds’ heads would be delivered to Ankara". He added, however that there was still hope through negotiations with the state’s senior representatives.

Meanwhile, representatives of the BDP, said they would declare their own administrative autonomy in the region, despite AKP’s resistance, if Erdogan continues in power with a single-party government. Demirtas said on Monday that the people will be on the streets, showing the political resistance to AKP forces to press for their democratic demands.

One of the PKK’s leaders in northern Iraq, Murat Karayilan, warned AKP at the end of May: “The government must say something clear to us after the elections. Otherwise, we will take care of ourown business. There are people rising in the Middle East. The Arabs are rioting and want to redesign the region. In this design, there must be a space for the Kurds too.”

Violence against peaceful demonstrators is increasing dramatically, with firing of tear gas and beatings. During a protest by socialists as Erdogan was campaigning  in Artvin last week, a retired teacher, Metin Lokumcu, had a heart attack and died immediately. Erdogan called the protestors "highwaymen”. More than 60 people were taken into custody, as Artvin’s chief constable was called to Ankara and local commanders were dismissed.  

Dilsat Aksit, a woman protesting police violence in Ankara, was beaten so badly that her hipbone was broken. Erdogan responded with sexist discourse afterwards. He said: “This morning, I am watching someone, who is whether a girl or a woman I am not sure (in Turkish society, 'girl' is used to describe a woman who is still a virgin), climbing over a police panzer and hitting police officers with a stick in her hand.” 

There are two matters upon which all opposition parties and groups agree: Erdogan’s provocative discourse and the alliance between AKP and police forces.  At the same time, they question: as Turkish officials claimed to be planning for “secure areas” inside Syrian territory if refugees move towards Turkey, how is AKP going to deal with Kurdish risings and still maintain its so-called “booming economy” heavily dependent on hot money, direct foreign investments and credits of foreign banks? 

Meanwhile, the Kurds have made their demands crystal-clear: Democratic administrative autonomy, release of political prisoners, education in Kurdish, respect to Kurdish culture (e.g. putting Kurdish names back on the map and the official recognition of Kurdish in public realm), and re-settlement of Kurds removed from their villages in the 1990s.

Erdogan's reply, when asked about using Kurdish in schools: “This will divide our country!” 

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