Questioning the legitimacy of the Kurdish struggle
On November 1st, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) regained its majority in Turkey’s parliament which will secure the continuation of the single-party government that has been ruling Turkey the past 13 years. The votes were much to the dismay of AKP not enough to facilitate their former leader and current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s wish to expand his presidential powers which opposition voices had warned would be a step towards a dictatorial regime.
The election ‘win’ happened in an atmosphere of uncertainty and terror after the deadliest bombing in the modern history of Turkey that left more than 100 people killed and hundreds injured at a peace protest in Ankara; after a suicide bombing also by IS-linked perpetrators killed more than 30 young students and activists in the border town of Suruç; and after the subsequent resumption of clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish residents that led to detrimental curfews imposed on Kurdish cities.
Pro-government media would have one believe the terror was caused by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) by accusing it of being the political wing of PKK, Replica Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watches the Kurdish armed resistance founded in the late 1970s as a reaction to the Turkish state’s persecution of the Kurdish people. Yet many victims of the violence that has marred the country have been people who make up HDP’s constituency, some even being HDP members.
In reality the fear spread among the people in Turkey has benefited AKP who with the usual significantly longer airtime compared to the opposition parties dominated the narrative on the situation in the country: this is a time of instability and terror and only AKP can bring it back to its good days. The government has attempted to and often succeeded in stifling opposing voices by forced seizure of newspapers, censoring Twitter, impeding access to social media and arresting journalists.
Prior to the election Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elci, Replica Audemars Piguet Watches, Fake Audemars Piguet for Sale head of the Bar Association in Diyarbakir and leading a fact-finding mission in the Kurdish cities under curfew where civilians had been reported killed by Turkish security forces, was arrested on the usual charge of links to terrorism.
The images of the body of Haci Lokman Birlik, a young Kurdish man related to members of HDP, being dragged behind an armored vehicle by Turkish authorities spread like fire across social media in early October. Some Turkish media outlets defended the lynching as a way to “check he had no bombs on him” and the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated that “Our interior ministry … will conduct a comprehensive investigation, not into the incident itself, but into the way in which this incident was reflected to the world.”
The casual attitude towards this brutal act committed by state authorities against a civilian is not a surprise considering that it was the Turkish state that deemed a massacre of 34 civilian Kurds, most of them children, perpetrated by its military “an error.” Neither is it a surprise when the Turkish justice system acquits all defendants in the first criminal case seeking justice for the thousands of forced disappearances and killings that marred the 1990s in the Kurdish regions.
The space in which the Turkish state and the Kurds were supposed to approach each other to lay the foundation for peace is currently occupied by the government’s propaganda about ISIS and PKK colluding against Turkey. President Erdogan’s claim that there is no “problem called the Kurdish issue in this country” shows the insincerity of the government’s attitude towards the Kurdish people’s grievances and the lack of will to address past and current systematic and arbitrary abuse of Kurdish and pro-Kurdish activists, journalists, writers, politicians, authors and regular citizens.
While there may be no Kurdish problem in the eyes of the state, it certainly has a PKK problem. And it is often accusations of being linked to PKK and charges based on vague anti-terrorism laws that leads to the imprisonment of some and the killing of others. Indiscriminately naming every subject of an arrest, audemars piguet replica Online Only At Ketubah Shop every participant of a protest and every politician who utter a word against the government a PKK sympathizer or militant is Turkey’s way of legitimizing the brutal crackdown on any kind of Kurdish resistance.
When Kurds opened Kurdish-language schools on their own because the constitution does not recognise their mother tongue, they were met with police violence. The forced closure was excused with the explanation that the school was “committing crime on behalf of an illegal organisation.”
The Kurdish journalist Mohammed Rasool who worked with Vice journalists continues to be imprisoned based on insufficient if not non-existing evidence of links to PKK.
When I went with a group of students to teach English to Kurdish children in Turkey I had not been there fourteen days before two police men showed up at our dormitory and accused us of teaching the pupils PKK’s ideology. An even more outrageous example of how the Turkish state equates anything Kurdish to terrorism is the case with the deaf and mute man who was charged with support of PKK with the prosecution citing half a lemon he was carrying as evidence.
Despite the blatant ongoing violation of Kurdish rights, there are still prominent voices that consider the Kurdish resistance illegal. Some encourage a nonviolent approach from both sides while others (most curiously) expect the Kurdish half of the conflict to work on the terms pegged out by the Turkish government; this despite the fact that there are multiple examples of unilateral ceasefires declared by PKK only to be broken by the Turkish state.
A resistance movement does not wait for an external stamp of legitimacy because it is opposing those exact outer circumstances. The legitimacy of the struggle, violent or nonviolent, comes from within the resistance movement.
The Kurdish resistance movement is what it is today, at times violent, at times political, always present and shaping us as individuals and a people, because it was born out of the discontent with the external circumstances. From Turkey to Syria and from Iran to Iraq, the Kurds were second-class citizens. If Syrians were oppressed by the Baath regime, Kurds were doubly oppressed. There is nothing beautiful, romantic or pleasing to safe, homely democracies in the west about the Kurdish resistance. There is nothing pleasing about the Kurdish resistance to other nations’ revolutions when that nation was complicit in oppression. When you have risen up against ugly abuses like torture and murders, your response will at times be equally ugly.
But it is easier for nations to support state violence rather than a Kurdish insurgency partly because it is a legitimate nation in their eyes and the government is elected by the majority of the country; in Turkey’s case it is also an important ally in the Middle East and a NATO member. Yet that does not diminish the concern of the rest of the citizens whose rights are being violated. A government is not safe from criticism and it cannot use the argument of being the representative of the people when it is in reality persecuting millions of citizens to protect the other millions.
If rights are restricted and media is closed, if the government uses its power to silence the people, is it legitimate simply because a majority keeps electing it? Context and not the number of votes matters. One might ask why AKP keeps winning the elections if it is really becoming dictatorial. The president has the answer himself: Stability.
Stability is, as we have come to see in Turkey, not the same as safety and freedom. If it is, it is limited to those loyal to AKP. To others, stability presents itself as a repression of their demands. So while it is a nice buzzword for Turkey to use when defending its approach to Kurds to its slightly worried allies, it is not an objective that legitimizes its means. Was the 2011 massacre a justifiable act to achieve stability? The answer seems a clear no yet the following reaction from the state consisting of a pure dismissal of responsibility, the lack of pressure from the Turkish people and the complete lack of reaction from the international community indicates more a grey zone where sometimes killing is justified – perhaps in the greater scheme because where is the Turkish state heading with avoidance of addressing Kurdish rights and employing sheer police and army brutality instead? What awaits the Kurds?
It is this greater scheme and uncertain future that makes the Kurdish resistance legitimate. Because can it be expected of the Kurds to sit on their hands and hope that their grievances will be handled satisfactorily by the government?
An article for BuzzFeed titled “Why America’s alliance with Syria’s Kurds have many worried” by journalist Borzou Daragahi is a good example of ignoring the context of the Kurdish resistance and the Turkish state’s decade-long persecution of Kurds, focusing solely on the violence committed by PKK.
He quotes an analyst who says the PKK is “asking young kids in urban areas to take on the Turkish security forces”, overlooking the fact that these children have grown up in an environment where their parents and grandparents were mistreated by Turkish security forces when they were kids, grown up robbed of their language and treated like second-class citizens. PKK cannot ask anything of anyone if they are not willing to do it themselves. These kids grow up with a political identity before they form their own personal identity and when they see their peers being bombed by Turkish F16 jets, it is no wonder they perceive the Turkish security forces present in heavy numbers in their cities as their enemy.
It is very easy to sit in a think tank, a government office or a newsroom and pass verdicts that are out of touch with the reality on the ground. Since the oppression of Kurds in Turkey have taken place systematically since 1925, the context and history of the Kurdish resistance and what kind of world the children are brought up in is more complex than what any of us can begin to grasp. Obviously no one wants to see a kid facing a fully armored soldier but then why is the primary cause of the conflict not addressed in the article?
There is a notable line in the article that subtly portrays the Kurdish protesters as unprovoked, stone-throwing troublemakers: “[…] The sole Islamic school, built two years ago by the Islamist-rooted government loyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, comes under repeated attacks by stone-wielding rioters during frequent, raucous protests that have erupted since the outbreak of war in July.”
In line with the tone of the rest of the article the Kurdish resistance is reduced to “raucous protests”, a disruption of Turkey’s tranquility.
Another peculiar paragraph that intends to illustrate the dangers of the West working with the Kurds is the following:
“But that partnership also underscores the perilous hornet’s nest the U.S. is jostling by empowering groups that share an interest in defeating ISIS but may oppose Washington’s other goals. Already the fault lines are beginning to show: Amnesty International on Tuesday issued a 38-page report using photographs, satellite imagery, and witness accounts to accuse America’s Kurdish allies in Syria of war crimes against Arabs, including demolition of civilian homes and in some cases the torching of entire villages “with no justifiable military grounds” in what may create even more potential recruits for ISIS.”
First and foremost, the function of the Kurds is not to to be a primary facilitator of American objectives in Syria. Judging Kurdish actions by what it means to the U.S. or other nations is understandable with regards to their support in form of medical aid, arm supplies etc. but not whether or not their struggle is legitimate. It is every bit as legitimate as anyone else in Syria fighting for a free and democratic future. The fear of Kurds being a threat to Syria’s territorial integrity, an echo of the Baath regime’s propaganda, has time and time again been dispelled by Kurdish leaders of the political and armed groups in Syria.
If any Syrian Arabs are alienated by Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State and securing a safe region in northern Syria where thousands of internally displaced people from the rest of Syria have fled to, then one is tempted to say, so be it. Not only is the accusation of Kurdish efforts to “divide Syria” a mindless repetition of Syrian Baath propaganda, it is also Turkish state-sponsored rhetoric; there is a reason behind the fact that rebel commanders who say they will fight Kurds seeking their own state are based in Turkey.
The language employed when describing Kurds in various articles concerning Turkey and Syria are telling of how the Kurdish political and armed movements are perceived.
Take for example Hassan Hassan’s piece for the The National titled “Overextension by the Kurds will only benefit ISIL” in which he writes that the Arab allies of the Kurdish armed forces are “often referred to as ‘Kurdified Arabs.’”
Personally, it is the first time I have come across that term and Hassan fails to clarify who describes the Arab fighters as such. Whether it is intended or not (I am inclined to think the first), the term strongly hints at the Arabization measures carried out by the Syrian government in the early 1970s in areas with a Kurdish majority inspired by an internal security chief of Hasakah governorate’s ideas of Kurds being a cancer in the body of the Arab nation.
That it may be implied the Kurds are now taking revenge for past discrimination by enforcing Kurdification of Arabs is deplorable and an extension of the portrayal of Kurds as a threat to Syrian unity.
In a recent report the human rights monitor group Amnesty International concludes that the Kurdish armed forces (YPG/YPJ) fighting IS is guilty of forcibly displacing civilians, mostly Arab and Turkmen residents of villages controlled by IS before being taken over by the Kurds. While Kurdish forces have explained that the emptying of the civilians from the villages has to do with the location being part of a military zone and close to frontlines (varying from 2-7 kilometers in the interview examples in Amnesty’s report) and thereby constituting a risk for the civilians in that it may become a fighting zone or constituting a risk for the Kurdish forces in that there may be IS sleeper cells, the residents interviewed for the report claim they were in no danger and therefore saw no need to leave their homes.
One can wonder if the small number of subjects and the selection criterias provide sufficient grounds to conclude systematic abuse and war crimes committed by Kurdish forces. It is not my place to dispel the report systematically as I do not have the necessary information to counter-argue the specific issues raised in the report other than my firm belief in the Kurdish forces’ respect of human lives and rights as I witnessed during my stay at the military hospital in Kobane this summer.
But I will emphasize that the report lacks a conclusion that puts the interview subjects’ accounts into the context of a war as hard to navigate in as the Syrian war. Amnesty cannot dismiss concerns raised by these residents but their findings are not final and conclusive. The Kurdish forces have appropriately responded to the report themselves point by point and I recommend reading their answer. It is worth noting that the Autonomous Authority (controlling Rojava, the Kurdish regions in northern Syria) has allowed for the Amnesty researchers to move freely in areas under their control and conduct interviews with subjects without a representative from the Autonomous Authority present at the meetings.
The Amnesty report has due to Amnesty’s prominence obviously leverage with anyone who is involved or concerned with the issue of Syria, Turkey and Kurds. It has been widely quoted in articles that are critical of supporting Kurds in Syria, citing that they “only” fight ISIS and not Assad and that it is a complicating factor in the relationship between Turkey and the United States due to Turkey considering the YPG and YPJ terrorist groups.
While writing this, one tweet after the other tick onto my feed with the name, age and picture of a Kurdish youth killed by the Turkish police. Yet to others they are terrorist-linked militants who are threatening the unity and territorial integrity of the Turkish state. Hence their struggle becomes illegitimate in the eyes of the world and their deaths become an unavoidable consequence of Turkey’s legitimate defence.
It is the wrong narrative that is accepted by allies of Turkey, one that continues to harm the Kurdish people, overlooks their demands for greater rights and effectively keeps them from playing a real role with regards to real reforms.