A Terrorist Lives in Turkey


Since summer last year Turkish armed forces have been laying siege on neighborhoods and entire districts in Kurdish towns and cities under the guise of state-imposed, around-the-clock curfews, killing more than 250 civilians and displacing 350,000 people in the Kurdish region in Turkey’s southeast.

Journalist Asya Tekin from the Kurdish Women’s News Agency wrote a letter from the besieged city of Cizre in December, describing the inhumane conditions they were living under: “[…] The injured are scared to go to the hospital because they fear being shot by snipers. Even those who walk with white flags are shot and killed. Two women who went into premature labor lost their newborn babies and they still have not been given permission to bury them. […] Schools are being used as bases for the military operations.

The three-months-old Miray Ince was shot by a sniper and died in the arms of her aunt. Police and military continue to attack people who wish to bury their dead relatives. People are running out of food. There has been no electricity for the past 15 days […]”

The curfews have made it difficult for journalists and independent observers to gain access to areas under siege, complicating efforts to give a detailed account of the Turkish state’s ongoing onslaughts. Local journalists are impeded in their work as they are regularly detained by Turkish police for doing “propaganda on behalf of an illegal organization,” usually meaning the PKK, the Kurdish armed movement fighting for greater rights in Turkey.

The Turkish armed forces’ indiscriminate attacks on civilians and Kurdish armed fighters come in the wake of the collapse of the so-called “peace talks” between the Turkish state and representatives for the Kurdish people that began in early 2013.

It is usually argued that PKK caused the final breakdown of the peace talks when its fighters killed a Turkish soldier and two policemen on July 21 and 22, 2015 as revenge for the Islamic State suicide bombing in the city of Suruç near the Turkish border with Syria that killed 32 people and injured over 100, most of them university students.

Kurds have repeatedly pointed out that Turkey also bears the blame for the Suruç massacre seeing as it has let its border with Syria remain porous which has allowed for foreign fighters to join the Islamic State and for its members to cross it to come back to and stay in Turkey.

Saying the PKK effectively led to the breakdown of the peace process is a simplified version of the events, which unfortunately favors Turkey and strengthens its legitimacy in the military operations against PKK that deliberately target Kurdish civilians. While there has been some attention to the armed conflict in the Kurdish region, Turkey has managed to kill hundreds of civilians and armed fighters, raze buildings to the ground and destroy entire neighborhoods with impunity due to the rhetorical simplification of its conflict with PKK and Kurds that has successfully limited the Kurdish question to be a question of terrorism. Because of Turkey’s status as a NATO ally, its arbitrary enforcement of a vague terror law, the PKK’s place on a politically motivated terror list and now the refugee crisis that has turned the European countries into meek allies, Turkey has been successful in exporting this intentionally flawed portrayal of the good Turks versus the bad Kurds to the rest of the world, blaming PKK for putting an end to the peace process. Aside from what has already been mentioned, there are two main problems with the peace process that Turkey was exploiting to make itself come off as a defender of peace.

Feigned Attempts at a Peace Process

First of all, one can question whether the talks between the PKK and Turkey were really done with the aim of bringing peace to Turkey and the Kurdish region and so deserves to be called “peace talks”. The treatment of Kurdish civilians is a good indicator of the genuineness of the intentions. As the state is able to revise its constitution and grant Kurds the greater political, social and cultural rights they were demanding, Turkey should have moved ahead and made concessions that satisfied the people. Yet the peoples’ plight was never alleviated and their grievances never sufficiently addressed. The much hyped reform package from 2013 was a tactic meant to improve Turkey’s image to the international community.

The strategy employed by the Turkish state was a flawed top-to-bottom approach with mainly two levels to it. The first, or top, level was how to disarm and punish PKK at the same time while the second, or bottom, level is what actually mattered to the peace process: the people. Reconciliation with the Kurds would have been more successful had the Turkish state instead employed a bottom-to-top approach: grant civilians greater rights, stop harassment of Kurdish and pro-Kurdish journalists, allow for Kurds to gather in assemblies and at protests without being tear-gassed, attacked with water cannons and detained or killed.

Instead, Turkish President Erdogan’s claims of peace talks and the ally states’ support and promotion of his “brave steps towards peace” have run parallel to the stark images of coffins being carried by massive Kurdish crowds, families being attacked outside hospitals and morgues by Turkish police when attempting to find loved ones injured by Turkish armed forces and a murdered youth being dragged behind an armed security vehicle.

Consequently, the peace talks seemed rather an attempt at peace talks than actual peace talks – a feigned attempt.

We have a pro-Kurdish political party whose members have fought hard to overcome obstacles set by the AKP, the governing party in Turkey, to fight the battle for freedom in parliament but they continue to be met with the fiercest resistance from AKP and President Erdogan, founder of AKP, who are currently trying to lift the immunity of the pro-Kurdish MPs to prosecute them for “insulting” him, for “promoting enmity” and for being the mouthpiece of PKK, all efforts meant to prevent the Kurds from being legitimate participants in the political discourse. What signal does it send to the Kurdish people when they see that the people they elected for parliament are being pushed out of the political sphere and face prosecution on terrorism charges?

Turkey is fighting Kurds in all spheres of society. Turkey fought the civilian Kurds who set up their own Kurdish language school. It killed a child going home from work. It denied justice to the 34 civilians killed when trying to provide for their families through smuggling because Turkey has kept the Kurdish region impoverished. There are countless examples of how Turkey is making life a daily struggle for the Kurds and keeping them terrorized and fearful of what will happen to them. It has made some Kurds become opposed to the Kurdish resistance movement because they have seen what Turkey does to those who oppose its violations of human rights.

But what happens if Turkey succeeds in silencing the civilians, quelling the resistance movement and putting the people-elected politicians in prison?

It is indisputable that, despite all its utopian and extreme political approaches, the PKK played a historic role by presenting the problem and the need for a solution in the most striking way and by making a solution necessary,” Abdullah Öcalan, one of the founders of the PKK, wrote in 1999 in his book, “Declaration on the Democratic Solution of the Kurdish Question.”

It is no wonder that PKK cannot disarm and surrender. Would a nation-state give up its army because a “peaceful dialogue” is the best way forward? No. Then why would a people who have severely limited rights and who are subjected to the attacks of Turkey? Why should they make themselves even more vulnerable? There is an inherent need within us to know we are protected. And Turkey has never wanted to protect the Kurds. Turkey is the Kurdish people’s killer. It cannot be their healer too.

State Terrorism

There is a second problem with the so-called peace process. Let us say that this rapprochement was taking place in earnest. Why did it break down with the PKK killing two Turkish soldiers? Why did the definite end to the peace talks not happen with the countless cases of violations of human rights against the Kurds?

Because it would be detrimental for Turkey and its allies if it was recognized that Turkey was not only exaggerating its use of force against Kurdish armed fighters and civilians but was perpetuating the conflict with the Kurds. One cannot imagine that a NATO member would admit that a non-state armed group was created as a reaction to its abusive policies and brutal actions against a people making up more than 18% of its population. Turkey’s treatment of the Kurdish people can easily be characterized as terrorism – except officially, there is no such thing as state terrorism because that would delegitimize many powerful states.

Erdogan Is Gollum

Even the smallest criticism is seen as separatism, Abdullah Öcalan wrote about Turkey that has an acute sense of territorial integrity; a separatist is per definition a terrorist.

That is why Turkey detained 27 academics earlier this year after they signed a peace petition with more than 1,000 other signatories from Turkish universities demanding an end to the government’s “deliberate massacre and deportation of the Kurds.” All of the signatories are under investigation and can face time in prison if they are found guilty.

“Their titles as an MP, an academic, an author, a journalist do not change the fact that they are actually terrorists,” Erdogan said last Tuesday. “It’s not only the person who pulls the trigger, but those who made that possible who should also be defined as terrorists.”

There was no difference, he added, between “a terrorist holding a gun or a bomb and those who use their position and pen to serve the aims.”

Foreign Policy, March 24, 2016

Nationalist students marked the doors to the offices of the signatories with red X’s to indicate that this is where a “sympathizer of terrorism” lived. At least 30 academics have been dismissed, 27 have been suspended by their universities pending investigation and in some cases the police has searched their homes and offices, writes Human Rights Watch.

Principles and programs have a value if they exist to take life further, Öcalan wrote. The exact opposite is the reality in Turkey at present. President Erdogan is steadily stifling voices uttering concern and criticism of the government’s crackdown on Kurds and Erdogan’s blatant attempts to expand his presidential authority to gain more power. His principles and programs are not intended to protect civilian lives; to nurture education, enlightenment and freedom. His objective is personal, one that favors him and the good Turk (as defined by himself). The academics who signed the peace petition are bad Turks and media loyal to Erdogan are branding them as such.

A Turkish court allowed for the media to make derogatory remarks about the academics using words such as “certificated perverse”, “gay lesbian professor”, and “Armenian lovers” among others, stating that it was “within the scope of freedom of press”. It is telling of the mentality of AKP sympathizers that they consider the two latter terms insults.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Ministry of Justice has approved opening 1,845 cases against people accused of insulting President Erdogan, one of the insults comparing him to Gollum, the creature from Lord of the Rings. His egomaniacal persona is a catalyst for the deteriorating situation in Turkey and the West has played its part in emboldening his crackdowns on human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and politicians by allowing him to continue without sufficient condemnation.

Since the government’s takeover of Today’s Zaman, the international community has been visibly outraged with President Obama talking about the “troubling path” that Turkey has taken, mentioned shortly after Erdogan’s security details harassed journalists and protesters outside the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

What is truly troubling is the fact that Erdogan and Turkey has not recently ventured onto this path of restrictions of freedom. What is the ongoing plight of the Kurdish people if not an indicator of Turkey’s tendencies? Is the most troubling aspect of Turkey not that it continues to kill civilians? That it was never held accountable for the Roboskî Massacre in 2011, not to mention the many other massacres, executions, forced displacements and disappearances of the past?

Just because the killing of Kurds is a regular occurrence it does not make it less important, less telling of what the Turkish government is capable of doing. The realm of power contains many slippery slopes when you are already effectively keeping millions of people repressed.

That is why it is so astonishing when people speak of Turkey’s worrisome ways. We passed the point of worrisome many years ago.

Take away the resistance movement’s pen, Erdogan, go ahead and remove its leaders from parliament and you will see that the resistance will carry on not just in spite of you but because of you.