The Kurds in Turkey and the Fight for Kobani
by Veli Sirin
At the same time, he who is called "the man on the island" has put an ultimatum to Erdoğan. Abdullah Öcalan, in jail surrounded by the sea near Istanbul and still the real leader of the Kurdish Workers Party [PKK], has given the Turkish authorities more time to achieve a full agreement with its Kurdish subjects. If it does not, he says he can do "nothing more for the peace process." But as reported by the London Financial Times on October 22, Öcalan said he remained "optimistic" about relations between Ankara and the Kurdish revolutionaries. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by the United States and various European governments, as well as Turkey.
Still, a historical process is now threatened with failure: the reconciliation of the Turkish state with the Kurds living in Turkey. The country's Kurdish population stands at about 15 million, around one fifth of the total census. Kurds have been repressed since the founding of the Turkish Republic 90 years ago. In combat between the Turkish military and the PKK, almost 40,000 people have died.
Erdoğan's shining moment may have come when he asked the Turkish parliament, on August 11, 2009, "Where would Turkey be today, if we had not wasted 25 years in conflict, unsolved murders, and forcibly-relocated [Kurdish] villages?" At the end of the speech, he declared, "Nobody won. Everybody lost." Many legislators wept.
That was the beginning of a slow process that in 2013 was transformed into official negotiations between the state and the PKK, leading to an armistice. The authorities were to concede more rights to the Kurds and the PKK would end its armed campaign against the government.
Now, after this difficult path has been followed briefly, the arrangement is threatened. The principal obstacle to progress is the situation in Kobani. Kurdish advocates interpret Turkish ambiguity about permitting assistance to the Kurds in Kobani as an attack on all Kurds – whether Iraqi Kurds, with whom Ankara has a good relationship, or Kurds from the PKK. Many Kurds believe that the Turkish state considers it acceptable for the "Islamic State" to murder Kurds.
Öcalan subordinate Cemil Bayık, according to the Middle East news portal Al-Monitor, threatened on September 24 to resume the PKK guerrilla war against the Turkish military, unless Erdoğan and the AKP change their position toward the Kurds. If Kobani falls to ISIS, armed struggle may return to Turkey's Kurdish region.
At the same time, another contradiction is visible. While the AKP government claims that it wants to accelerate the peace process -- especially now, and with particularly greater speed -- at the same time, it condemns the Kurdish political leaders as warmongers. The Turkish regime insists on equating the PKK with ISIS, and alleges there is an alliance between Kurds in Syria and the Damascus dictator Bashar Al-Assad. In addition, this link supposedly extends to a coalition with other Erdoğan targets: the religious movement of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric who now lives in the U.S. and was formerly an ally of the AKP, and the foreign media. These two "enemies" were not only blamed for protests in Turkey, but, according to Erdoğan in an October 13 speech, reported by the Gülen-controlled daily Today's Zaman, they conspire to subvert its internal security. The Turkish state is also seeking ways to enhance police powers against its opponents, in measures described by the leading newspaper Daily Sabah on October 22.
Paradoxically, many Kurds live well in Turkey and support the AKP. Thus, it seems to be Erdoğan himself who destabilizes the country by oppressing the Kurds.
Pro-Kurdish demonstrations in Turkey, in early October, focused on the plight of Kobani. At least 33 people were killed in these protests, and hundreds injured, Daily Sabah reported.
The U.S. military has been helping the Kurds in Kobani recently by supplying arms, ammunition, and medical aid. CENTCOM, the U.S. military Central Command, has publicized several C-130 relief flights to the Kurds in Kobani. Erdoğan has opposed these arms shipments. Returning from Afghanistan on October 19, Erdoğan said that Turkey could not be expected to support such weapons deliveries, as noted by the London Guardian.
The U.S. continues to press Turkey regarding use of the American air base at Incirlik in southern Turkey, close to the Syrian border, for action against ISIS and, it is hoped by many, Syria's Al-Assad regime.
Additionally, some have proposed that Turkey open a corridor through Turkey from Iraqi Kurdistan -- but only to help the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga soldiers, not Turkish Kurds, reach Kobani, according to AKP foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, as cited in Turkey's leading Hürriyet Daily News on October 21.
The main Kurdish force in Kobani, the People's Protection Units [YPG], is a militia made up of members the Democratic Union Party [PYD], a Kurdish movement in Syria affiliated with the PKK.
The Turkish air force, meanwhile, continues bombing the PKK, not ISIS. Turkey is attacking the fighters who could help defend Kobani.
On October 14, BBC News, as well as Turkish and Kurdish media, disclosed that F-16 and F-4 warplanes from the Turkish bases at Diyarbakir and Malatya bombed Dağlica, a Kurdish area in the extreme southeast of Turkey near the Iraqi border. Turkish authorities said the raids were a response to a PKK attack on a military outpost.
The Dağlica clash was the first between Turkish forces and the PKK since the armistice agreement of March 2013. Whoever first attacked whom, the PKK or the Turkish military, many Kurds remain convinced that the Turkish state would rather bomb the Kurds than help them against IS. Kurdish resentment is stoked by the spectacle of Ankara allowing Kurds be killed in Syria, on the Turkish border, while taking no action to prevent the slaughter.
On a hill in Atmanek, along the Turkish-Syrian frontier, Turkish tanks are parked, reconditioned for winter action. But their guns point in every direction except that of Kobani.
Selahattin Demirtaş, chairman of the legal Kurdish party in Turkey, the People's Democratic Party [HDP], has called for more action from the AKP government. Cited in Today's Zaman for October 14, he declared: "We have not said the Turkish military should go to Kobani and fight against ISIS. We have said that there are tens of thousands of people [in Turkey willing to cross the border to fight against ISIS;] open the door."