10/13/2014, 00.00
TURKEY - SYRIA
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The "cancer" of the Kurdish question corners Ankara

by NAT da Polis
Fifteen million Kurds in Turkey's big cities want Ankara to intervene decisively to save the city of Kobane. Erdogan fears the disintegration of the country and stokes nationalism.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - In the streets of Turkey's big cities there is a strange atmosphere filled with tensions. This is due to the uncertain situation that has developed on the country's southeastern border, close to the border between Iraq and Syria. As a result, in cities like Istanbul, Kurds are getting the upper hand.

Ankara's decision not to meet the Kurdish demands over the city of Kobane, which has been for weeks under siege by the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIS), has provoked an immediate reaction among Turkey's ethnic Kurds.

The latter have taken to the streets to protest against the government's decision, which is virtually delivering their fellow Kurds into the hands of a Taliban-style Islamic caliphate.

Erdogan's statement that Assad's regime and the PKK are more dangerous than ISIS is making the situation even more explosive.

This crisis has reignited the latent but ever-present conflict between Turks and Kurds, which is now turning into a national conflict, especially in Turkey's southeast border region. Turkish media are also subject to censorship, aggravated by controls on the Internet, which is not widely available in the area.

At the same time, anti-Kurdish feelings are growing among ethnic Turks with many complaining that the country's already high taxes are going to "ungrateful Kurds".

The "cancer" of the Kurdish question

Turkey's Kurds number more than 15 million. In the past, they used to be concentrated in the southeast of the country, but as a result of campaigns of military cleansing and economic depression many moved the country's largest cities.

For Turkish and international analysts, the Kurdish Question is a cancer for the Republic of Turkey. It lays bare the country's inherent flaws since 1923, the year when the republic was founded out of the ashes of the Treaty of Lausanne.

The treaty defined the current borders of Turkey, in the wake of the collapse and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, a fact Turkish leaders never really accepted.

It former also defined the rights of non-Muslim minorities; however, this part of the treaty was never substantially implemented with the result that Christian communities have virtually disappeared. As part of this, Turkish authorities also relied on Kurds to do carry out their policy of ethnic cleansing.

Turkey signed the Treaty of Lausanne on behalf of Kurds, as their representative. After that, it refused to acknowledge the existence of a Kurdish ethnic group on its own territory - calling Kurds "mountain Turks" or "mountain people" - and forbade the use of their language. This was followed by a series of Kurdish uprisings to obtain their rights.

Meanwhile, since its founding, the Turkish republic styled itself as a parliamentary democracy with oriental features, but never fostered the development of an autonomous civil society.

Instead, it has always taken steps to boost hyper-nationalism under a veneer of oriental-styled parliamentary democracy, fearing its own disintegration. Intellectual and historian Murat Belge has condemned this position, saying that Turkey "has never been able to accept the other."

In 1984, the founding of the Kurdish Workers' Party (Partî Karkeranî Kurdistan or PKK) led to an armed insurrection to obtain Kurdish rights. At the time, the party and its supporters were treated as terrorists bent on destroying the great Turkish nation.

The Kurdish Question reared its head again 1990s, however feebly. So did Turkey's anti-Kurdish policy, with the result that Turkish prisons filled up again with Kurds and any party defending Kurdish rights was outlawed. For its part, Turkey's military beefed up its fight against the PKK with the tacit big power support.

Turks and Kurds, two nations

Until the late 1990s, the conflict between the Kurds and Ankara centred on the issue of civil rights; after the Iraq war of 2003, nationalist opposition between Turks and Kurds prevailed.

The creation of autonomous Kurdish region in energy-rich northern Iraq has caused Ankara nightmares. The latter has never accepted the creation of a US-backed statelet for fear that it might breathe new life into the movement for a greater Kurdistan and lead to Turkey's national disintegration.

In 2007, then Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appealed to Kurds as fellow Sunnis to bring them back into the fold, announcing several concessions on civil rights.

This allowed him to win the 2007 elections in the southeast Kurdish part of the country. Later though, he resumed bombing PKK locations close to the border with Iraqi Kurdistan.

Ankara has backed jihadists in the ongoing Syrian crisis with the sole purpose of eliminating the Kurdish threat and the Assad regime.

Now, Turkey's participation in the elimination of ISIS Taliban with the aim of sharing the spoils highlights the cynicism of Turkish policy and Ankara's ambiguous role in the region's geopolitical chessboard, which will certainly not leave Turkey's Kurds indifferent.

Ankara is taking advantage of the fact that the United States does not want to become entangled in another war, but still wants to keep control of energy resources, with Turkey acting as its proxy.

In its modern history, Turkey has always displayed such odd and ambiguous neutrality (playing both fields), and this will not leave powers like Iran indifferent to its projection of power in the region.

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