03/28/2023, 12.19
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Turkey: Kurdish vote Erdogan's political destiny amid independence and repression

by Dario Salvi

A 14-year-old Kurdish boy is beaten and forced to sing the Turkish anthem. At least 25 HDP exponents arrested in Suruc for (alleged) affiliation with "terrorist groups" (read Pkk). Repression is growing in the country ahead of elections and to quell discontent over aid and post-earthquake relief. AsiaNews source in Diyarbakir: the earthquake "has fuelled resentment" towards the Akp.

Milan (AsiaNews) - A young Kurdish boy, only 14 years old, was beaten and tortured into saying he was Turkish and singing the national anthem. The episode, reported by the website Bianet specialising in human rights violations, occurred on 21st March in the province of Diyarbakır. As a result of the violence, the boy is in danger of losing the use of his sight. Identified by the initials Y.D., he was stopped for no reason by the police, beaten and abandoned in a deserted area, while his father denounced 'pressure' received from the officers while he was in hospital.

This is also happening in Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey, where abuse and persecution of minorities is not an isolated case and is part of a policy of repression and marginalisation, as was the case with the post-earthquake relief on 6 February. Together with the Syrian refugees, the Kurds were the 'forgotten of the earthquake' and the race for aid turned into a 'do-it-yourself' solidarity contest. 

In Ankara's sights

However, the role of the Kurds could turn out to be fundamental in view of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 14 May; an appointment that the governing party also intends to carry out in the earthquake-affected areas, although enormous difficulties are already emerging in the last few days in the registration act such as to cast doubt on the outcome. Hence the increasing use of force, at home and across the border, to quell any possible form of revolt.

This is the background to yesterday's arrest of dozens of officials of the pro-Kurdish Hdp (the Peoples' Democratic Party) and the Democratic Regions Party (Dbp) in the district of Suruc, in south-eastern Anatolia. Behind the measure are accusations of (alleged) affiliation to 'terrorist groups', with an implicit reference to the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), outlawed in Turkey. Local sources report that the detention - there is talk of at least 25 people - is a "further step" in the direction of the "suppression" of the aspirations of the Kurds, whose voice and civil liberties are once again being subjected to "severe restrictions". 

From Turkey to Syria, where last week thousands of Kurds took to the streets of Jinderis - in the Afrin district - to protest against the killing of four people at the hands of a pro-Ankara armed rebel group. On the night of Nowruz, the Persian New Year celebrated on 21 March, some men lit a bonfire to celebrate, but were surprised by a commando who opened fire.

The attackers were allegedly members of al Jaish al-Sharqiya, a splinter group that once belonged to Ahrar Sharqiya, which fought against Damascus in the Syrian conflict with Turkish support. For Adam Coogle, Human Rights Watch (Hrw) deputy director for the Middle East, the attack on Jinderis is to be seen as part of "more than five years of unresolved human rights violations [of the Kurds] at the hands of Turkish forces and local Syrian factions". 'Turkey,' the expert adds, 'has allowed these fighters to abuse the people living in the areas with impunity', effectively making themselves 'accomplices to the violations'.

A people without a homeland

The events in the news are emblematic of the suffering, abuse, and violations to which the Kurds, between 30 and 40 million scattered throughout the Middle East, are subjected, although the numbers are uncertain due to the difficulties of calculation.

A people without a homeland scattered between Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, but there are also communities in Armenia and Azerbaijan, with a common destiny: the struggle for autonomy stifled by force and arms by the governments of the nations in which they live. In the recent past, it was precisely the Kurds who were the first to repel the advance of the Islamic State which, at the height of its expansion, conquered half the territories of Syria and Iraq (the contribution of the Peshmerga against the Isis advance from the Nineveh plain towards Erbil was fundamental).

Victims in the 1980s and 1990s of the massacres of Saddam Hussein, who accused them of fighting with the Iranian enemy, today they are the number one target of Erdogan, who considers them an internal and external threat.

For at least five years, Ankara has wanted to create a 'buffer zone' to nip in the bud the union between Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds and the autonomist drift in the south-east, the repression of which is the real purpose of the intervention in the Syrian conflict. Bombing operations and air raids to extinguish the dream of 'Rojava', which together with Iraqi Kurdistan represents the most explicit encouragement for Kurdish secession in Turkey.

An explosive situation that fits into the broader framework of clashes between powers and wars in the region, including the one being fought against Isis and jihadist movements. A clash pitting Iran and Syria under the Russian umbrella on one side and Europe, the United States, the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar) and Turkey on the other, in which there are, however, further opposing interests, alliances and objectives at play to complicate the Middle East puzzle.

Tipping the scales

Looking ahead to the election in Turkey, which represents a key step for the political future of Erdogan and the country, several analysts agree that the role of the Kurdish minority is of primary importance. Hence the attempt by both the government and the opposition to attract their consent while the main Hdp party has decided not to field a candidate and implicitly support the so-called anti-Erdogan 'Table of Six', led by Chp leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

With polls showing a balance between the two fronts, the Hdp itself (which has a potential electoral basin of more than 10%) could act as the needle of the scales even if its attempted ouster by the courts could force it to reform under a new symbol. A Kurdish institutional source in Diyarbakir, on condition of anonymity, tells AsiaNews: "Certainly the Kurdish electorate will play a very important role in determining the outcome of the vote, also in view of an electoral basin of 8 million people. And from what we hear the orientation is to support Kilicdaroglu for the presidential elections and the Green Left Party for the parliamentary ones'.

'Certainly, on the vote will weigh,' the source continues, 'the earthquake issue that still determines the lives of people, many of whom are still homeless, have lost family and friends, in a framework of pain and despair. Lastly, the earthquake has fuelled 'resentment in many towards the government and the management of the country' for this reason, he concludes, 'I think the Akp will end up losing a fair share of its electorate'.


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