That’s the big question these days in Turkey. There has been violence on the streets in two cities, resulting in four dead policemen, a few dead civilians, burnt police cars, roads blocked with overturned cars and angry crowds. Some person or some group, it is believed, must have provoked the violence. What makes emotions heat up as much as they did in recent days?
It started in Inegöl, a city in the western province of Bursa. A fight in a café got out of hand, and three people were stabbed to death. The assailants were arrested, but it supposedly got really out of hand when it turned out they were Kurdish. A crowd (that had been drinking, apparently) wanted the attackers to be handed over to them, which of course didn’t happen, so they then vented their anger on police property.
The next day there was trouble in Hatay, a city in the south of Turkey, right on the border of the south eastern region, and rather special in Turkey: a lot of Arabs live there. More Arabic is spoken on the streets than Turkish, and the city is known for its ethnic diversity, with a rich Christian history as well. A truck drove into a police station and four police men were killed –in what was allegedly a PKK attack. Now sadly enough this happens more often, but this time the reactions were harsher than usual: the local office of pro-Kurdish party BDP was attacked, a crowd started to attack shops owned by Kurds and the police had to shoot in the air to disperse the crowd.
Who is to blame? In Inegöl, a triple murder incited anger, in Hatay it started with a PKK attack. But it’s too easy to explain things away like that. In Inegöl, was it alcohol that made people get out of control? In Hatay, was it just the fact that this was a PKK attack carried out on a city police station in stead of on a remote army base? Also too easy: not all alcohol abuse leads to a potential lynch attack, not every PKK attack in a city leads to an attack on a BDP building or Kurdish shops.
The easy thing would be to blame the government’s “Kurdish opening”. At least that’s how some people explain the events. The government wanted to make a start on solving the Kurdish issue by democratic means (i.e. more rights for Kurds), but failed woefully. By starting to recognise that there is a problem, but failing to deliver on solving it, people are left in a void. One of the basic truths of the republic is shattered, which is: we are all Turks. Turks grow up with this truth. The ‘fact’ that everybody living in Turkey is a Turk was never allowed to be questioned, it’s one of the pillars this country is built on. And now people can’t rely on it any longer. The intense and dirty fight against the PKK in the nineties caused many Kurds to flee to other regions of the country, and all the tension that it caused is erupting now, fanned by alcohol and PKK attacks.
So would it be fair to blame the Kurdish opening, or would it be wiser to see things in a broader historical context? On the other hand, it could still have been circumstantial. It could have been alcohol, it could have been the fact that it was an inner city PKK attack. And also, what in my humble opinion surely played a role: primitive male aggression. While (some of) the men of Inegöl and Hatay were out of control, the women were doing what they have always done: making sure that at night their children and husbands have something to eat. I don’t hear anybody discussing that angle, but it sure shouldn’t be underestimated.