Towards a new Habur

The weirdest question I have been asked since the PKK announced its withdrawal from Turkey will start on 8 May, is whether the people here in the Southeast of Turkey are feeling ‘victorious’. How little do you know of the conflict and of Kurds to think there could be an atmosphere of victory here? It implies that a conflict has come to an end, and that there could be ‘winners’ in the end.

PKK commander Murat Karayilan during the press conference in the Kandil mountains, where the date of the start of the withdrawal was announced, 25 April 2013.

The conflict of course has not come to an end; it’s just that the violence has stopped. But the end of the violence is not the goal. If it was, then the PKK would never have taken up arms in the first place. The struggle started for a reason, and that reason has not yet disappeared. None of the demands of the Kurds has been met. The PKK has now done its part in giving space to a political solution, and by doing that put immense pressure on the AKP government to finally act.

At least that’s one explanation you could give for what is happening. The whole process lacks transparency, nobody knows what’s going on behind the scenes and what the exact deal is between Öcalan and Erdogan. Another scenario is that both Öcalan and Erdogan are acting for their own benefit: the first for his freedom, the second for the presidency.

Ottoman inspired plan

Although I heard another scenario too. Erdogan doesn’t have to do this for the presidency, which he will win anyway. No, he is thinking much further ahead. He has the luxury to do so, since there is no credible opposition. If the Kurdish issue is fully (or partly) solved, even the huge power of the BDP will erode and Kurdish votes will go to the AKP. So Erdogan expands his power in Turkey, but let’s not forget the international dimension.

Nobody knows how the situation in Syria will turn out, but if the Syrian Kurds get real autonomy, their safety may depend on Turkey. And the Kurds in Iraq will need Turkey too. First for economic reasons, and Erdogan is assuring that by preparing big oil deals with the Kurdistan Autonomous Region right now. Second for military reasons: the tension between the government in Baghdad and the Iraqi-Kurdish capital of Erbil is rising because of Kurdistan’s oil, and partition of the country is not unthinkable. Is this the real Ottoman-inspired plan of Turkey’s most powerful man? Controle not only Turkey, but a big part of Kurdistan as well?

Your daughter, your son

Always interesting to speculate on politics. But for the people here in the Southeast, where almost everybody has some family member who went to the mountains, something else is important. It’s their sons and daughters who are about to retreat from Turkey. Will the army really leave them alone? In 1999, when the PKK was trying to retreat from Turkey as well, the army attacked them and many (some say hundreds) died. The chance of this happening again is small since this time there is a deal between the PKK and the government, but would you fully trust it if it concerned your daughter, your son? No. You would be scared, and you would pray for your child to survive this journey.

PKK members who died in the war as they are usually portrayed.

And your sorrow wouldn’t have come to an end if the withdrawal was completed safely. You would want your child to come back home. And whichever geo-political scenario Erdogan has in mind for the long term, the eventual return of the PKK fighters to Turkey should become the focus now. Steps have to be taken to convince the PKK to lay down its arms permanently. Part of that is an amnesty law which guarantees that the guerillas can return home and that they and their organisation get a place in society.

Human dignity

And then, will the Kurds then feel victorious? That question makes me think of the so-called ‘Harbur incident’ in October 2009. Erdogan had launched the ‘Kurdish opening’, and it was agreed that a group of PKK fighters and some refugees from the Makhmur Camp in North Iraq would return to Turkey as a gesture of support to that opening. Their return, via the Habur border gate, turned into a party of support for the PKK, including PKK flags and flags with Öcalan’s portrait. Turks didn’t like the party and objected. Erdogan failed to manage the incident properly, and it basically meant the end of the Kurdish opening.

The celebrations at Habur border gate, 19 October 20009.

So what Turkey now will work towards is a new ‘Habur’. The return of former PKK fighters to their home land will mark the end of the Kurdish conflict. A new Habur will make Kurds happy, but also, if managed properly, it will not anger Turks. They would recognize and welcome it as a sign of Turkey’s democratic and truly peaceful new beginning.

And no, I don’t think the Kurds will actually celebrate it with a ‘victorious’ feeling. The Kurdish issue is not about victory and defeat. Nobody will be defeated when true peace comes, only the undemocratic Kemalist system will be overcome. Besides that, as I have gotten to know them, Kurds are a proud, but modest people. More than the victory over the system, they will celebrate the human dignity they will have finally regained.

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