Thirty-five years on, no political solution for Kurdish-Turkish conflict

Rage engulfed Turkey in late July 2018 when a woman and her 11-month-old son were killed, reportedly by a roadside bomb, after leaving an army base in the south-eastern province of Hakkari. The woman had paid a surprise visit to her husband, who worked as an officer at the base.

The deaths were blamed on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Two days later, the PKK issued a statement claiming that it never targets civilians, and the death of the mother and child was a ‘mistake’. Turkish rage, however, was not solely directed at the PKK, as Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu clearly expressed at the funeral of the two victims. He placed the larger blame on Europe and the United States (US) for being “supporters of terrorism”, as he put it.

Published on 16 August 2018. Continue reading on Fanack website.

‘Dit land haat de Koerden. Dat besef doet pijn.’

Story about the war in Southeast-Turkey, published in Dutch weekly Vrij Nederland, 25 May 2016. Only available in Dutch.

Het gaat met niemand goed.

Niet met Serkan*, een jonge computerprogrammeur uit de stad Sirnak, in het uiterste zuidoosten van Turkije bij zowel de Syrische als Iraakse grens. Ik leerde hem een paar jaar geleden kennen toen ik in Sirnak contacten legde met activistische jongeren. Serkan stuurt foto’s van zijn wijk in de stad, verwoest door de gevechten tussen PKK-militanten en Turkse veiligheidstroepen. ‘Er staat nauwelijks nog iets overeind’, zegt hij. Met zijn familie is hij uitgeweken naar dorp in de buurt, waar ze bij familie bivakkeren tot ze terug kunnen naar wat er niet meer is. ‘Een aantal vrienden van me vocht mee, en jongens die buren van me zijn. Ze zijn nu dood. Hun lijken liggen nog op straat.’

Ook met Nurcan Baysal gaat het niet goed. Laatst barstte ze in huilen uit toen ze tomaten kocht op de markt en steeds maar het artillerievuur hoorde dat werd afgeschoten op Sur, de oude stad van Diyarbakir. Nurcan werkt als onderzoekster voor verschillende bureaus en publiceert zelf ook boeken, onder andere over de Armeense geschiedenis van zuidoost-Turkije en over het lot van Yezidische Koerden in gebieden die onder ISIS-controle staan. ‘Mijn kantoor is niet ver van Sur’, zegt ze. ‘Het werk gaat door, de kinderen gaan naar school, ik maak de lunch en het avondeten, ik doe de boodschappen, maar terwijl ik leef en eet, gaan er tien minuten verderop mensen dood. Precies op die plekken Fréderike, waar wij vorig jaar nog koffie dronken.’

Lees verder op de site van Vrij Nederland, of, als je daar een paywall krijgt, voor €0,89 op Blendle.

Turkey struggles with state armed citizens

The peace process in Turkey, that started in March 2013, still continues. One part of the problem that doesn’t get much attention, is the village guard system. It will have to be abolished, but for now, the state continues to expand the system. Village guard Seymus Akbulut: ‘We want peace, but we want to be safe too. What if anybody wants to take revenge on us?’

Village guard. Picture: Tommaso Protti.
Village guard. Picture: Tommaso Protti.

Dressed immaculately in a dark blue suit and with his hair perfectly combed, he sits in front of a portrait of Atatürk, Turkey’s founding father, and a huge Turkish flag. On his desk two more Atatürk’s: one on a silver plate, one as a glass statuette in a red velvet box. ‘We love Atatürk’, says Seymus Akbulut. ‘Whatever the state wants us to do, we do it’.

That is how it all started in the early nineties, now more than twenty years ago. Southeast Turkey was in turmoil: the war between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), that wanted to carve out an independent Kurdistan, and the Turkish army was getting more violent every day.

This story was published on Beaconreader, a US based site that supports independent journalism. If you subscribe to my page there, you get an exclusive story from me every week, and on top of that access to all other Beacon writers. Lots of interesting writers and stories there! Want to read the whole story? Click here and subscribe! Thank you!

PKK has no expectations anymore from the government

The one year old peace process between the PKK and the Turkish government seems to be leading nowhere. The ceasefire is holding, but the government has taken no steps towards democratization and is now distracted by accusations of corruption. The KCK, the umbrella organization of Kurdish groups that also represents the PKK, has stated that they are running out of patience. Beaconreader went to PKK controlled area in the Qandil mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan and talked to Rıza Altun, one of the founders of the PKK and currently a member of the executive board of the KCK. Altun: ‘We have no expectations from AKP anymore.’

PKK's Rıza Altun during the interview.
PKK’s Rıza Altun during the interview.

All things considered, the peace process went wrong from the very beginning. At least that is the conclusion that can be drawn from an exclusive interview with Rıza Altun, member of the executive council of the KCK. Altun: ‘The AKP is not representing the peace process anymore. No expectations are left.’

The interview with Beaconreader took place on 23 March, two days after Newroz and exactly one week before the local elections. The day trip to the Qandil mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan started early in the morning in the Kurdistan capital of Erbil. READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE ON BEACONREADER.

Doubts about report on Uludere massacre

ISTANBUL – A commission in the Turkish parliament has finalized its report on the Uludere massacre, in which 34 civilians were killed at the end of 2011. According to the report the bombing of civilians was unintentional, and it was caused by communication flaws between civilian and military authorities. Nobody is guilty, according to the report.

Three of the four parties represented in the commission don’t accept the outcome and will publish their own reports. The commission has eight members: five from governing party AKP and one from each opposition party, CHP, BDP and MHP.

Secret

In the bombing at the end of 2011 34 civilians were killed at the Turkish-Iraqi border. They were smuggling petrol and food. There are not many other ways to make a living in the region, partly because of the conflict between the Kurdish armed group the PKK and the Turkish state. Governing party AKP has always said the incident was an accident and that the smugglers were mistaken for PKK fighters. The report states that the incident must be seen as a result of the ‘intense terrorist threat’ in the region, where the PKK has camps.

Several members of the commission have serious doubts about the outcome of the investigation. They didn’t get the chance to speak to the people responsible and had no mandate to force people to talk. Several important military documents were stamped ‘secret’ before the commission could look into them, and the chair of the commission, an AKP MP, complained about that.

Underage

The members of the commission have watched the footage of unmanned patrol planes that spotted the group of 38 smugglers in the border area. According to commission members of the BDP and the CHP the footage shows very clearly that the group are no PKK fighters. Ertugrul Kürkcü, MP for the pro-Kurdish BDP to ANP news agency: ‘You clearly see that it’s not a trained military group, and also the images in which goods are loaded from trucks onto donkeys are clear. When the F16’s approach, you don’t see the group separating and hiding, as guerillas would do, but rather huddling together because they are scared’.  Nineteen of the 34 victims were minors.

Kürkcü says his party will present its own report next week, and that also the social-democrat CHP and the ultra-nationalist MHP will publish their own versions.

The report leaves many questions unanswered. That can hinder the peace process between the state and the PKK, who are talking to try to find a solution to the almost 30 year old armed conflict in Turkey.

Goodbye to an idol in Dersim

DERSIM/TUNCELI – ‘Our heart cries blood’, laments Kurdish politician Aysel Tugluk into the microphone. With long sustained tones she speaks to the thousands of people attending the funeral of Sakine Cansiz, one of the founders of the armed Kurdish movement, the PKK. Cansiz was murdered in Paris two weeks ago.

Aysel Tugluk is one of the women carrying the coffin to the graveyard.
Aysel Tugluk is one of the women carrying the coffin to the graveyard.

Shortly after Tugluk is one of the women who carries the coffin, covered in a PKK flag, to the graveyard. The procession goes from the cemevi (the Alevi house of worship) through the small city centre and then to Sakine’s last resting place, just outside the town. The route through the snowy mountain landscape is magical.

A day earlier, Thursday last week, tens of thousands of Kurds said goodbye to Sakine Cansiz and the two other female activists who were assassinated in Paris, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Söylemez. That gathering in the biggest city in the Kurdish southeast of Turkey, Diyarbakir, was not just a communal mourning but also a protest against the ongoing lack of a political solution to the Kurdish question. A cry for peace.

The funeral on Cansiz’ home ground,which she left as a young woman in the seventies to fight for her people, is also political. But it is in primarily a modest goodbye to a woman who meant a lot for the Kurdish struggle and for the freedom of Kurdish women. Or, as Selahattin Demirtas, Kurdish MP, expressed it in Diyarbakir: ‘There used to be not even a place for women of this land at the dinner table. But that we are here now, is also thanks to the struggle of Kurdish women for their people’.

Leyla Atac (37) walks along in the cortege. She was, just like Sakine Cansiz, born and raised in what the Kurds still call Dersim – the Kurdish name of the city that was replaced with Tunceli as part of the ‘Turkification process’ in the nineteen thirties. She calls the funeral the most important event in the city for years: ‘Sakine is my idol. She resisted, as a Kurd and as a woman.’ She joins in shouting the slogan of the day: Jin, Jiyan, Azadî! Woman, Life, Freedom!

The Parisian police have arrested two men in connection with the murders and released one of them. Who is behind the murder remains speculation. The early peace talks between the Turkish government and the imprisoned PKK leader Öcalan don’t seem to be affected by the triple murder. In her speech, Aysel Tugluk has a message for the killers: ‘Know that you can never stop our struggle for freedom’.

Fréderike Geerdink, Diyarbakir

PKK founder buried in Turkey

TUNCELI – PKK founder Sakine Cansiz has been buried in the eastern Turkish city of Tunceli. At least five thousand people from Turkey and Europe attended the ceremony, along with members of her family who live in Rotterdam.

The ceremony was Alevi, an Islamic path that is important in the province. An Alevi leader called on Alevi organisations to support early peace talks. Recently, the Turkish government has been talking to Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the PKK.

Kurdish politician Aysel Tugluk called for peace in a long, emotional speech. Others recalled other ‘fighters’ who had their origins in Tunceli province. Tunceli was called Dersim until the nineteen thirties, and was renamed as part of a campaign to forcibly ‘Turkify’ the province. The massacre in 1937 and 1938, in which the army brutally suppressed an uprising, still regularly causes controversies in Turkish politics.

The coffin containing  Sakine Cansiz’ body was carried to the graveyard by women, among them Aysel Tugluk.

UN condemns mortar strike on Turkish town

Russia blocked a draft version of the resolution that would have justified greater international involvement by the Security Council in Syria. The UN Security Council unanimously condemned this week’s mortar strike by Syria that killed five civilians in Akcakale.

The statement on Thursday (October 4th) called on Syria to “fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours” and said that Wednesday’s strike “highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbours and on regional peace and stability.”

The statement is notable in that China and Russia, which have supported Syria in the past, voted in favor of the statement to condemn Syria’s actions. The BBC reported that Russia blocked a draft version of the statement that called the attack “a threat to international peace and security,” as that language could be used to justify greater international involvement.

Fighting in Syria has continued for 19 months in an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a vocal critic of Assad, and has called upon him to step down. Meanwhile, more than 90,000 Syrian refugees are living in shelters that Turkey constructed on the border.

In all, more than 300,000 have fled Syria. The UN estimated this week that the number of refugees may top 700,000 by the end of the year.

Turkey’s parliament on Thursday authorised military action in Syria, the first time it has taken that step, after a shell fired amidst the fighting landed in Akcakale. Syria apologised for the incident.

The EU has urged restraint by Turkey while condemning the mortar attack.

While the action by parliament gives Turkey the ability to cross the border into Syria, analyst Cengiz Aktar, a professor of political science at Bahcesehir University, does not think it will happen.

“Turkey is warning Syria, but cannot really act. NATO doesn’t give a green light, and Russia is strongly against it,” he told SES Türkiye.

“I think Syria will stop shelling,” Aktar said. “I think the government analyses – and I share the analysis – that the Syrian regime doesn’t want a front with Turkey. They are busy killing their own people. The Syrian regime probably hates this incident and will try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Professor Kamer Kasim, vice director of the International Strategy and Research Organisation, said Turkey’s flat, long border with Syria would make it easy for its military to cross, but he believes that Ankara wishes to avoid that circumstance.

“Turkey always wants to act together with others and always asks its allies for support. They are trying to build that support, so it can be used if the border violations by Syria continue,” Kasim told SES Türkiye.

“Turkey didn’t get support for a security zone across the border. If it had, something like what happened [Wednesday] wouldn’t have happened. And it can happen again. So Turkey has to issue a strong warning now, to make sure Syria is more cautious. For now, there is no other way.”

 

Big anti war demonstration in Istanbul

ISTANBUL – At least some 8,000 people demonstrated in Istanbul Thursday night against a possible war with Syria. Several NGO’s joined hands to express their disapproval of a law that the Turkish parliament passed today. The law authorises military operations outside Turkey’s borders.

The law was approved today after a mortar coming from Syria killed five people in a town at the Syrian-Turkish border. Most likely an accident, but Turkey reacted immediately and fired back. In retaliation, swears PM Erdogan, who claimed after the passing of the law that Turkey has no interest to really start a war. Syria in the meantime offered apologies for the deaths and allegedly started an investigation.

The demonstrators carried banners with texts such as ‘Imperialists will lose’, and ‘AKP, hands off Syria’. For historical reasons Turks are strongly against interventions in other countries.