Monday, April 25, 2011

Kurdish Nationalism is Not Going Away

The backs of young men shouting slogans in support of Ocalan and the PKK at a festival organized by the Diyarbakir municipality. PHOTO by Ragan Updegraff

In the wake of the spate of violence sparked last week after the Elections Board (YSK) decided to bar 12 BDP candidates from running in June's parliamentary elections (the board decided on Thursday to reverse the decision), this Monday, as last, threatens more unrest as police acted to detain prominent BDP politicians.
Police detained 35 people Monday in the southeastern province of Hakkari, including the deputy mayor and other local officials, in connection with ongoing investigations into the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK.

The operations, reportedly carried out by police with special authority at city-center locations and at the “Democratic Solution Tent” set up by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, drew strong criticism from the party.

“This policy of the government is aimed at emptying out our party and [demoralizing] all those who love peace and democracy. This is psychological warfare,” said Mehmet Salih Yıldız, an independent candidate for Parliament supported by the BDP.

The 35 people who were detained in the operations include Hakkari Deputy Mayor Nurullah Çiftçi, Vice Mayor Hatice Demir, provincial council head Ferzınde Yılmaz, BDP provincial chairman Orhan Koparan, BDP central district chairman Kenan Kaya, the area “muhtar” (headman) and members of the provincial council and the municipality.

The suspects will be transferred to court after being questioned by the Hakkari police, the Anatolia news agency reported.
The recent operations in Hakkari are sinfificant in that they include top officials in the BDP-governed municipality, which is one of the most fervent BDP strongholds in the country. Since local elections in March 2009 in which the BDP captured large majorities in several southeastern provinces, the party has worked hard to govern these municipalities as relatively sovereign from Ankara. The party has focused on providing municipal services and using the municipality in novel ways to further its political agenda, including organizing political fora, such as the "democratic solution" tent in Hakkari, that challenge the AKP's approach to dealing with the problem.

And what is that approach? For many Kurds, more important than the "Kurdish opening" is what they see as the ruling party's attempts to suppress Kurdish political organization that challenges the AKP agenda. Though the "Kurdish opening," which was soon changed to a "democratic opening" and then to a project to promote "national unity and brotherhood," promised to offer solutions to long-existing problems, particularly in the area of cultural and minority rights, the opening gained little momentum and was largely dead by October. (For a history of the opening up to May of last year, click here.) After a very violent summer, there is little hope for the opening in the region and the AKP is facing record lows in terms of its popularity in provinces like Hakkari and Sirnak.

Monday's detentions will only further stoke nationalist sentiments and resentment against the AKP among Kurds already inclined to support the BDP. Combined with the complete and utter mess that defines the trials of alleged "KCK members" currently ongoing in Diyarbakir and Van, relations between Turks and Kurds will get worse before they get better. The BDP stands to gain votes as a result of the increased tensions, and in my analysis, the AKP is misguided if it thinks it can seriously "remove" (a nasty word) the Kurdish political actors it deems more unsavory.

Some leading AKP figures have attempted in the past year to distinguish between "bad Kurds" and "good Kurds," the main criterion for the separation between the two being the latter's support of the government. If the AKP thinks this a waiting game, that these players, attitudes, and demands will just go away with enough repression, it is sorely mistaken. As former Turkish security officials and long-time observers of the Kurdish question can testify, such an approach has been taken before, it has failed before, and it will fail again.

Hence, we have former Turkish officials like retired MIT deputy director Cevat Ones calling for  a serious reconsideration of the problem, a re-working of Turkish nationalism and the constitutional foundations of the Turkish state that accommodates the self-determination demands of nationalist-minded Kurds. Ones's words seem to be falling on deaf ears, but the problem is not going away. (See Nese Duzel's column in Taraf (in Turkish) for more on Ones.)

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