PKK and the songs of fury

Turkey's war with outlawed PKK is making it difficult to cover conflict objectively as stakeholders including prominent members from Kurdish community are divided and forced to remain silent out of fear of reprisals

Updated Feb 6, 2016

Recent violence in Turkey's southeast is threatening Kurdish musicians who are being forced to choose sides.

Turkey considers the PKK - the violent Kurdish Leninist-Marxist movement, a terrorist organisation. So how do journalists working for the Turkish state cover stories on the group, objectively?

This is one question I, a journalist working for the Turkish state broadcaster, have struggled with, since joining TRT World, last year.

It's a sensitive issue.

Forty thousand people have been killed in the past thirty years in violence often perpetrated by the PKK.

This violence has affected all segments of Turkish society and has united divergent groups, bringing secular and religious segments of society, together in condemnation of the PKK’s violence, yet simultaneously dividing people, on how to respond to the insurgents.

The historical response, for example that of the military dictatorship of the 1980's, has been to attempt to ''crush'' the PKK. Violence for violence was the mantra then, and the casualties kept mounting - mostly ethnic Kurds - caught in the middle.

But there are forces inside Turkey, which have pushed for a political settlement of the ''Kurdish issue.''

The Justice and Development party, commonly known as the AK party, is one such force that has pushed for a political solution. The AK party started a peace process with the PKK that eventually led to a ceasefire in 2013.

The ruling party also initiated political reforms that allowed for the Kurdish political movement to enter parliament as a united block for the first time, with the HDP crossing the mandatory ten percent threshold in the 2015 elections.

But the wildcard in this equation has been the PKK, as Kurdish political aspirations were beginning to materialise, the 'struggle' of the 1980s, was renewed.

The PKK and the HDP both feed off a cohesive pool of Kurdish support. These are often individuals who have lost loved ones to the military clampdown of the 1980s.

For these people, the PKK’s violence has been a necessary evil. But this support base has evolved its political thought, to a more accommodationist leaning. Where it once viewed the PKK as a necessary evil, it now sees a political solution as the only option to end conflict and to integrate ethnic Kurds into the Turkish state and political system.

This ‘accomodationist view’ threatens the PKK’s violent goals. For the outlawed group, It's a zero-sum game, where the gains of the Kurdish political movement - as manifested by the HDP - are viewed as a net loss for the PKK.

And in its struggle for supremacy, to reinforce itself as the dominant strain of Kurdish political expression, the PKK wants total subservience. The PKK targets prominent Kurds; intellectuals, poets, artists and musicians, to spread its message and ideas in the Kurdish community. Those Kurds who resist are coerced.

People like Mehmet Karakus, a Kurdish folk singer who was attacked alleged by PKK sympathisers earlier in February for disagreeing with the PKK’s violent methods.

This is what we witnessed in covering his story; silence from leaders inside the Kurdish community to speak on the record about their views on the PKK. Our requests were politely denied, out of fear of reprisals.

Publicly, a majority of prominent Kurdish musicians would support the PKK, but privately they would share their anguish at having to choose sides in a messy conflict. 

Authors: Ali Mustafa, Muhammad Masuk Yildiz, Mehmet Faruk Yuce