It is getting tedious hearing about how Turkey is planning demographic change and ethnic cleansing against the Kurdish people in northeastern Syria. To listen to pundits in Europe and America, you’d think that Turkey was actively targeting civilians, forcing people out of their homes intentionally, and massacring innocent populations.
In reality, nothing of the sort is happening as Turkish and allied Syrian rebel forces are fighting the YPG, not the Kurdish population.
The oversimplification of the conflict between Turkey and the PKK terror organisation and its Syrian affiliate the PYD/YPG, to a primordial “Turk vs Kurd” ethnic struggle is wanton obfuscation of reality and the historical record of how these two ethnic groups lived side-by-side for centuries.
Erdogan’s reconciliation with the Kurds
As I argued elsewhere, “the Kurds” are not a monolithic entity and this is simply a figment of the Western fetishistic imagination and its rank reductionism when faced with complicated issues that they want to impose their will on but struggle to find justifications. In fact, and ironically, it is exactly the same mentality that allows groups like al Qaeda and Daesh to oversimplify and lump the entirety of “Western civilisation” – such as it is – into one enormous target to justify their acts of terror.
While analysts and policymakers in the West might find the comparison to radical terrorists insulting, I would imagine the people of the Middle East – particularly those who have lost loved ones to PKK/YPG violence – would be similarly insulted by having an entire ethnic group of millions of people boiled down to the Marxist-Leninist ideology of the PKK.
Just because someone identifies as being culturally “Western” that does not give their sensibilities pre-eminence and priority over the people of the Middle East or indeed the rest of the world, and Western analysts would do well to heed that.
There can be no doubt that the Kurdish people have historically suffered horrendous racist persecution in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey under various regimes and governments. In Turkey, and under the Kemalist militarised regime, Kurds were barred from using their own language, had their access to development and economic opportunities curtailed severely, and they were described as “Mountain Turks” in a derogatory fashion meant to demean them and to even deny their existence as a separate ethnic group with their own unique culture and traditions.
However, after Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) rose to power in 2002, a concerted effort to make deep-rooted changes towards how Kurds were perceived and treated in Turkey took place.
Erdogan’s plan was to embrace his sizeable Kurdish minority as equal Turkish citizens to decrease ethnic tensions and to dry up the swamp of PKK propaganda that painted their struggle as one of independence for all Kurds, rather than just their selfish ambitions.
In 2009, the AK Party launched a broad-ranging policy initiative that was dubbed as the “Solution Process”. This initiative sought to increase Kurdish rights, including increased development in Kurdish-dominated provinces, more access to educational and economic opportunities, and the reinforcement of the fact that Kurds could maintain their cultural identity while being as equal as any other Turkish citizen.
Tangible signs of this appeared not only in the cities and towns where Kurds lived but even in their personal lives as AK Party’s policies legalised the Kurdish language being taught in schools.
The net effect of all this is that the AK Party consistently received the largest proportion of Kurdish votes in consecutive elections, showing that Kurdish voters acknowledged that Erdogan and his party were making significant strides by using concrete political action and not relying on terror and endless war like the PKK.
Peace an existential threat to the PKK
Another net effect of Turkey’s peace and integration efforts with its indigenous Kurdish population is that, and somewhat ironically, the PKK actually began to feel that their very existence was being threatened.
After all, if your vote as a Kurd began to mean something, your rights were being secured and expanded, your people had a voice in parliament and ministerial seats at the most powerful and influential tables in the land, and your cities were being developed and cared for, why would you turn to violence?
For groups like the PKK, violence and strife is not only a way of life, but it also feeds them and keeps them relevant. By being able to point to the abuses of previous Turkish administrations, they were able to rally support for their separatist struggle to establish a Marxist-Leninist Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey.
However, when you are faced with a government ruled by a party that is not racist, that not only includes Kurds in a tokenistic fashion but actively welcomes them—and that has been fighting politically to establish the rights of Kurds as equal citizens—the relevance of the PKK becomes less and less until it is consigned to the trash heap of history.
The PKK realised that the jig was up if peace was ever achieved and so, despite generous offers of amnesty from the Turkish authorities for all PKK militants who laid down their arms, the terrorist group decided to prevaricate on its agreements and to exploit the Syrian conflict.
The PKK leadership stalled on peace efforts in Turkey and decided to squander everything by exploiting the battle for Ayn al Arab to rally anti-Turkish sentiment by claiming Turkey was unwilling to help Kurds battle Daesh extremists.
In reality, Turkey was hesitant about helping one group of terrorists, the YPG, fight another group of terrorists. It had nothing to do with the Kurdish people themselves, who were welcomed into Turkey as refugees and protected.
The PKK hoped that their YPG sister organisation could secure a statelet by ethnically cleansing Arabs and Turkmen from northeastern Syria and waited for US backing to receive even more arms and training. This would have allowed them to assist the PKK by giving them strategic depth inside Syrian territory in order for them to continue their bloody campaign of terror that has cost tens of thousands of lives inside Turkey itself.
It is, therefore, a sad reality that the PKK, and not the Kurds, opted for war rather than peace and endangered millions of lives due to their selfish desire to stay relevant and profit off of the violence and misery. To then claim Turkey is engineering a demographic change by allowing the return of the people of the area to their ancestral homes is dangerously deceitful and unconscionable.
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