Commentary: The Kurdish Fait Accompli in Turkey

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is considered a political wizard who can play any dirty trick and come out on top. These credentials have more takers in the West than anywhere else in the world.

Emboldened by his bravura, the prime minister has developed such a degree of confidence that he believes he can dupe or mesmerize theWest through his democratic reforms while keeping the genie of democracy in the bottle. But since the June parliamentary elections in Turkey — where his AK party won a majority — the prime minister is suffering the predicament of the sorcerer’s apprentice, because the genie is already out of the bottle and he is between a rock and a hard place. He cannot undo the reforms, which will certainly offend the West, and he cannot control ethnic minorities and those in opposition, which have broken the chains of repression. The prime minister and his ruling Islamist party will be facing further challenges as they undertake the promised amendments in the Constitution. Beginning with President Abdullah Gul, and all the way down to the military brass, the powers-that-be are opposed to the proposed changes in the constitution. Already, many highly-ranked members of the military are in jail or in the process of ongoing investigations of the Ergenekon conspiracy, creating a very volatile situation in the country.

But events are moving faster than Mr. Erdogan and his ruling party can act. To begin with, the opposition parties boycotted the oath-taking ceremony in the parliament, because some of their elected party members had been jailed under different charges. Erdogan used his negotiating tactics — coupled with some threats — to convince Kilicdaroglu’s Republican party to return to fold. Similarly other parties followed suit, except the Kurdish party, which had a surprise in store.

The Kurds were already complaining that Turkey is too vast a country to be ruled by one prime minister, and on July 14 the Kurdish party called Popular Collective Convention (with the Kurdish acronym DTK), declared Kurdish autonomy in Diarbekir.

This declaration came on the heels of a major bloody confrontation between the army special units and PKK militants, claiming 13 victims from the army and seven victims from the

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Kurdish ranks. Seven other soldiers were also wounded. The prime minister, who was flying to Istanbul diverted his flight to Ankara, and after consulting with army, police and interior ministry chiefs, he flew to Diarbekir to fire his threats to the restive Kurds.

The Kurdish convention lasted for six hours and was attended by co-chairs Ahmed Turk and Aysel Tugluk. Following the declaration of Kurdish autonomy, the latter further commented on the move by adding: “The basic Kurdish problem can be resolved only when Kurds are given recognition as a distinct ethnic group and enjoy the same rights exercised by the Turks in the country. There are no other people in the world whose rights are trampled more than the rights of 40 million Kurds…We are declaring autonomy on behalf of the Kurdish people based on the principle of sharing a common homeland. We are pleading the Turkish people to be in peace with us.” He further clarified that “the declaration of autonomy does not mean to undermine the Turkish state. This is not a state apparatus. The autonomy will be exercised by accepting Turkey as a common homeland and by remaining faithful to the unity of all nations in Turkey.”

Then he appealed to his fellow Kurds to consider themselves as citizens of the “popular autonomous Kurdistan.”

Currently, the Kurds are populating most of historic Armenia. Now that the Kurds are planning their future homeland in historic Armenian territories, what does that mean for the site of the Armenian case in history? We should have built a bridge with the Kurds a long time ago. Maybe it’s not too late, yet.

This will shake the foundations of the Turkish state as has been feared for a long time. Erdogan faced the challenge head on, first castigating the perpetrators of violence by saying, “No one should expect concessions from us by committing such acts. I feel sorry for the loss of 13 soldiers, but I speak very frankly that no one should expect tolerance and understanding [if they are committing] these acts of terror. These people have only one option: giving up their arms. The military operations will continue as long as militants have not given up their arms.”

He was equally categorical in answering the Kurdish declarations of autonomy: “There is no Kurdish problem in this country. There is only a PKK problem.”

This bold Kurdish initiative does not have only domestic ramifications for Turkey.

The issue should rather be analyzed on the broader chessboard of the Middle East politics. For a long time, Turkish leaders, especially Erdogan himself, were fighting tooth and nail to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq, because the partition of that country would inexorably lead to the creation of an independent Kurdistan, fanning the aspirations of the 15 million Kurds in Turkey. Although Iraq’s territorial integrity was preserved, in part by having a ceremonial president of Kurdish heritage (Jelal Talebani), in fact the country was partitioned because Israel was seeking a firm foothold in that country.

Israel armed and trained the Kurdish army, contributed to its administration and stability and pacified the region. Much of Erdogan’s anger and frustration against Israel is derived from their conflicting interests in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Now Kurdish aspirations of autonomy — and eventual independence — have spilled over into Turkey.

But today, there is an irony in the political developments of the Kurdish issue. For the declaration of Kurdish autonomy, Turkish leaders are blaming Iran, which is reacting to the Turkish initiatives to topple Syria’s President Beshar Assad, Iran’s only ally in the region. If the accusations prove to be true, whatever Israel began, its Moslem enemies are bringing to its culmination.

Turkey had hardly mended its fences with Syria, by eliminating the visa regime with great fanfare, it soon turned its back to its newly-won ally and began plotting against Syria at the urging of the West.

Hosting Syria’s “government in exile” on its territory constituted the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Additionally Turkey threatened to invade northern Syria, under the pretext of “protecting” the refugees. Therefore it is not inconceivable that Syria and Iran may react in a manner to destabilize Turkey by inciting the Kurds.

Erdogan was caught by surprise, believing that his Kurdish initiative had gone far enough to tame their aspirations. Now that the genie is out, the world is watching Erdogan’s wizardry, to see if he can put back the genie in the bottle. Meanwhile the Kurds have created a fait accompli and will not retreat unless they face a bloodbath in traditional Turkish style.

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