Last week, Turkey’s focus was on the Olympic Games, the ongoing Syrian civil war and the annual meeting of the Supreme Military Council. From this vantage point, everything seemed peaceful enough, as if this country had no problems. Even the appointments of new generals and the retirement of some 40 arrested generals did not attract much attention from ordinary people and newspapers that used to cover such decisions with extreme caution.
However, an intense fight did break out between the insurgent PKK and the Turkish Armed Forces in Hakkari, a mountainous and remote province bordering Northern Iraq and Iran, between July 23 and August 5, that resulted in the deaths of more than six Turkish soldiers and 115 insurgents. Prime Minister Erdogan stated that Syria was behind the PKK’s recent attacks and the government will continue with its counter-terrorism strategy. Not only the government but also many columnists agree on the relationship between Syria and the PKK, but nobody has questioned the discourse of ‘foreign powers’, the effectiveness of counter-terrorism and its impact on ordinary Kurdish people.
Since its establishment in the 1980s, the PKK has led many operations both in urban and rural areas of Turkey, compelling the Turkish state to spend millions of dollars on counter-terrorism and military spending. Until the early 2000s, the Turkish state denied the existence of a Kurdish identity and argued that the PKK was a puppet of the ‘foreign powers’ that wanted to divide the Turkish nation. It seems, after ten years of ruling the country, the AKP Government is stuck with the same rhetoric, not only because of its belief that “only the AKP can resolve the Kurdish question” but also as a result of the new entente with the Turkish Armed Forces, which has brought a new nationalist impulse to the fore. And yet, such a discourse will not bear significant fruit except for increasing Turkish nationalist sentiments that show there is a “Turkish question” in this country, proved last week by the many Turkish tweets and Facebook posts that responded to these announcements.
How can we believe that the Assad regime, at the brink of falling in his own country, supported the PKK to lead such an attack? Even if we think irrationally and believe the government, how can we deny the existence of the Kurdish question, whether it is championed by the PKK or not, which requires certain political, economic and legal initiatives? A ‘foreign powers’ discourse is inherent in Turkish political parties, and it always works to deny the Kurdish question. Employing a low intensity conflict tactic since the early 1990s, Turkish governments have achieved little but adding to the number of Kurdish people supporting the Kurdish cause.
Indeed, these last operations in Hakkari have not only succeeded in destroying the environment as they did before in the 1990’s, but they have also shown people that political violence as an everyday phenomenon is not confined to Hakkari, but has spread to the western parts of Turkey, as the PKK has started to lead operations in major cities using a selective violence tactic.
Nevertheless, a friend of mine, whose father works for Hakkari University, told me that they watched the Turkish Armed Forces’ recent operation against the insurgents from their balcony as if they were watching a movie in the theater. Some other people found themselves caught between two fires, forced to cooperate with the security forces during the day and the PKK at night. Migration (forced or not) has neither weakened the PKK nor resolved the Kurdish question. It is not expected to do so if the Turkish government sticks to its guns and the PKK does not hesitate even to attack civilians.