Turkey's Kurdish Troubles: an Intractable Conflict?

Topics: Turkey, Kurdistan, Iraqi Kurdistan Pages: 5 (1850 words) Published: March 17, 2008
With 20 million Kurds in the world they are the largest ethnicity without a home nation and about half of that population resides in Southeastern Turkey. The Turkish government and the Kurdish minority have been at odds since the end of the Turkish War of Independence in 1923. The original Treaty of Sevres signed after World War II, in 1920, allowed for the possibility of a Kurdish state, but this treaty was largely ignored by the Turkish nationalists and annulled during the war (Kubicek, 2). Later on the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923, legitimized what is modern Turkey and ignored the large Kurdish population (Kubicek, 2). In 1925, 1930, and 1936-38, the Kurds launched several revolts that were all suppressed by the Turkish military (Kubicek, 2). These were the largest revolts in the new country and because they were led by Kurds and took place in Kurdish regions, which led to the idea that the Kurdish minority was the biggest threat to the new state. Over the next few decades the Turkish government has generally ignored the Kurds as a separate people and has been practicing a policy of assimilation by restricting Kurdish cultural practices, language, dress, and even referring to the people as "mountain turks" (Kubicek, 2). In the 1980s emerged the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, led by Apo Ocalan, and they have been waging a guerilla war ever since. The biggest rift and core of the conflict is how each side views the other. The PKK see themselves as a legitimate political party who is being persecuted, tortured, and overall excluded from Turkish government. The Turkish government sees the PKK as a terrorist organization and because they are funded by non-domestic sources they are not legitimate. It is hard to say whether this conflict in intractable or not because there have been periods of time where the PKK has voluntarily laid down their weapons and the Turkish government has begun allowing more participation in politics by the Kurds. However, as soon as things start moving in the right direction a new Turkish leader reverses policy and cracks down or a rouge PKK faction commits an act of violence against a Turkish target. For example, in 1990 Turkish president, Halil Ozal, took a softer stance on the Kurds stating: "ethnic groups demand to retain their own ethnic identity and culture should not be rejected" he went on to say "they have their own history, language, and folklore [and] if they wish to develop them, let them do so" (Kubicek, 4). Later that year in a newspaper interview, PKK leader Apo Ocalan, toned down his separatist rhetoric and called for a cease fire so that the two sides might sit at the negotiating table an come to a "political agreement" without the goal of independence but rather "free political expression" (Kubicek, 4). Despite this the Turkish military, which operates fairly independently, kept cracking down on PKK fighters and also had trouble distinguishing between the PKK and innocent Kurdish civilians. In 1992 they began forced evictions of Kurdish villages and Ocalan dismissed the promises of President Ozal and Prime Minister Demirel as "isufficient" and "words alone" (Kubicek, 4). The promises of the Turkish government, such as lifting language restrictions and economically developing the region never came to fruition and the PKK viewed the minimal efforts as only benefiting wealthy Kurdish tribal leaders who had already sided with the Turkish government. On the other side of the coin the Kurds were not completely innocent. The PKK continued attacks and members of the Kurdish dominated People's Labor Party, or HEP, wore PKK colors and made Kurdish slogans while taking their oath in office (Kubicek, 5). HEP party members continued to speak Kurdish in parliamentary meetings and refused to denounce the actions of the PKK. This behavior made many hardliner Turks nervous and General Gürep reflected their sentiment when he said "there is no need to look for bandits [PKK]...
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