2 of 5
There was hope the bloodshed would end in 2013, after the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, halted the party’s commitment to armed struggle and called for the beginning of a peace process. But Erdoğan’s abrupt ending of the peace talks in 2015, in the face of bad pre-election polling numbers, proved he had no interest in peace, pluralism or democracy that could not be abandoned at the slightest sign of political inconvenience. The wave of repression of Kurds that has followed, conducted by Turkey in the name of “counter-terrorism”, in fact served only to incite more conflict.
This dynamic is misunderstood internationally: whenever the Kurdish movement is discussed, it often comes with the caveat that the PKK is a “designated terrorist organisation”. While this is legally true, it misrepresents fundamental social and political realities. For 30 million Kurds across the region, the PKK is a defender of their existence. It will maintain this support until Kurds believe that the states in which they live – in Turkey, as well as Iraq, Syria and Iran – are not directly hostile to the Kurdish identity itself.
The Turkish government, however, seeks to attack any and all forms of Kurdish political expression – and all civilians who support it. Even the Kurdistan regional government in Iraq, which has deep economic ties with Turkey, was threatened with “starvation” by Erdoğan when its people voted to express their desire for independence. Kurds across the Middle East, especially in Syria, will not underestimate how far Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is prepared to go to damage their cause.
In November 2015 I was in Kurdish-dominated southeastern city of Diyarbakir when Erdoğan reinforced the civil war on Kurds after his party won a critical parliamentary election, regaining the majority it lost just 5 month before. I followed young militants of PKK-affiliated YDG-H inside the historical district of Sur fighting in the civil war against Turkish special forces.