Tense divisions continue between the Turkish government and the country’s Kurdish minority.
On Sept. 18, a Turkish parliamentary commission debated an article regarding citizenship and education rights. Skirmishes followed a meeting of lawmakers who had “a hard time reconciling long-standing differences in formulating the right to education in mother tongue and citizenship,” Turkish daily Hurriyet reported.
While arguing that Kurdish citizens deserve the right to learn in their own language, Meral Danış Beştaş – deputy co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) – accused opponents of being “racist and fascist.”
Another spat focused on Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which prohibits insulting “Turkishness”— the article’s definition of Turkish identity, however, only includes ethnic Turks, excluding an array of minorities, including Kurds, Armenians, Greeks and Jews, among others.
Kurds are the largest minority, constituting an estimated 15 million people.
“What must be done today is that democrat deputies and especially the Kurdish deputies must stand up from within their parties to ask for their rights,” BDP deputy Altan Tan later said in a press conference.
Elsewhere, angered by the defiance of local residents to uphold a call to boycott the first week of school, Kurdish activists launched a handful of attacks in Turkey over the past week. Today’s Zaman, a daily close to ruling Justice and Development Party, reported on clashes throughout the country.
Members of the Patriotic Revolutionist Youth Movement (YDG-H) hurled Molotov cocktails at a row of automobiles in Diyarbakir, including two government vans belonging to Turkey’s Ministry of Education.
“Meanwhile in the Cizre district of the southeastern province of Şırnak, a group of YDG-H members attacked a private car with a handmade bomb on Wednesday night,” reported Today’s Zaman. No one was injured, and the motivations appear to be the same as the one in Diyarbakir.
The boycott was called for by the BDP and asked people to keep their kids home during the first week of school in order to voice their demand for public education in the Kurdish language.
“However, most parents in the southeastern provinces, except for Hakkari province, sent their children to school on the first day of the new school year, ignoring the call to boycott schools,” explained the report.
The pro-Kurdish Firat News, on the other hand, reported differently:
“The school boycott … [was] supported with mass marches in a number of provinces where tens of thousands demanded to have education in their mother language and the removal of oath ceremony in which students have to recite the pledge of allegiance to the Turkish state every morning.”
The YDG-H is an affiliate of the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), the civilian wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — deemed a terrorist organization by the Turkish government, the U.S., the European Union, and NATO.
Despite an ongoing peace process between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Ergodan and the PKK, indicators suggests a final resolution of the Kurdish question is far off.
A fragile process
Despite being a member of NATO and having a powerful military, Turkey has never been able to defeat the PKK on the battlefield — Kurdish rebels were able to keep up an often-brutal armed struggle using guerrilla warfare tactics that have worked for the last 29 years.
Following an agreement reached between the government and the PKK earlier this year, the group’s fighters began to withdrawal into northern Iraq in May.
The withdrawal was formally ordered by imprisoned PKK leader, Abdallah Ocalan, who from behind bars called for a final peace agreement in March. In an open letter, the leader called for a ceasefire as well as for the PKK to disarm and withdrawal from Turkey.
PKK forces on the ground complied. Yet as Al-Akhbar English observed at the time, many Kurdish rebels refused to give up their weapons, arguing that disarming would open departing fighters up to Turkish military attacks.
“Mass withdrawals in 1999 were disrupted when Turkish forces ambushed departing rebels, killing around 500 people and wrecking hopes for a permanent peace,” the Lebanese publication noted.
The peace talks are presently at a standstill. In response, BDP deputy Selahattin Demirtaş told a press conference that Ocalan is now requesting a “new role” in the negotiations. Though there are presently no direct talks taking place between Ankara and the PKK leadership, Demirtaş believes that there is still time to salvage the peace process.
“He added that he and other BDP members are shuttling between Öcalan and ‘Kandil,’ the Turkish name for the mountains in northern Iraq on the Iranian border that are regarded as the PKK’s stronghold,” explained Today’s Zaman.
It added: “The BDP co-chairman said that a party delegation is planning to go to Kandil next week to convey details of the meeting with Öcalan and they may hold talks with Turkish officials in Ankara when they return.”
Yet the conditions may not be as ripe as Demirtaş suggests. The Turkish government has been largely preoccupied with its deep involvement in the ongoing Syria crisis, ongoing protests in Istanbul and elsewhere against neoliberal policies and internal nationalist opposition to resolving the Kurdish question.
Further threatening the fragile comparative calm, the state has cracked down on several Kurdish organizations in recent months. According to Dunya Times, police recently launched an arrest operation against the YDG-H in some 25 locations across the country, resulting in the detention of 17 party members.
“The detainees had reportedly intercepted vehicles on roads and staged bomb attacks in the last three months, including setting 11 buses on fire, Molotov cocktail attacks on three private vehicles, four handmade grenade attacks and attacks on shops and banks during 25 illegal protests,” Dunya Times explained.
Armed Kurdish groups have also warned the Turkish government to end its support of armed groups in Syria that are presently engaged in combat against Kurds in that country.
Firat News reported that the People’s Defense Unit (YPG) demanded that Turkey “end its dirty actions violating the security of the region,” referring to the accusation Erdogan’s government has supported extremist groups in the Syrian opposition, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.
A peaceful resolution seems distant as tensions rise yet again.