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The Black Hole In Turkish Politics: The Kurdish Issue – Analysis


By Ihsan Bal


In his latest statement, world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking claimed that it is not a foregone conclusion for physical material and energy absorbed into a black hole to be trapped there forever as previously thought. Then, perhaps we can talk of a similarly possible exit from the Kurdish issue, which has gradually morphed into the black hole of Turkish politics amid heated debates regarding whether we are going back to the turmoil of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s? Even though the answer to this question looks negative at first glance considering the spiral of violence in which our country is currently engulfed, in reality we are not doomed to such a vicious cycle. Ideals like the rule of law, democracy, and social consensus cannot be deemed unattainable in Turkey’s case. Those who believe in the feasibility of resolving all disputes by the force of arms can never crush each and every dissident into submission.

Notwithstanding its excessively volatile nature on the surface, there are certain themes underlying Turkey’s agenda that are rather enduring and have yet to be altered. Problematic areas concerning democratization, legal restrictions, economic problems, and violence appear at various levels in various forms and infect the society as a whole. To our regret, the Kurdish issue, which has become chronic since the 1980s, still remains Turkey’s number one position among all these persistent agenda items. A series of terrorist attacks carried out by the outlawed PKK in the immediate aftermath of the June 7 elections rendered this bitterly painful problem all the more tangible.

The pro-Kurdish HDP, receiving 13% of the votes in the election in question, was only beginning to be seen as the long-awaited hope for bringing a non-violent solution to the colossal problem with which we are confronted. Through a one-year electoral campaign, it largely managed to rid the Kurdish political movement from its persistent defects – an ethnic orientation and a propensity for violence. Having taken an assertive step in the direction of assuming an essentially national quality, the HDP could potentially serve as an important window of opportunity for Turkish politics by communicating the widespread concerns and emotions of Turkey’s eastern regions to the country’s west. All that happened afterwards coincided with such a popularly hope-inspiring process.

The potential of HDP politics

The call by Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the HDP, for immediate peace, and “peace alone, without any objections, exceptions, conditions, excuses, or suspensions” was remarkable. Such a strong and clear message against the terrorist group surely rests in the HDP’s quest for consolidating the autonomous and legitimate sphere of politics, holding on to 6 million votes, and satisfying people’s demands within the boundaries of democratic processes.

In a way, Demirtaş is virtually trying to alter the rules of the game. He is saying that solutions to Turkey’s persistent problems, with the Kurdish issue first and foremost, should no longer be sought at gunpoint. This call is compatible with the nature and spirit of politics. It reflects the self-execution of democratic politics in a manner that adheres to the moral code of a civilian political leader’s job and renounces pro-violence rhetoric.


However, as George Orwell rightfully suggests, people tend to hate those who remind them of the truth as they further lose touch with reality. Likewise, the PKK leadership gets all the more angry with the HDP because the party reminds the PKK of the truth. The attitude assumed by the PKK leadership in response to Demirtaş’s call suggests the intention to bring the HDP into line and narrow its elbowroom:

The HDP failed to perform creatively and successfully enough in politics. They make calls to others, but what have they actually succeeded at yet? They need to be a little more realistic. They need to be able to represent peoples, particularly the Kurdish people, to the fullest extent. They need to focus on why they couldn’t operate the national assembly.

Indeed, the PKK leadership’s statement was not at all unexpected. The headquarters wishes to preserve its priority position, but the essentially problematic part of its hardline stance has deeper roots in the PKK’s philosophy that strictly disapproves of civilian politics. The ideal objective of the solution process was to suppress this very hunger and appetite for violence.

In that regard, the actual mindset, which has revered violence as a sacred means to reach an end and deemed all sorts of violent attacks legitimate for years, should be diagnosed and remedied. For instance, as Ahmet İnsel said in the right way and at the right time, the speech made by Murat Bütün, the HPG (PKK) militant who carried out a suicide attack against the Karakulak guard post in Doğubeyazıt on August 2, was thought provoking.

According to Bütün, Kurds have to choose between two alternative options: Either “betraying themselves” or “resisting the policy of extermination and denial.” For him, the latter option means Kurdish people taking revenge on the enemy, and joining the ranks of the PKK can best fulfill such a desire for revenge.

Far from being motivated solely by personal or periodic circumstances, Bütün’s words reflect the fundamental mentality that has shaped the PKK’s operational philosophy since its foundation. Such philosophy comprises the main driving force behind the spiral of violence in which our country is currently engulfed. What we have here is rage, revenge, “us vs. others,” antagonists, and enemies. In sum, there are those who must be exterminated.

Is violence the only way?

As a matter of fact, this and similar statements serve as arguments that bring up the nightmare of violence to Turkey’s agenda. In a way, these arguments are nothing but memorized rhetoric that presents armed conflict as an inevitable ending, indeed our destiny, and places guns at the center of our shared past. We will be reliving the same day and time unless we can find a way to alter this very mentality and find an escape from this self-fulfilling prophecy. Within these constraints, we will be stuck in the past, unable to catch up to the present, and far from building our own future based on new parameters and values.

It is not easy to escape the state of surrender, break the vicious cycle, or stand up against such an outburst of violence and rage. Indeed, isn’t it the real challenge to ask for a change in the existing conditions? Isn’t it such an attitude that requires genuine courage?

The current situation of the HDP looks like the embodiment of such willpower. The HDP doesn’t believe Kurds will gain anything by the burning of settlements, the blockading and detonation of roads, the destruction of construction equipment, the abduction of workers, and agitation over death tolls.

Unsurprisingly, the ruling party and the state also get their share of HDP’s criticism. Such criticism is not a new thing for the Kurdish political movement. What can be deemed novel is the newly-shaped opposition by the HDP to the power circles under the tutelage of which all pro-Kurdish parties felt obliged to operate so far. That is, the HDP’s objections to the PKK and its leadership is unprecedented.

When the PKK asked the HDP what it truly succeeded in, the PKK leadership is actually pointing at a much more fundamental subject that we all need to think about. The underlying message is implicit: We have managed to secure Kurdish people’s rights via armed struggle, and the same method will be used to preserve and advance these rights in the following processes. In other words, this message means that “the armed phase has yet to fulfill its mission.”

Not only was this claim unable to accurately reflect the actual state of affairs in the past but it also exposes the PKK’s call to arms as invalid and unjustified under today’s circumstances. Contrary to this claim, the most important steps in the direction of democratization, the extension of liberties, and the consolidation of the rule of law were taken when civilian politics was granted the necessary radius of action, and not in times of escalating violence. Dozens of legal and constitutional reform bills (known in Turkish as “judicial reform packages”) were introduced only in the 2000s, i.e. in a period when, in contrast to the PKK’s fundamental claim, gunshots were rarely heard.

The real irony here is that, without exception, all the major PKK attacks throughout this period somehow coincided with promising steps forward; it was as if the terrorist group was shouting “Don’t you dare forget me!” For instance, there is still no plausible explanation for why the PKK took up arms against the government and how its actions served the Kurdish people’s interests in the periods between 2004-2005 and 2007-2008. These things occurred during the time in which the EU-accession process had picked up its pace and hopes were high as far as democratization, liberties, and human rights were concerned.

Quite a few intellectuals are asking the same question today. On what grounds the PKK leadership declared an end to the ceasefire in the immediate aftermath of the HDP’s electoral triumph on June 7 – indeed even before the party’s MPs set their foot in Ankara – remains a mystery. Are the answers to this and several other similar questions left unanswered due to some processes between the PKK and certain power circles – apart from the terrorist group’s ethnic-Kurdish grassroots – with which the PKK has covert ties? This is another subject that deserves closer scrutiny.

Stepping on the same banana peel time and again or repeatedly experiencing the same historical cycle does not have to be Turkey’s destiny. There is certainly a way out. The most salient exit sign is, rather than insisting on the previous failed methods and means, altering them instead. The new mindset that is required to lay the groundwork for such genuine change will be able to blossom depending on the current and future performance of the Kurdish political movement, which has its roots in the Kurdish street and has long argued for assuming a truly inclusive, nationally-valid political quality in rhetoric, yet to no avail in practice.

The secret power of this success lies in the HDP’s ability to raise its voice strongly and more convincingly with each passing day and secure a larger political radius of action in the face of violent attacks that inflict pain on society. There is no doubt that the liberation of Kurdish politics from the tutelage of armed groups over the Kurdish street by cutting the Gordian knot is easier said than done. Otherwise, if this cannot be done, the movement will end up with nothing but a rehearsal of the outmoded reflexes and vicious cycles associated with the “old Turkey,” eventually leaving its legitimate sphere of action, surrendering to the shadow of the mountains, and being stuck once again under the seemingly inescapable restraint of terrorism.


JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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