The author is a professor at the Institute of Political Sciences, Mykolas Romeris University, Vilnius, Lithuania. He wrote this article especially for RI
A blast caused by a suicide car bomb hit the centre of Ankara on Sunday evening (March 13t, 2016) resulting in over a hundred casualties. The Turkish authorities were quick to announce the identity of the suicide attacker: A Kurdish woman from the Kurdistan Workers Party. This terror act in Ankara, followed by a new episode on March 19t in Istanbul, once again opened the “Kurdish Question” which is directly related to the question of terrorism as a political instrument in the realization of national goals.
Russia can play a double role in solving the “Kurdish Question” in the Middle East: 1. To openly support the rights of the Kurds to self-determination, including a right to national independence as in the US policy on Kosovo; and 2. To support the Kurdish freedom struggle in Turkey as a matter of revenge for both Turkey’s direct support of the Chechen separatist rebels in the 1990s on Russian territory and for the Turkish shooting of a Russian military plane in 2015. The Kurds are mostly discriminated and oppressed in Turkey in comparison with the other states where they presently reside. They are not recognized in Turkey as a separate ethnolinguistic minority with their own language and culture, although they compose one-fifth of the Turkish population, and together with the Greeks and the Armenians, are the oldest population in the land, having lived in Anatolia for almost 3.000 years before the first (Seljuk) Turks arrived there at the end of the 11th century.
There are three fundamental reasons for the current Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey:
1. Economic underdevelopment of the Kurdish eastern part of Turkey compared with the rest of the country as a matter of government policy.
2. The stubborn refusal of any Turkish government to recognize the Kurds’ separate existence as an ethnic group, growing out of the Ottoman/Turkish assimilation policy of all the country’s Muslim inhabitants.
3. The Turkish refusal to grant minority autonomous status to the Kurds as provided for in the Peace Treaty of Sèvres in 1920.
Ankara’s discrimination and oppressive anti-Kurdish policy finally led to the establishment of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK) in 1978 to fight for Kurdish minority rights, using guerrilla warfare as a mean to achieve its rightful national-political goals. Ankara declared the PKK an illegal terrorist organization fighting to destroy the legal and institutional system of the country.
While this is true from a purely technical viewpoint, the same was true of the Kosovo Liberation Army (the KLA), which did the same thing with Serbia’s legal and security system in the 1990s – with Ankara’s support. Undoubtedly, the PKK committed many terrorist actions across Turkey, and according to official governmental sources, around 6.000 people were killed during the first decade of its activity. The limited fruits of PKK tactics finally came as Ankara was forced to recognize at least formally Kurdish cultural, if not ethnic and linguistic distinctiveness.
But the crucial question is: How it is possible to have a separate culture without а separate language and even ethnicity? A widespread approach separates ethnolinguistic features, creating a separate cultural identity in which the two are synonymous, but this doesn’t work in the case of the Kurds and several other (unrecognized) ethnolinguistic minorities.
The PKK’s requirement for either territorial-political autonomy or independence of Kurdistan is unacceptable for Ankara, and from the mid-1980s Turkey has been faced with its own “Kosovo syndrome”. It responded to the PKK’s brutal war by equally brutal treatment of Kurdish civilians in the war zones in Eastern Turkey. Hundreds of PKK activists are arrested and tortured each year by Turkish state security forces, which in 1999 (the year of NATO’s military intervention against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, supposedly to prevent state terrorism over Kosovo Albanian civilians) arrested the PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan. Known familiarly as Apo, after a mock trial he was sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment) while state brutality against the Kurds continued.
Due to pressure from the EU Commission in 2002 anti-Kurd actions were partly eased as Turkey’s candidacy for EU membership forced it to adopt new laws allowing the Kurds to maintain their own culture and be protected against arbitrary imprisonment and politically motivated investigations. In order to become a EU member state, every citizen must have the right to cultural expression, including Turkey’s main minority people, the Kurds, whose aspirations have long been suppressed in the pursuit of nation-building by successive Turkish governments.
The Kurdish desire to establish Kurdistan as an independent state is opposed by the governments of all the states in which Kurds currently live. The long-standing separatist conflict in Turkey cost thousands of lives and imposed “terrorism from above” against its own citizens in Anatolia, including martial law in the 1980s. A similar situation existed in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, but there was and still is in Turkey a clash between two levels of terrorism: state terrorism vs. sub-state terrorism. Both sides were and are committing war crimes, executions, torture and destruction of material property, but the reaction of the West, especially the US, accuse the Kurdish side (the PKK), of terrorism but not the Turkish government.
In comparison, during the Kosovo Crisis of 1998−1999, both the West and the US saw acts of terror carried out by the Serbian government but not by the KLA – a typical terrorist organization modeled on the PKK, the IRA, the ETA or Hezbollah. Ankara never saw the KLA as a terrorist group and opened the door to the legitimation of the PKK as freedom fighters of a political-revolutionary party. Ankara set an even more serious precedent by recognizing the independence of Kosovo in 2008 – a state that is governed by ex-KLA commanders (who are US’s clients). There is no reason not to recognize an independent Kurdistan governed by PKK commanders with Abdullah Öcalan as President (just as Hashim Tachi a KLA commander in the 1990s, became President of the Republic of Kosovo in 2016).
A similar state terrorism policy emerged when Saddam Hussein oppressed the aboriginal Kurds, as was the case with the Anfal Operation carried out in 1982. This was during the Iraqi-Iranian War of 1980−1988, when approximately 8.000 Kurds were arrested and executed. But the most brutal action against the Iraqi Kurds occured in 1988 when Saddam’s army destroyed more than 2.000 Kurdish villages using chemical weapons, without any US sanctions, since Saddam was an ally in Washington’s fight against the (Shia) Islamic Republic of Iran, and regardless that up to 200,000 Kurds are estimated to have been killed in this organized genocide.
Turkey’s policy on the “Kosovo Question” has already boomeranged back to the homeland, and will probably be solved according to the Kosovo pattern, in which Russia is expected to play a fundamental role as payback for the NATO/Turkey Kosovo strategy.