Turkey’s Intensifying Conflict with Kurds
Prof. Fuat Keyman analyzes the history and background of the recently intensifying conflict between the government of Prime Minister Erdogan and Turkey’s Kurds.
GREGORY WILPERT: Welcome to the Real News Network. My name is Gregory Wilpert and I’m coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.
Turkey has been in the headlines a lot recently. The major bombing in the capital of Ankara that killed 36 people last week, Turkey’s attacks on Kurds in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The shutdown of one of the country’s largest circulation newspapers recently and president Erdogan’s equating of decent with terrorists. And finally also the deal with the European Union to keep refugees from traveling to EU countries.
These are a lot of issues to talk about and with us to talk about some of them because we can’t possibly get to all of them is professor Fuat Keyman who is a Turkish political scientist. The Director of Istanbul Policy Center and professor of International Relations at Sabancı University. Also he is the editor of the book Democracy, Identity, and Foreign Policy in Turkey. He’s joining us from Istanbul, Turkey. Thanks for joining us. Professor Keyman.
FUAT KEYMAN: Thank you, pleasure.
WILPERT: There’s so much to talk about with regard to Turkey at the moment so for today I would like to focus mostly on the issues of Turkey’s relationship with the Kurds and also with the European Union. And maybe a future date of when we can get to some of the other issues. But so last week there was a bombing, that for which the government of President Erdogan blamed the PKK and she then launched numerous air strikes against the PKK positions in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. Can you tell us a little about what is going on in the relationship really, between the government of Turkey and the PKK and the movement of the Kurds in Turkey? It seems to have deteriorated quite severely given that there were peace talks a while ago and given that a number of political freedoms a couple of years ago were granted but now seem to be more and more restricted. So give us a brief summary as to what’s happening in that relationship.
KEYMAN: I mean that’s only for the outside people observing Turkey. Even for us it is very difficult to understand exactly what this happening here in terms of the Kurdish question. You know last two years we have been going through what you actually mentioned, the peace talks between Turkey and the PKK in which the main motto was to end the conflict and the violence and to start what was called the era of politics and deliberation. Last 2 years there were no martyrs, there was no killings, there was no dead bodies coming from the martyrs and the area where they was happy. The life was normalized in the southeast. I went that a number of times people were happy, people were enjoying what they called normality in life. No violence, just a routine, going to job, coming back home, walking on the streets and this actually went almost 2 years tops.
The aim was to disarm the PKK at the end of conflict and also the Kurdish actors and the leader of [Tu Uchela] gave the motto that Kurds could gain more through politics and deliberation than the conflict. And as a matter of fact, the last 3 elections, one local, one general, and one cross national. Kurdish political party, People’s Democratic Party has increased its popular support and popularity. So much so that you know, in the 7th of June election they have gained 80 MPs in the Turkish parliament which actually put them on the third party in the parliament. 3rd out of 4 parties in the parliament. But in terms of political effectivity we hold actually cost the Kurdish party HDP, People Democratic Party, from now and I will say HDP, has even you know made a position because they have actually been effective and before that there was local elections in the Kurdish region.
There are 12 provinces where we used to have conflicts and all provinces the Kurdish party got the municipal mayorship. So in this sense as a matter of fact, that the leader of [Tu Uchula] was right. The peace talks were actually successful for Kurds and for Turkey, for all us because on the one hand there was no violence. On the other hand, really Kurdish people actually were going back to normality and Kurdish party the political actor was gaining more in politics through elections, local and general. But after that you know everything went to 180 degree opposite.
You know we actually start having conflicts. You know SS nations bombings and fights between Turkish security forces and the PKK members in some of the parts of the south eastern provinces and Turkey. And the actual day the first SS national took police by the PKK members was on the 23rd of June 2015. Since then actually we have conflict, we have actually killings, we have you know, the erosion of normality. Interactional of everyday life and everything actually going terrible. Lots of PKK members got killed. More than 300 Turkish security forces have been killed. So in this sense, we have actually returned to conflict and violence and the normality has been replaced by again, total uncertainty in everyday life. As a matter of fact, after the conflict I went to the [Arbat, Charuymaq] which is one of key maybe the key actually province in the Kurdish region. It was terrible. On the one hand, you walk on the streets but on the other hand part of the [Arbat, Charuymaq] was seized by military and security forces and PKK members in the districts and the neighborhoods. So there was a sort of big non-stop fighting between the state and the PKK forces.
So in this sense right now we have a new stage in the conflict what we call 2 Ankara massacres. One was actually a bombing of the car just in the front of the air forces at the Turkish parliament, 4 weeks ago. Last Sunday there was also a bombing in Ankara again right in downtown, very close to where first bombing happened. You know, this time the target was civilians instead of the first time it was military service bus. So 37 civilians, young too, going to university, going to high school were killed in the bus, you know, public transportation bus. So in this sense you know we have not only conflict into the region, we have the widening or wide spreading of conflict towards the western part of Turkey in capital state.
I live in Istanbul, you know, the German Consulate closed the consulate and also the German high school closed itself. So the whole Turkey went back to this weird very down mood and the people are angry people are sad people are concerned. People are fearing for their lives, you know, what is going to happen. So in this sense you know from a normality to violence Turkey actually kind of thrown in this grip of violence, grip of instability, grip of insecurity very, very fastly. Right now have a very serious crisis. Why this is happening? It is hard to pinpoint the main reason but to my reasoning, to my understanding and when I talk to Kurdish activists in the region and when I talk to some of the government members and the state officers in Ankara; as a matter of fact, last Sunday I was in Ankara and I actually passed the place 25 minutes before the bombing happened. Going to the airport to come back to Istanbul and you know both in terms of the reason why the peace talks ended and also the reason why this conflict occurred and grew in an accelerated way, you know, you get not what happens in Turkey but what happens in Syria as the main reason.
WILPERT: I was going to ask about that because not only Syria but also in Iraq with the growing independence of the Kurdish minorities in those areas that much have an effect on the Kurdish minority in Turkey, is that right?
KEYMAN: Yes, but since the peace talks Turkish government, AK Parti government, is being good relations with the southern Kurdistan or the northern Iraq. Barzani and the Kurdish actors there but you know the Turkish government’s relation with the Syrian Kurds PYD and YPG, PYD is the Syrian Kurdish organization. YPG is the one that actually fights and gains the ISIS. And the government’s relations with PYD/YPG the Kurdish actors in Syria have been problematic. The government thinks of these guys as the terror organization and the main threat through Turkish territorial integrity and security. But on the other hand, things get more complicated because for instance for the point of view of the United States the PYD/YPG are the only Kurdish actors, are the only guys good on the ground fighting against ISIS. So there is also problematic relationship between the United States and Turkey when it comes to how Turkey should deal with the Kurds in Syria.
But the Syrian crisis seems to be the main cause for 2 reasons. One is actually for instance you probably follow, yesterday when the Geneva talks are going okay and when Russia actually decided to withdraw some of its armed forces from Syria. The Syrian Kurds, PYD and YPG declared some sort of state and federal autonomy and the lively federal situation in the future of Syria. Of course you know this actually is perceived by Turkey as actually a threat to Turkey’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
KEYMAN: And the Turkish government actually thinks that this would actually widespread that dictatorship in Turkey. Also go for some sort of local sovereignty like this.
KEYMAN: But on the other hand, the puzzle occurs, as we see this situation from the peace talks and from the what is going on in the Middle East and we do so because for instance people like me and a bunch of us suggest that and we do actually do from the peace talks. There is no reason why the Turkish government and the PYD/YPG, the Syrian Kurds, why this relationship should be problematic. All style and conflictual. As a matter of fact, there is actually a possibility of that. That could be a bargain between the Turkish state and Kurds in Turkey. Kurds in Iraq and Kurds in Syria. As a matter of fact, one of the important defining characteristics of the peace talks when it comes to foreign affairs, when it comes to Turkey’s engagement with the Middle East, was called what was called the great bargain, grand bargain between Turkey and Kurds in Turkey, in Syria, and Iraq. As a matter of fact, the Iraqi situation is okay. You know Turkey might go back to the peace talks. But this part has been problematic and the interdependency, the relationship of proliferation and cooperation has not been established between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds. This seems to be; make the..
WILPERT: Fuat, I’m sorry I have to interrupt you but we’ve actually run out of time. But we definitely need to pick this up again because this is such an important issue and it shows how I think how the whole crisis region in Syria and Iraq has this spilled over into Turkey as what you’re saying to some extent. Of course there’s internal dynamics in Turkey at work as well, I think. But let’s pick this up as well another time and thanks so much for joining us. I’m really sorry that I have to cut you off because we’ve run out of time but thanks again for joining us.
KEYMAN: Okay, thank you and have a good broadcasting.
WILPERT: And thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.
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