A large minority in Turkey, at about 20% of the population, the Kurdish people have long faced systemic discrimination by the Turkish state. This has included massacres and violent repression of their culture, with even the Kurdish language banned until recently.
Such oppression led to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) launching an armed struggle for national liberation in 1984. In recent years, the PKK — whose leader Abdullah Öcalan remains in solitary confinement in a Turkish jail — has declared its commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Dropping its previous goal of an independent Kurdish state, the PKK calls for “democratic autonomy” for Kurdish peoples as part of a call for democratising all of society.
In October last year, the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ended peace talks with the PKK and began savage military attacks on Kurdish areas. Erdoğan used a failed coup to attack his opponents — especially Kurdish forces, including the Kurdish-led broad left People’s Democratic Party (HDP), whose base in parliament is a thorn in Erdoğan’s side.
Below, Kurdish Question’s Elif Gün looks at recent moves by Erdoğan to destroy Kurdish democratic rights.
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Democracy has been described as a “system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives”.
The executive cabinet, parliament and local government within a state operate within the same system, but separately. The local people, and only the people, elect local government.
In Turkey, democracy is out of reach. On September 11, the Erdoğan regime seized control of 24 municipalities in Kurdish areas in the latest episode of the continuing purge.
Removing co-mayors, most elected with large majority votes, the state appointed its own administrators. The accusation against the co-mayors was support for the outlawed PKK.
However, no evidence has been put forward proving this is the case. The paranoia engulfing Turkey after July’s coup attempt has caused the Kurdish population even greater suffering. Prejudice and discrimination against the Kurdish people has risen, especially in the west of Turkey.
The removal of Kurdish language signs from the seized municipalities (some since restored) and their adornment with dozens of Turkish flags will give you an idea of the scale of the hostility.
The 24 municipalities that were seized were being administered by the pro-autonomy Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP), which is the sister party of the HDP, the third largest group in parliament.
There has been criticism of the seizure by international governments, including the United States, which said it was concerned and hoped that “any appointment of trustees will be temporary and that the local electorate will soon be permitted to choose new local officials in accordance with the Turkish law”. But it is clear that Erdoğan will make sure that a new election is postponed for as long as possible.
The removal of elected representatives, as well as the suspension of 11,000 Kurdish and pro-Kurdish teachers, has triggered pockets of protest in the restive Kurdish region. Erdoğan and government officials have stated that the military campaign against the PKK is now the largest ever in the Turkish Republic’s history.
The reasoning is that the PKK is threatening the unity of the country. But this is untrue, because the PKK and Kurdish Communities Union (KCK, an umbrella group for Kurdish organisations) are demanding a solution founded on autonomy, not separation.
It is also untrue because as recently as August 20, the KCK declared it was ready to return to negotiations, as did Öcalan, in a meeting with his brother last week. Öcalan said the Kurdish question could be solved “within six months if the state was sincere”.
The response to this came from Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who said: “There is no such thing as a solution, the war on terror will continue unabated.”
Under the European Court of Human Rights, in order for such actions to be justified, the ends must justify the means. According to Turkish officials, the move is justified by the extent of the threat to the state.
But it is all a narrative that Erdoğan has orchestrated well. The end does not justify the means. Democracy, and in particular Kurdish representation and political will, is under attack in Turkey, because the Turkish state and Erdoğan regime do not want to share power with anyone.
A peaceful political solution is in order, but the regime does not have the mentality to resolve the Kurdish question.
It is safe to say that this illegal and arbitrary action by the state will result in intensifying the ongoing clashes in the Kurdish region. Democratic norms have been completely suspended in Turkey for some time. But with recent events, its simplest tenets and form, primarily the rule of law, is almost non-existent.