28/6/10

Nationalism: Modest reforms fail to curb Kurdish offensive

By Delphine Strauss
Mourners chanted “Martyrs do not die, our country is not split”, when they gathered at Ankara’s main mosque this month for the funeral of a baby-faced 21-year-old killed by Kurdish rebels. Old women dabbed their eyes, while young men, draped in Turkish flags, shouted army songs and nationalist slogans.

It is a year since Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, promised reforms to broaden Kurdish rights, aimed at ending the bitter 26-year struggle with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The hope was that measures to ease restrictions on the Kurdish language and make law enforcement less punitive – for example, by ending long prison sentences for stone-throwing children – would ease grievances in the south-east, remove pretexts for violence, and prepare the ground for an amnesty.

But with only modest steps taken, the so-called “democratic initiative” – sincere but mishandled – has all but ended. Instead, the PKK is showing it remains a force to be reckoned with.

Since the snows began melting in its mountain hide-outs across the Iraqi border, it has mounted one of its deadliest offensives in years, killing more than 50 of Turkey’s armed forces by raids, rocket attacks and mines. Some attacks recalled tactics from the worst period of conflict in the 1990s.

“There is a real escalation,” says Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based analyst specialising in security issues, who says the violence probably matched the worst fighting since 2004, when the PKK ended a ceasefire.

But the impact of each death on public opinion in the west of the country is greater than in the past, he says.

In the 1990s, news reports of much more vicious fighting were censored, whereas now, television broadcasts after each attack show soldiers patrolling the mountains, grieving families and mass funerals.

That is why the resurgence in violence may carry a heavy cost for Mr Erdogan’s ruling AK Party.

Its inability to carry through reforms was in large part due to opposition parties’ refusal to support the initiative – and Kurdish politicians’ insistence that the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, reviled by Turks, should be an interlocutor.

But it is the AKP, which in the past drew support from both Kurds and socially conservative right-wingers, that now risks losing votes from both groups.

There has always been a strong streak of nationalism in politics, but it has been inflamed in the past year by the AKP’s attempts to tackle taboos such as the Kurdish issue, or rapprochement with Armenia.

A public backlash forced Mr Erdogan to backtrack on both initiatives, but some nationalists are directing anger towards the government. In April, Taner Yildiz, energy minister, was punched in the face at the funeral of a soldier killed in the south-east, by a man shouting “this is the fist of the Turkish nation”.

A week earlier Ahmet Turk, a leading Kurdish politician, had received the same treatment.

Few think progress in ending Turkey’s ethnic divisions will be possible before the elections, due next summer at the latest.

“It is clear the fight against the PKK will be a prominent feature of the electoral campaign, so it would be foolish to expect a bipartisan consensus on policy,” comments Atilla Yesilada, analyst for Global Source, a US consultancy.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, newly elected leader of the opposition CHP, comes from the predominantly Kurdish and Alevi province of Tunceli, but he has so far stuck to his party’s traditional view that problems in the south-east are economic, not cultural.

And Mr Erdogan, who last year gave tear-jerking speeches calling for brotherhood and cultural co-existence, is opting for more blood-curdling language, saying PKK rebels will “drown in their own blood”.

But since he has limited scope to act on Kurdish reforms, and little means of ending PKK attacks, he may be tempted to appeal to nationalist voters by taking a tougher stance on other topics – in particular, foreign policy.

The angst felt over the Kurdish issue feeds on a pervasive belief that outside powers are scheming to split the country. When the PKK attacked a naval base on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast on the same day Israeli commandos killed Turkish activists on the aid convoy to Gaza, many Turks linked the two.

So when Mr Erdogan asserts Turkey’s independence on the world stage – whether by vilifying the Israeli government, or defying Washington with a vote against fresh Iranian sanctions – he is aiming as much to soothe the crowds of mourners at home as to influence international opinion.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010

*Φωτογραφία:Στρατιωτικός εξοπλισμός που κατέχσχεσαν Κούρδοι μαχητές του PKK στην επίθεση τους στο φυλάκιο Gediktepe στο Semdinli

1 σχόλιο:

  1. Τέτοια δακρύβρεκτα άρθρα δεν έγραφαν και οι άτιμοι Άγγλοι κατακτητές το 1951, για αυτούς που πέθαιναν από τα πλήγματα των ηρωϊκών παιδιών της ΕΟΚΑ;

    Για τα αίσχη όμως των αγγλικών αρχών κατοχής και τις κρεμάλες τσιμουδιά!


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