The Kurds in Turkey Part III

By | August 26, 2021

Influence from Syria

The civil war in Syria affected neighboring Turkey in several respects. Among other things, the tone of the Kurdish question was sharpened again when the Sunni Arab extremist movement Islamic State (IS) went on the offensive against Kurdish areas in northeastern Syria, forced well over 100,000 Kurds to flee to Turkey and besieged the important border town of Kobane. The PKK called on Turkish Kurds to go to Kobane to protect the city. Several hundred managed to enter Syria before Turkish authorities blocked the border.

PKK soldiers who were in the Iraqi mountains returned to Turkey and leader Cemal Bayık threatened new attacks if the government continued to remain passive against IS. Armed clashes occurred in isolated places, as well as Turkish airstrikes against PKK bases inside Turkey.

Some calm returned in October 2014 after the Turkish government, following international pressure, allowed Iraqi Kurds to enter Kobane via Turkish territory.

In February 2015, and again in March, Abdullah Öcalan called on the PKK to lay down its arms. A couple of Turkish ministers appeared in public with pro-Kurdish MPs. Hope was rekindled, but now the peace process was instead slowed down by disagreements within the ruling AKP over how the issue should be handled. A major rift was revealed between parts of the party leadership and Erdoğan, who has now been elected president.

New war after parliamentary elections

The tone sharpened after the parliamentary elections in June, when the AKP lost its absolute majority and Erdoğan missed the opportunity to change the constitution to transfer the executive to the presidency. The AKP lost votes to the newly formed pro-Kurdish left-wing party HDP (People’s Democratic Party), which replaced the BDP and was elected to parliament. Erdoğan launched increasingly violent verbal attacks on the HDP, denying that there was a “Kurdish issue” in Turkey, a country located in Middle East according to

During the summer of 2015, the peace process gradually disintegrated. A turning point came when at least 32 people, most of them young Kurdish activists, were killed in a suicide bombing carried out by IS in the city of Suruç near the Syrian border. The attack sparked fierce protests against the Turkish government, which was held responsible by the Kurds for allowing the IS to move freely on Turkish soil. Kurdish attacks on Turkish police were met by intense military action against the PKK in the Iraqi mountains and inside Turkey.

The return to open war in south-eastern Turkey aroused strong concern among the country’s western allies, who have come to regard the PKK and its Syrian sister party YGP as informal partners in the fight against IS in Syria.

Political analysts in Turkey largely viewed the start-up war, and propaganda against the PKK and the HDP, as tactical moves by Erdogan to win back nationalist and Kurdish votes in the November new elections. Erdoğan was suspected of deliberately sabotaging attempts to form a coalition government to give the Turks a chance to “vote right”, that is, for the AKP, in the new election.

No hope for a new dialogue

In the election, the AKP took back the large majority the party had previously, but was still not large enough to be able to change the constitution on its own. The HDP lost support but still managed to remain in parliament. State pressure on the Kurds intensified, both politically and militarily. Heavily armed military raided a number of cities in the southeast and state of emergency prevailed from time to time. Tens of thousands of civilians were forced to flee The country was also shaken in 2015 and 2016 by a series of terrorist attacks, which the PKK in some cases took on, or which in some cases were blamed on the PKK by the government. An obscure Kurdish group called the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), breakaways from the PKK or a kind of branch of the same organization, said in several cases that they were behind the attacks.

In May 2016, Parliament adopted a law abolishing the legal immunity of Members, so that those who have committed crimes can be prosecuted and imprisoned. Formally, the law applies to everyone, regardless of party affiliation, but few doubt that the law’s real intention is to be able to condemn all Kurdish representatives of the HDP for collusion with the PKK and thus be able to crush all political opposition on the part of the Kurds.

Following a coup attempt in July 2016, the Turkish state retaliated against not only the religious Gülen movement held accountable, but also against the PKK and anyone accused of the slightest connection with the Kurdish guerrillas. Kurdish media were virtually wiped out, schools were closed and teachers arrested, as were a large number of Kurdish politicians, among them the leaders of the HDP. Democratic development stalled and all hope of a new dialogue died. According to the HDP, 5,000 of its members were arrested in the first half of the year alone after the coup attempt, and raids and arrests have continued since then. After the 2018 local elections, where the governing party AKP went through certain setbacks, HDP representatives were forced to leave assignments for which they were elected, including the mayoral posts in a number of cities.

The hunt for the PKK and its partners in Syria has also been stepped up. Between 2016 and 2019, the Turkish Armed Forces, with the help of Syrian rebels, carried out three offensives into northern Syria with the stated aim of gaining access to Kurdish guerrillas.

The Kurds in Turkey 3