Turks and Kurds: How to Curtail Ongoing Violence?

Crowds gather at funeral for Kurdish activists in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Image via Hurriyet Daily News.

The Kurds have been in the news recently, with peace negotiations between Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party’s (PKK) jailed leader, and the Turkish government supposedly in the works. Following a very public funeral with thousands of guests for the three Kurdish activists who were shot in Paris, people on both sides are pointing suspicious fingers as to who was behind the killings.

Kurdish fighters continue to carry out attacks in southern Turkey. Meanwhile, the Turkish government last week bombed mountainous areas on the northern Iraqi border with Turkey, targeting suspected Kurdish militants. These are just a few events impelling the question whether a lasting peace can be negotiated to end a conflict that has been going on for over thirty years.

It’s no surprise that Turkey perceives the Kurds as an existential threat. However, the means the Turkish government is using to mitigate this threat are questionable.

The Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, yet they have no homeland. Most Kurds identify as Kurds first and Iraqis, Turks, Syrians, Iranians second (or not at all).

With northern Iraq a Kurdish haven that has been spared from much of the heavy conflict prevalent throughout the rest of Iraq since the 2003 invasion and many towns on the border of Turkey and Syria under Kurdish control, it follows naturally that the Turkish government would be uneasy. Regardless, political factions among the Kurds have historically kept them from putting forth a unified effort at recognition.

The PKK is controversial to say the least. To many Kurds they are freedom fighters, while to Turks they are perceived as a militant terrorist group. It seems that whether or not Ocalan’s proposals are ratified, tensions will remain as long as the Kurdish people yearn for greater autonomy. Violence will not bring resolution for the Kurds, and the PKK must find other ways of championing their causes.

Nevertheless, discourse between both sides needs to progress. The Turks, who still have ambitions of greater involvement in European affairs, should be held accountable for violations of international human rights committed against the Kurds. Furthermore, Turkey must stop silencing journalists and other Kurdish voices that could contribute to a discussion between the sides. According to Reporters Without Borders, Turkey has become the “world’s largest prison for journalists,” with most of the detained journalists representatives of Kurdish media.

For a country that portrays itself as a model of democracy in its region, this is troubling. Without freedom of information, extreme voices will be louder, and minority groups will seek other means of recognition for their causes. Mr. Erdogan must be reminded that a book is not a bomb.

This post was originally a response made to this article appearing in the Economist.

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