Confrontation with Kurds could put Turkey on ‘road to hell’
Istanbul - The headquarters of a pro-Kurdish party was torched, overland buses from the Kurdish region were pelted with stones and a Kurdish man was humiliated by his neighbours — the latest flare-up of the Kurdish conflict in Turkey indicates the gulf between Turks and Kurds is becoming deeper.
Hundreds of people have died since clashes between Turkish security forces and rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) started in late July, shattering a 2-year-old truce that had raised hopes of peace more than 30 years after the PKK took up arms against Ankara.
The violence has stoked tensions among the public as some Turks hold the country’s estimated 12 million Kurds responsible for PKK actions and for a perceived upsurge in separatist tendencies that threaten national unity.
Following the death of 16 soldiers and 14 police officers in PKK attacks in early September, crowds of Turkish nationalists attacked dozens of offices of the legal pro- Kurdish group Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Demonstrators burned parts of HDP headquarters in Ankara. During a march in Istanbul, Turkish right-wingers said military operations against the PKK were not enough. “We don’t want an operation. We want a massacre,” the crowd shouted.
In Beypazari, west of Ankara, Kurds fled after attacks by Turkish nationalists during an anti-PKK march. Several bus companies suspended service between predominantly Kurdish eastern Turkey and cities in the west after stones were thrown at buses bearing number plates from Kurdish regions. East of Ankara, nationalists set fire to a bookstore in Kirsehir after a rumour that the shop belonged to a Kurd. The shop owner, Sait Akilli, who was injured in the incident, said he was an ethnic Turk.
In Mugla in south-western Turkey, a Kurdish man said neighbours beat him and forced him to kiss a bust of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The man, Ibrahim Cay, told local media he had posted pictures of himself in traditional Kurdish clothes on social media before the incident. His attackers took his dress to be a PKK uniform.
Even after police took him to a nearby hospital, a crowd of 300 people gathered outside the clinic “to lynch me”, Cay said. He added he had left Mugla and would not return although he had lived there for eight years, producing fruit and vegetables on his land.
Burhan Kuzu, an adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fanned tensions by implying that many PKK rebels were not Muslim, but Christian. In a tweet on September 7th, Kuzu said the bodies of PKK fighters killed in clashes should be examined. “It will turn out that a big group of them are not circumcised,” he said.
HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas accused Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of steering the country into chaos. “They have taken the decision for civil war,” Demirtas said. “An operation is under way to destroy and burn everything that looks like it is Kurdish and to bring opposition in society to their knees.” He called on Kurds to fight back if attacked.
Turks and Kurds were being pushed towards “war between brothers”, veteran journalist Hasan Cemal wrote in an article for T24, an online news platform, saying: “This road leads to hell.”
Ilker Basbug, a former chief of general staff of the Turkish military, told the right-wing Sozcu newspaper he was concerned that Turks and Kurds were being pushed into a new confrontation. “These actions drag the country towards a catastrophe,” said Basbug.
Before the latest escalation, many Kurds in Turkey said they felt like outsiders in their own country. In a poll by the Istanbul-based think-tank Bilgesam in 2014, 24% of Turks asked said they would neither allow their daughter to marry a Kurd nor would they accept a Kurd as a neighbour.
Only 3.3% of Kurd respondents said the same things about Turks. One in three Turks asked said they do not want a Kurd to become prime minister or president. Almost 44% of Kurds said they had experienced discrimination because of ethnicity.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu condemned attacks on the HDP and on the Istanbul headquarters of the Hurriyet newspaper, which has been accused by government supporters of siding with the PKK and the HDP. “No one must take the law into his own hands,” Davutoglu said on Twitter on September 8th. “We will not allow a fight between brothers.”
A group of 12 large non-governmental organisations (NGOs) representing businessmen, trade unionists, lawyers and civil servants issued an appeal entitled “No to terror, yes to brotherhood” on September 14th. “Our biggest strength is our brotherhood,” said Rifat Hisarciklioglu, head of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB), who headed the initiative. “It is the day for Turks to reach out to Kurds and for Kurds to reach out to Turks.” The NGOs called for a rally in Ankara as a demonstration of Turkish-Kurdish friendship.