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The Kurdish Question and Turkey


Authors : |
Editor : Frank Cass Date & Place : 1997, London
Preface : Pages : 238
Traduction : ISBN : 0-7146-4304-1
Language : EnglishFormat : 155x235 mm
FIKP's Code : Liv. Ang.Theme : Politics

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The Kurdish Question and Turkey

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The Kurdish question and Turkey: An example of a trans-state ethnic conflict

Kemal Kirişçi and Gareth M. Winrow

Frank Cass


This book provides a comprehensive examination of the Kurdish question in Turkey, tracing its developments from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the present day. The origins and evolution of the Kurdish question are discussed through a close examination of events immediately before and after the founding of the republic of Turkey, when Atatürk and his supporters were confronted with the dual task of building a nation and a modern state. The historical narrative and analysis runs up to the 1990s and focuses on the recent acknowledgement by certain key politicians in Turkey of a 'Kurdish reality'. However, in order to acquire a better understanding of the Kurdish question in Turkey, the regional context must also be taken into account. It is a trans-state ethnic conflict and PKK forces, which are active in Turkey and aim to establish an independent Kurdish state through violent means, have been able to find sanctuary, especially in northern Iraq in Kurdish-populated areas.

Unlike many other works, which have focused on the Kurds, the authors develop their argument by defining and making use of terms such as nation, ethnic group, civic nationalism, ethnic nationalism, minority rights and self-determination. Many commentators agree that ethnic conflict should be resolved by a 'political' rather than a military solution; but what would a political solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey actually entail? A number of possibilities are examined including: secession, federal schemes, the granting of various forms of autonomy, the provision of special rights and further democratization.
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PREFACE

As always with books dealing with current issues, since the completion of the original text a number of significant developments have occurred concerning Turkey and the Kurdish question. The failure of the ANAP - DYP coalition to form a stable government led to the formation in summer 1996 of another coalition of the RP and DYP. Necmettin Erbakan, the head of the RP, became the first Islamist Prime Minister of Turkey. Commentators speculated whether Erbakan would appeal to Islamic solidarity to attempt to reach a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey.

The Erbakan government in July 1996 extended the mandate of Operation Provide Comfort - the allied air force based in Turkey which, in theory, aimed to protect the Kurds in northern Iraq from attack by the Baghdad regime - for another five months. Previously, RP deputies had voted against prolonging the mandate and, indeed, Erbakan had promised his constituency that he would disband the Operation. The Erbakan government endeavoured to justify this volte-face by arguing that various concessions had been wrung from the Americans, the British and the French. Most importantly, the US administration announced that it had no intention of violating Iraq's territorial integrity or of undermining Turkey's security. The new government in Ankara failed to secure the transfer of Operation Provide Comfort's Military Coordination Centre from Zakho in northern Iraq to Silopi in Turkey. Some Turkish officials believed that the presence of the Centre in northern Iraq was encouraging the formation of a Kurdish state. The US administration insisted that the Centre should remain in northern Iraq to demonstrate to Saddam Hussein that the US had a firm interest in the area. In August 1996 the Centre had to be relocated to Turkey after Saddam's forces supported Barzani's KDP in an assault against their northern Iraqi rivals, the PUK, led by Talabani.

In the face of opposition from the military, President Demirel and other political parties, including the RP's coalition partner the DYP, Erbakan appeared to backtrack from an initial interest in developing an indirect dialogue with the PICK. The RP had also prepared a package of measures for south-eastern Turkey. The package referred to the lifting of restrictions on Kurdish radio and television, and encouraged the development of Kurdish language and culture. Emergency rule would only continue in four border provinces until the area was fully pacified. The village guard system would be abolished and a partial amnesty would come into effect for those who had harboured terrorists. Public resources would be mobilized and private sector involvement encouraged to improve the economy of the region. Most significantly, according to the terms of the package, the problem of terrorism would be separated from the problems of south-eastern Turkey in general. The struggle against terrorism would continue unabated. However, under pressure from the DYP and from the National Security Council, most of these measures were eventually dropped from the government programme presented to Parliament. Only those measures concerned with tightening security remained.

Before the Erbakan government had assumed office the second General Congress of HADEP - the pro-Kurdish political party in Turkey — was convened, in late June 1996. A number of HADEP deputies were arrested, including the party's General Secretary Murat Bozlak, after the Turkish flag was torn down and a PKK flag unfurled together with a portrait of the PKK leader Ocalan when Bozlak was addressing the Congress. Some analysts argued that this was a deliberate provocation aimed at discrediting HADEP. The party faced the prospect of closure with the opening of a trial against Bozlak and his associates on the charge that HADEP was, in effect, a legal front for the PKK. In a nationwide outburst of patriotism, Turkish flags were displayed from offices, shops and homes for several days after the incident. The ex-DEP - the DEP is a previously banned pro-Kurdish political party in Turkey - deputy Sırrı Sakikwas arrested for comments he made on a private television channel after the Congress, apparently declaring that people who ask for respect for their flag should show the same respect for the flag of others. This remark was interpreted as promoting separatism and thus against Article 8 of the Anti-terror Law.

Earlier, in April 1996, the State Security Court retried, on the basis of the amended Anti-terror Law, the former Kurdish deputies Sakık, Ahmet Turk and Sedat Yurttaş, and independent deputy Mahmut Alınak. They were each to be sentenced to one year and two months' imprisonment and fined. In September 1996 an appeal court would uphold these convictions. Earlier, in July 1996, the European Commission of Human Rights decided to pass the case ofall of the imprisoned ex-DEP deputies against the Turkish government to the European Court of Human Rights. The Commission ruled that Turkey had violated certain provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights with regard to periods of detention. And in September 1996 the European Court of Human Rights, for the first time in a case involving Kurds in Turkey, condemned the government in Ankara for violating the Convention with regard to the destruction of a village in south-eastern Turkey. The Turkish Foreign Ministry complained that recourse should have first been made by the plaintiff to Turkish courts, according to the usual practice.

The authorities in Ankara are still being pressed to seek a peaceful, political solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey. In April 1996 the Hungarian Socialist Party deputy, Andreas Barsony, presented a report to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. This report advocated the repeal of Article 8 of the Anti-terror Law, called for a general amnesty in Turkey, and referred to a previous resolution which had urged the establishment of a `watch process' to monitor human rights issues in Turkey. In June 1996, in a nonbinding resolution, the European Parliament pressed Turkey to end its violent campaign against Kurdish separatists, clean up its human rights record, and open negotiations with all Kurdish organizations. The European Parliament recommended that the EU Council of Ministers should challenge Turkey's record on the Kurdish question by making use of the OSCE. Then, noting that little had been achieved with regard to human rights, in October 1996 the Parliament voted to freeze EU aid to Turkey which was to be used to implement the Turkey - EU Customs Union agreement. A review of the funding Turkey was to receive from the EU's Mediterranean Development Aid programme was also recommended. In July 1996 the fifth annual session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Stockholm endorsed an advisory resolution critical of the policies of the PKK and the Turkish government. Ankara was encouraged `to establish consultative mechanisms with nonviolent Kurdish-based organizations which recognize the territorial integrity of Turkey'.

In the wider regional context, by August 1996 the fragile ceasefire, brokered originally by the US between the rival northern Iraqi Kurdish parties, had collapsed. After accusing the PUK of obtaining support from Iran the KDP in a Baghdad-backed operation gained control over most of northern Iraq. In October the PUK regained control over territory traditionally under its influence. Turkey was able to re-establish some authority in northern Iraq when talks between the two warring Kurdish parties were held in Ankara with American and British participation. A ceasefire was announced in November. At the time ofwriting it was not clear whether the ceasefire would hold. The KDP and PUK tentatively agreed to crack down on the activities of the PKK in northern Iraq. It was envisaged that Turkey, the United States and Britain would play a prominent role in monitoring the ceasefire.

The Erbakan government is seeking to improve relations with Iran, Iraq and Syria. In August 1996 Erbakan himself visited Iran and concluded an important natural gas agreement. Ministerial contacts with Iraq have developed. Turkey is hoping to benefit from the so-called `oil for food' deal. On 8 August 1996 the UN Sanctions Committee formally approved the procedure to implement this deal on the basis of UN Security Council resolution 986 of April 1995, allowing Iraq to sell two billion dollars worth of oil every six months on a renewable basis in order to finance the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, including the Kurds in northern Iraq. Here, Turkey hopes to buy oil and sell food and medicine. However, the implementation ofthis deal was placed on hold after Saddam Hussein's forces moved into northern Iraq in August 1996 to support the KDP.

The US administration has expressed its concern at Erbakan's policy in the region. The natural gas deal with Iran was concluded immediately after Clinton had approved an Act which stated that sanctions could be applied against any foreign company which invested substantial sums in the oil or gas industry of Iran and Libya. Concerning Libya, it should be noted that when Erbakan visited there in October 1996 Ghadafi had publicly remarked that the Kurds deserved a state of their own. Erbakan had not responded at the time. This precipitated a government crisis in Ankara. The opposition parties called for a motion of censure which was subsequently defeated.

It is not possible to predict future developments concerning the Kurdish question in Turkey and in the region as a whole. It remains to be seen whether an RP-led government will be able to tackle this question more effectively than previous Turkish governments.

November 1996



The Kurdish question and Turkey: An example of a trans-state ethnic conflict

Kemal Kirişçi and Gareth M. Winrow

This book provides a comprehensive examination of the Kurdish question in Turkey, tracing its developments from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the present day. The origins and evolution of the Kurdish question are discussed through a close examination of events immediately before and after the founding of the republic of Turkey, when Atatürk and his supporters were confronted with the dual task of building a nation and a modern state. The historical narrative and analysis runs up to the 1990s and focuses on the recent acknowledgement by certain key politicians in Turkey of a 'Kurdish reality'. However, in order to acquire a better understanding of the Kurdish question in Turkey, the regional context must also be taken into account. It is a trans-state ethnic conflict and PKK forces, which are active in Turkey and aim to establish an independent Kurdish state through violent means, have been able to find sanctuary, especially in northern Iraq in Kurdish-populated areas.

Unlike many other works, which have focused on the Kurds, the authors develop their argument by defining and making use of terms such as nation, ethnic group, civic nationalism, ethnic nationalism, minority rights and self-determination. Many commentators agree that ethnic conflict should be resolved by a 'political' rather than a military solution; but what would a political solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey actually entail? A number of possibilities are examined including: secession, federal schemes, the granting of various forms of autonomy, the provision of special rights and further democratization.

International reaction to developments in Turkey concerning the Kurdish question is also analysed. The authors have consulted documents, speeches and reports (making extensive use of Turkish-language materials), and have conducted interviews both in and outside Turkey to provide a detailed analysis of what is a highly topical and important issue.

Kemal Kirişçi and Gareth M. Winrow are both Associate Professors in the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul.

Cover photographs: [centre] Kurdish deputy Mahmut Alinak speaking in the Turkish parliament on the lifting of DEP members' immunities; [clockwise, from top right] DEP deputies on the way to State Security Court; DEP deputies convicted by the court leaving for prison; Members of Parliament voting on the renewal of the Emergency rule in south-eastern Turkey; Two DEP deputies conversing with Barzani from the KDP on a visit to northern Iraq in 1992.




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