Revolutionary Communist Party of Turkey (TDKP)

The Kurdish Question, recent developments and the talks

The existence of a new period of talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), imprisoned on the island of Imrali,  was made public by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan during a TV interview towards the end of 2012. The initial public reaction was wearisome, as initially the attitude of both Erdoğan and other prominent members of the governing AKP (Justice and Development Party) was propaganda in the form of “there will be talks if need be”. The visit to Imrali by the Kurdish MPs Ahmet Türk and Ayla Akat Ata and their meeting with Abdullah Öcalan was what confirmed the talks.

The statement made by Ahmet Türk after the meeting that “Öcalan’s demands were not of a nature that would push the government into difficulty” was the only detail that had been made public regarding the contents or the intended direction of the talks.

Sensitivity only for Kurds?

It seems as if the whole of Turkish society – except for the fascist and nationalist circles – have agreed to the fact that actions and attitudes likely to create provocations that render this new period of discussion fruitless, just like the Oslo talks1 and the Habur incident2 before it, should be avoided.

The massacre of three Kurdish women politicians in Paris – including one of the founders of the PKK, Sakine Cansız – was an indication that the provocations had started from day one. This incident demonstrated the need for sensitivity during this period.

The Kurdish people and political movement have demonstrated their sense of responsibility and sensitivity with their demands for peace during the funerals of the three women in Diyarbakır. The Kurds demonstrating their desire for justice, equal rights and peace foiled those attempts at provocation. However, the same responsible approach was not demonstrated by the AKP government or the establishment. The Prime Minister and AKP are constantly trying to tell the Kurds what to do. On the other hand, the military operations and the bombardment of PKK guerrilla camps in the Kandil Mountains in Northern Iraq are continuing. The Prime Minister only puts forward conditions to be met, and states that their aim is “to disarm the terrorist organisation” and this is a condition for the talks to progress. He says that the PKK should first withdraw its armed forces beyond the border and then disarm them.

Ahmet Türk, one of those who met with Öcalan, rightfully says: “Mistrust will settle in if you talk about peace on the one hand and continue bombardments on the other”. Erdoğan’s statements continue to sound more like an invitation to war than to peace and a resolution of the conflict.

The government and the AKP mouthpieces explain these attitudes and actions, which render the new round of negotiations very fragile, and as a necessity of the “integrated strategy” they have introduced the Kurdish question. It seems that the government and state are trying to control the rising hope within the population for peace and resolution, trying to turn this into a means of pressure against the Kurdish people’s demand for equal rights. They remind us that the talks are taking shape purely at their initiative and that they can withdraw from them whenever they want in order to soften the reaction of the nationalist and chauvinist circles, but also as a tool to blackmail the Kurdish people to restrict their demands within the framework set by the government.

Reality points to the opposite of what is being said. It is true that the government has taken the initiative to start the new round of talks, but the truth is that the pressure of internal and external political developments has forced them to do this. Before we talk about these and the components of the “integrated strategy”, we should look at the line the AKP government has taken regarding the Kurdish question so far.

Is there a Kurdish Question?

Since it came to power in 2012, the AKP government has been playing games, recognizing or denying the Kurdish question as it suits them. Prime Minister Erdoğan is now reducing it to an issue of individual rights, rather than the collective rights of a nation, by saying: “We don’t have a Kurdish question; we have the problems of our Kurdish brothers”. However, he openly accepted the existence of the Kurdish question in his 2005 speech in Diyarbakır: “Every problem does not have to be named. But if you insist then the Kurdish question is not an issue of just one part of this nation. I say to those who ask me what will happen on the Kurdish question that this is the foremost issue for me as Prime Minister of this country.

We could say that the zigzags of the AKP government’s political line on the Kurdish question became clear after the first meeting with then US President George W. Bush in 2007. After that meeting, the US started providing Turkey with intelligence support and in return Erdoğan became the co-chair of the Greater Middle-East Project of the US. With US support, the government first carried out its cross-border operations and in 2009 it embarked on a big campaign about the “Kurdish Initiative”. But no fruits were harvested. The “initiative” was shelved, with the incidents during the border entry of the “peace group” – the so-called Habur incident – used as an excuse. It became evident that the government had neither a strategy nor the intention to meet the Kurdish demands. Likewise, during the Oslo talks, it became evident that the government’s intention was to carry out the 2011 elections without major setbacks and protect its vote in the Kurdish regions. Therefore, right after the elections the “initiative” was again shelved and the concept of “fighting against terrorism and holding a dialogue with diplomats” was created. Even though it periodically said that the “initiative strategy” is continuing, it is clear that it is really used as a veil to cover the hostile policies that are taking place.

The aim of the “Integrated Strategy”

The reality of the government’s strategy has been to increase expectations among the Kurdish people through steps such as the “democratic initiative” and the “Oslo talks” on the one hand, and the attempt to “break up” the Kurdish political movement by increasing oppression and violence (through military operations and arrests of Kurdish politicians) on the other. The carrot and stick strategy has always been present but it has not achieved the desired results.

On the eve of the new year, indicators that this process was evolving to another stage came one after another. Statements pointing to steps to be taken by the AKP and the government towards a new “solution” were paving the way for a new process. Besir Atalay, Deputy Prime Minister and the Coordinating Secretary of State on the Kurdish question, said the following in an interview in the Star newspaper on 5 December 2012: “All the components are in place… Two concepts are extremely important in the war against terror: ‘integrated strategy’ and ‘total coordination’... The integrated strategy encompasses all dimensions, internal and external institutions, countries and all those concerned.” He named the process as the “integrated strategy period”.

So, what are these components? Atalay pointed to the TBMM (The Grand National Assembly of Turkey) as the first component. He stated that “... The Prime Minister’s call for the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)[the legal Kurdish party, which has 29 deputies in the parliament] ‘to distance itself from terrorism’ is very important. The BDP should lift the guardianship (of the PKK) over it. The BDP has not produced an effective policy so far, but if they try during this period there is still a chance.” With this statement he warned the BDP of the increased pressure it will have to face.

Atalay’s second component is the civil society. He mentioned meetings between the chambers of  industry and the local businesses organized by the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges in this framework and called on them  “They should also stand against terrorism and guns”, effectively asking the Kurds to revolt against Kurds and Kurdish politicians. Atalay also calls on another section of society, saying: “religious leaders, public figures and the NGOs should think more.

He cites international relations as the third component and points to advanced talks with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq, saying that Erdoğan personally met its leader Barzani, and that Erdoğan will visit the USA in the new year. He makes Turkey’s expectations from the USA clearer by saying: “The USA is influential in Iraq and Northern Iraq. It is providing Turkey with intelligence in our cross-border anti-terrorist operations, but it is not enough. Further cooperation and advanced relationships are possible”. Also, he pointed to a closer relationship with the EU by saying “The EU countries have already started operations against the terrorist organisation (PKK). The latest ones were in Holland and Denmark. They will take some steps. Erdoğan had a long discussion with Merkel regarding this issue.

Atalay talks about the discussions with the Kurdish political movement as the fourth component. “Things were fine and government agencies were involved in talks. The Silvan attacks affected attempts at a permanent solution. However, as stated by our Prime Minister, we will continue to take steps for the benefit of our country and nation. Not being able to use the instruments available to us is a shortcoming; the government has different agencies to hold these talks. If they don’t hold these talks it will be their inadequacy; we cannot question their reasons for discussion. Every component, including İmrali (the island where PKK leader Öcalan is imprisoned) is included in this. All efforts from now on will aim for the organisation (PKK) to disarm. But I repeat again: the military operations will continue so long as armed terrorists remain.” These statements in fact clarify what the government expects from the “integrated strategy”.

How did the Peace Talks come about?

State and government officials state that, as part of the above mentioned “integral strategy”, they initiated the peace talks “to disarm the terrorist organisation”. However, facts show something different: that internal and external events and developments have proved that the methods tried so far have not brought about any progress on the Kurdish question.

A – Internal developments:

Despite the long-standing military and political operations of the AKP government and the state, they have not succeeded in neutralising the Kurdish political movement. On the contrary, the more they tried to solve the problem through violence and denial, the more the faith of the Kurdish people in the AKP has eroded and the more they clung to the Kurdish political movement rather than moving to other alternatives.

Another development which has a potential to undermine the AKP in the Kurdish region was the creation of a new party, the Cause of Freedom Party, or Huda-Par, the legal formation of Hezbollah, which has some influence among the religiously minded people in the region.

The AKP government and the ruling classes aim to make Turkey a regional power. However, as they saw in the Syria crisis, they realized that the Kurdish question has become an obstacle in carrying out that objective. The foreign policy formulated as “zero problems with the neighbours” has brought nothing more than “zero neighbours”, with the exception of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq.

Turkish investment in Iraqi Kurdistan has reached serious proportions. Turkey’s need for oil necessitates stronger relations with the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq (with Barzani as its head). But a Turkey with problematic relations with its own Kurds as well as with the Kurds in Syria could not maintain the present level of good relations with Barzani for too long, bearing in mind the fact that Barzani aims to be the leader of all the Kurds divided among four countries, namely Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s plans for a transition to a presidential system in Turkey, and getting Kurdish support behind him in realizing this plan, is another reason which necessitates a solution to the Kurdish question.

B – External Developments:

The new developments that have come about in the Middle East as a result of the Arab uprisings have necessitated a new demarcation of the ranks in the region. Although the imperialist powers such as the US and the European countries, together with the regional countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are doing everything in their power to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, it is obvious that the real target is Iran.

One cannot expect Russia, for its part, to sacrifice the Assad regime easily because of its strategic alliance, that is, the Tartus port in Syria, which is Russia’s only naval base in the Mediterranean.

With its great dependence on oil from the Middle East in general and from Iran in particular, China also feels threatened by the situation in Syria, fearing that next in line after Syria would be Iran. This is why the UN resolutions on Syria have met with Russian and Chinese opposition. Iran, for its part, has recently joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, developing closer ties with Russia and China in the face of US plans for the region. The internal problems in Iraq also brought Nouri Al Maliki closer to Iran, while Iraq’s disintegration has become a subject of discussion. A similar disintegration is also a possibility in Syria.

All this has a weakening effect on the US strategy in the region. It is for this reason that the US, immediately after the presidential elections, has made readjustments to its allies on the basis of designing the Syrian opposition and rearranged its ranks accordingly. We are witnessing a period in which Hamas, having moved its political bureau from Damascus to Qatar, is in the process of being convinced to change allegiance to the US through the mediation of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Turkey is pushing the Free Syrian Army to attack the Kurds in Syria in order to prevent the Syrian Kurds from achieving an autonomous status under the leadership of the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The US is very unhappy about Turkey cooperating with Barzani and it is concerned that this approach would lead to Iraq’s disintegration. The US is also unhappy about Turkey’s rapprochement to the Syrian Kurds, as it believes that this has left them outside the Syrian opposition and prolonged the life of the Assad regime.

In an interview with the daily Hurriyet, 7 January 2013, Turkey’s Ambassador to Washington Namik Tan expresses the positions of the US and Turkey in the following words:

“How could a country which tripled the wealth of its people turn its back on the resources next to it?.. Turkey cannot do that... What does the US say? ‘If you do this it would serve Iraq’s disintegration.’ What about the 40-odd US businesses in that region? Why shouldn’t our companies be there? The US says our arguments are not convincing. And we say theirs are not convincing. So what we do is not clashing here but negotiating for a common ground.”

Then it becomes clear that the US ban on oil imports from Iraqi Kurdistan and expanding the trade embargo to include oil and gas imports from Iran in exchange for gold are all in fact “warnings” to Turkey to comply with the US rules.

However, one must stress that despite these “not so significant problems”, since the Bush-Erdoğan meeting in September 2007 Turkey has become a country that is tied to the regional strategy of Western imperialism without any serious objections. So much so that the Turkey-US and Turkey-NATO relations have never been so problem-free since Turkey joined NATO in 1952. The fact that the strategic radar system of NATO’s Missile Shield is based in Turkey’s eastern town of Kurecik, that NATO’s ground forces command have moved to the western coastal town of Izmir, and that the Patriot missiles have been deployed in Turkey without objections, shows the level of this relationship.

It is also obvious that in terms of the Western policy of encirclement of Iran, Turkey has, step by step, come closer to the line of Western imperialism and adapted its relations with its Middle Eastern neighbours Iran, Iraq and Syria accordingly.

Looking at the whole picture, it is not difficult to predict that the imperialist powers such as the US and European countries will put pressure on Turkey to “solve” its Kurdish question quickly, but at the same time are prepared to give the support demanded by Turkey to do this. This is because the US knows that in order to focus on the Asia-Pacific region it needs to solve the problems in the Middle East and that it cannot carry out its plans in this region as long as it treats the Kurds adversely.

In this respect it is not surprising that the US could not tolerate the Kurdish national movement in Turkey having an anti-imperialist position in recent years and spoiling the US plans in the region.

For a popular democratic solution

The AKP government and the hegemonic forces in Turkey have sat down – or, in more exact terms, have been forced to sit down – at the negotiating table with the representatives of the Kurdish political movement at a critical juncture in its domestic and foreign affairs. Without a doubt, the principal factor behind such a decision is the realisation that the liberation movement of the Kurdish people cannot be suppressed. If it had not been for the resistance of the Kurdish people, we would not have witnessed a dialogue or negotiating process today. Without taking this prime fact into consideration, we would not be able to arrive at the correct conclusions regarding the current talks. Thus, the process is not based solely on choice, as it is portrayed by the government, or, as it is often phrased by the government, the following formulation is not an accurate description of the on-going process: “We will start the process when it suits our aims, and put an end to it when it conflicts with our aims”.

Since the talks began there have been numerous evaluations as to how the process will unfold. On the one hand, there are the chauvinist/nationalist forces that have interpreted the talks as the implementation of a scenario designed by US imperialism to divide the country. On the other hand, there is the analysis of the petty bourgeois left that is centred on the view that the aspirations of the Kurdish people will be reduced or bargained away at the negotiating table. What appear to be two antagonistic interpretations are in fact two sides of the same coin. That is, they have one feature in common: they are based on the opposition to the right of nations to self-determination. 

What is clear is that powerful forces, such as the US and powerful European states that have plans for the region, will inevitably want to intervene in the talks and the negotiating process vis-à-vis the Kurdish question – a question that is increasingly gaining international prominence. Derived from this fact, as the Paris assassinations have demonstrated, the process is open to provocations; therefore in this period advances and retreats will go hand-in-hand.

It is worth noting that the US, in accordance with its plans for Turkey, is going to oppose the establishment of a Kurdistan within Turkey. Both the US and Turkey wish to “resolve” or postpone the Kurdish question in connection with its links to the conflicting and contradictory developments in the region. The AKP government and the state aim to “resolve” this question by offering certain rights that go beyond the status quo but nonetheless will fall short of offering full equal rights. This is what is intended by having talks on the one hand, and military operations on the other.

The Kurdish people and the Kurdish political movement have for many years resisted this repression and blockade by uniting their forces on a national and a democratic basis. It has become one of the most focal resistance points against imperialism and the classes that collaborate with it in our country and the Middle East.

The pro-labour, democracy and peace forces in Turkey should oppose these attacks and, from the vantage point of defending the full equal rights of the Kurdish nation, they should support the Kurdish question, raise the banner of peace and fraternity and stand side by side with the Kurds at a time when they need support. The engagement and support of the Turkish workers, labourers and masses will play a determining role in deciding whether or not the talks with Öcalan will evolve into a negotiating process whereby the Kurds will attain their full equal rights.

In order to overcome the racist, chauvinist and repressive policies of the government and the hegemonic classes in Turkey the onus lies, first and foremost, on the progressive workers and labourers to get the Turkish masses to realise that without the Kurds attaining constitutional protection for regional autonomy and education in their mother tongue the blood-bath in Turkey will not come to an end.

The consistent defence of the right of nations to self-determination passes through completely fulfilling the requirements of this duty. Until this is done, it is worth mentioning that words alone regarding the solution of the Kurdish question do not have practical significance.

February 2013


1) Oslo talks: Turkish intelligence held secret meetings with senior PKK figures in the Norwegian capital between 2009 and 2011. They were first made public in 2011 after a recording revealed them. Prime Minister Erdoğan publicly admitted assigning the intelligence officials to the talks, which broke down later.

2) Habur incident: In October 2009 in order to support the AKP government’s “Kurdish Opening Initiative”, the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan called as a symbolic gesture for a group of PKK militants in a training camp in Northern Iraq to enter Turkey through the Habur border crossing and surrender. Tens of thousands of Kurds gathered in Diyarbakir to welcome the so-called “peace group”. Following this incident, the Kurdish Democratic Society Party was closed down and some of the group’s members were imprisoned.

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