|Protesters in Brussels denounce |
attacks on Kurds in Turkey and Iraq
A debilitating war, inside Turkey and across the border in northern Iraq, followed, until both sides, informally and then formally, began to look for a settlement, a process aided by the capture of the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. The Turks liberalised their cultural policies, while the PKK foreswore separatist aims in favour of autonomy. In 2013, Mr Öcalan released a letter calling for a ceasefire and an end to armed struggle.
|A protest this week in Brussels against Ankara’s raids on PKK bases in Iraq: ‘Turkey has used |
its switch on policy toward Isis as camouflage for a more fundamental shift on the Kurds.’
Then came two developments which put the process in jeopardy. The Syrian and Iraqi conflicts, among their many consequences, had the effect of strengthening the Kurdish communities in both those countries. The Iraqi Kurds achieved an almost complete de facto autonomy as Baghdad lost control, while the Syrian Kurds, allied to the PKK, also became more their own masters. The Turks feared their example would make their own Kurds more demanding. The second development was the failure of Mr Erdoğan’s plan to perpetuate his rule in Turkey by bringing in an executive presidency. That crashed at the general elections in June, not least because of the success of the Peoples’ Democratic party, or HDP, which is the main legal Kurdish party. It has some links with the PKK, but it also garnered many non-Kurdish votes in the poll. It seems likely that the increasingly wilful Mr Erdoğan is seeking ways in which to reverse this defeat.
This is the background against which the decisions to attack Islamic State bases in Syria and PKK bases in Iraq, to let the United States use Turkish airfields, and to arrest alleged members of the two movements in Turkey, must be viewed. There may or may not have been some PKK provocation, but the direction of events is clear. Turkey has used its switch on policy toward Isis as camouflage for a more fundamental shift on the Kurds. Mr Erdoğan wants out of the peace process, which he has declared at an end, and he appears bent on undermining the HDP and its leader, Selahattin Demirtaş. The launching of a legal investigation into Mr Demirtaş’s recent actions suggests this may be the case. The end in mind is presumably a return to the country for fresh elections which will bring a better result for Mr Erdoğan.
If so, this is a dangerous course, both internally and externally. It has already endangered Turkey’s relatively good relations with the Iraqi Kurds, who have protested against the raids on the PKK. Worse, it could damage Turkish democracy and diminish the chances of a settlement, which the country needs as much as ever.