By Ozkan Kocakaya:
When Erdogan declared war on the PKK last July, nobody could have foreseen the levels to which it was to be escalated and the widespread destruction of Kurdish towns it would result in. It is widely acknowledged that the war is politically motivated, and whilst it may have consolidated the nationalists’ vote for Erdogan, it has led to a far more significant scenario for Kurds in the Middle East.
We should be very clear in our understanding of the multi-pronged nature of the conflict being waged against Kurds by the Turkish state. Although it is Erdogan giving the orders and approving the strategies, he has the full backing of the army, the government and the majority of his supporters. It would be foolish to blame one man for a war that has transcended a military conflict against the PKK.
The AKP government has sharply escalated its political war with the removal of the parliamentary immunity of dozens of MPs recently, largely directed at Kurdish MPs of the HDP. It is a major step in the state under Erdogan removing any political path to a solution. The status that Kurds have been gaining, thanks mainly to the HDP, has been seen a threat of such magnitude not just to Erdogan, but to the established political system itself, that it has prompted the leader of the centre left party CHP to support the bill. Trying democratically elected Kurdish MPs with terrorism charges is resorting to the lowest common denominator and unmasks the true nature of the intolerance of Turkish politics.
The revoking of the broadcasting license of the widely respected pro-Kurdish channel IMC TV in March was the latest in a long line of media outlets sympathetic to the Kurdish cause being closed down or under constant threat. The propaganda against the HDP and any sympathizers of the party now involves Erdogan employing all forms of media to wage a different war on Kurds through some 70% of the outlets that are under his control. The thousands of paid trolls sent out to infect social networking sites with pro-AKP propaganda is just another example of this.
Then there’s the psychological war being waged on many levels. The random and increasingly violent attacks around the country on Kurds by Turkish nationalists, the dragging of Haci Lokman’s corpse, the brother-in-law of one of the deputies of the HDP, tied to an armoured vehicle around Sirnak by the Turkish Police, the brazen assassination of the Kurdish human rights lawyer Tahir Elci live on TV, the many photos of dead YPS and HPG fighters stripped naked and in various states of humiliation circulating around social networking sites and many other examples of inhumanity inflicted upon Kurds are yet another part of the overall strategy employed by the state to intimidate, humiliate and break the Kurdish resistance. Erdogan himself declared in a speech, “Yield or your head!”.
Thus, it is the first time we are seeing the state employ such a strategy of war against Kurds through multiple forms and formats. When the parliamentary immunity of the independent Kurdish MPs were removed in the 90s, what followed was a brutal and lengthy military conflict with the PKK in which thousands died. The strategy employed by the Turkish security forces was no less humane. Some 3000 villages were destroyed, over half a million Kurds were forcibly displaced and the international community turned a blind eye. But the nature of the conflict was largely confined to the military. What is happening now is the rolling back of the rights Kurds have gained over the past two decades and the state has regressed to the days of the 90s when the Kurdish identity was outlawed.
However, what is becoming obvious is that Turkey, not just Erdogan, is losing the war. The PKK affiliated YPS has inflicted heavy losses on the Turkish security forces. The government may be trying to conceal the 600 or so members of the security forces that have been killed and the downing of the military helicopters, but this is widely circulated on social media and has embarrassed the army. The losses by armed Kurdish groups are thought to be far less. Turkey may have the second largest army in NATO, but they’re largely untrained conscripts. Instead, around 25,000 members of security forces, mostly Special Forces and paid volunteers, have been sent into those Kurdish towns that are resisting, but they have been unable to defeat a relatively small number of armed Kurds who have far more experience in urban warfare gained through their battle against the likes of ISIS. The fact that the Turkish army resorted to indiscriminately shelling Kurdish towns means they have lost the military war. That tanks, armoured vehicles, helicopters and even a fighter plane was used against a few hundred YPS members in the tiny town of Nusaybin is indicative of that defeat. In order to cover their loss and embarrassment, Erdogan ordered grossly reckless tactics to destroy Kurdish towns in a misguided show of force and it has backfired given that over 500 youngsters from one of those towns alone, Silopi, are thought to have joined PKK since last June and they’re fighting for a cause they truly believe in, unlike the handpicked violent nationalists from the special forces given the task of committing war crimes in Kurdish towns. Not only that, Turkish sponsored terrorist groups in Syria are being defeated on a daily basis by the YPG.
The psychological warfare employed is also having the opposite effect. Instead of intimidating Kurds into submission, it is awakening us into a sense of pride of our identity and anger at the Turkish government. In that sense, the government has acted as a unifying force for Kurds who are seeing the true nature of the state as an occupying force attempting to enslave millions of people. What we are also seeing is that we need not accept the status quo given that Kurds in Iraq and Syria have fought for and won their freedom. The Turkish military power is an illusion and the reactionary, destructive nature of their tactics is indicative of this. The YPS has proved that.
The use of the media in such large scale propaganda in Turkey has also backfired. The technologically interconnected nature of the media through various platforms means that, although Erdogan may have an iron grip on most outlets in Turkey, the international arena has highlighted the backward, immature and callous nature of Turkey’s propaganda tactics. Whilst Erdogan may have been seeking pride and power, he is now shamed, belittled and widely disrespected abroad for trying the censor the world’s media. However, given he received 50% of the votes at home, it is clear he represents a significant proportion of the views of Turkish citizens. What has happened is that he has unveiled the true nature of fascism that is entrenched in all levels of society in Turkey that the state has been legitimizing and pushing the public into acceptance by pointing the finger at the PKK, HDP, Kurds, Armenians and others. In truth, it doesn’t matter who the perceived enemy is, so long as there is one that allows fascism to dictate the system of governance and hinders true reforms to eradicate that mentality in the country, as the likes of Germany, Italy and Spain had to do following World War II. The fact that international powers like the USA and Russia now trust and work with the Kurds simply highlights how wrong Turkey has been getting its foreign policy for so long.
Turkey has already lost the Kurds through its actions in Turkey, Iraq and Syria and now it’s losing the war it has escalated in trying to keep a grip on power. In truth, this has been coming for decades. Turkey had many chances to reform and has failed to do so. What did they expect?
Ozkan Kocakaya is originally from Turkey, of Kurdish origin. After gaining a BSc and an MSc from the University of Liverpool in IT and business related subjects, he began a career in the finance industry, where he still earns a living. Having a keen interest in literature and a passion for Kurdistan, he devotes his spare time to writing fiction to promote Kurdish history and values, as well as blogging about current affairs in his home country.