Turkey’s Last Gamble with the Kurds

By Ozkan Kocakaya:

The war declared by the Turkish state in July 2015 on the PKK is rightly viewed as a war on Kurds by the international community. That it was pre-planned and executed on the back of the AKP’s failure to get a majority in the June 2015 elections is obvious. Not only did it galvanize the nationalists’ support for Erdogan and his AKP, it also paved the way for months of gross human rights violations against Kurds committed by the Turkish security forces. But we shouldn’t assume that this is the main war, which I believe is yet to come and the preparations for it are being made openly by Turkey.

The destruction of Kurdish towns like Cizre, Nusaybin, Sur, Yuksekova and Silopi, and the war crimes being committed by Turkey so openly are designed to provoke the PKK into a full scale war. The special forces sent into those towns aren’t there to defeat the PKK or any other affiliated group, but they’re there specifically to warn the Kurds to yield, whilst at the same time paving the way for tanks and armoured vehicles to move freely around towns to destroy as much of them as necessary. This will not only make it possible for the army to enter and control those towns if the war escalates, it also forcibly removes Kurds from the area, many of whom will not return and their neighbourhoods may well be filled with Syrian refugees in the future to dilute the Kurdish population. Both Saddam and Assad tried, and eventually failed, to Arabize Kurdish regions, but it’s not a tactic that Turkey has refrained from in the past. Having a cover of a war against the PKK gives the army presence legitimacy and they’re taking full advantage.

These actions make a full scale war seemingly more inevitable with each passing day, but there are other factors that give weight to this argument too. Turkey has known it cannot defeat the PKK for a long time, yet chose to escalate the war for Erdogan’s political goals. Erdogan has been given the green light to deal with the Kurdish problem once and for all, and he is ready to oblige. For him, being seen as a hero saving the nation from “terrorism”, is a vote winner with his conservative Muslim followers. In effect, Erdogan has become a hired gun by the state. If Kurds are crushed, his prize will be lifelong presidency. If the resistance continues and spreads, Erdogan and his AKP cronies will be made the scapegoat with a possible army coup. The split between Sunni Turks and secular Turks will take a whole different dimension in that scenario.

Scene from Cizre © AFP 2016/ ILYAS AKENGIN

Scene from Cizre © AFP 2016/ ILYAS AKENGIN

This explains Erdogan’s reluctance to tackle jihadi groups in Turkey. Reports of ISIS members operating with the special forces in the southeast are already indicative of deep state ties with the organisation. Syrian refugee camps are being built all over Kurdish areas to act as a front for training camps for ISIS, not to be used in Syria, but against Kurds in Turkey. Those very same armed jihadi groups could also be used against whichever group Erdogan deems an enemy should his position be threatened. For now, they’re content with using them to battle the PKK under the watchful eye of the Turkish army, who may only intervene to secure the towns after another “mass atrocity” against Kurds has been committed.

However, this war has a different atmosphere about it. For a start, Turkey is weak. Months of costly security operations, failed domestic and foreign policies as well as the sheer number of enemies it has made in the region mean that a full scale war will probably push Turkey into an economic collapse. An escalation of war in Turkey will quickly turn into another regional proxy war. Many may welcome that, but Turkey’s meltdown will have financial and security consequences for many countries in the West, not to mention giving countries like China an opportunity to exert their dominance over the South China Sea if they see US and other European allies drawn into a full scale war in Turkey.

It is also a scenario that many Kurds have been expecting for over 70 years. Turkey’s massacres of 30,000 in Zilan and 100,000 in Dersim in the last great mass Kurdish uprisings in the 1930s were a warning to Kurds to give up resistance. Perhaps the state hoped that if they could keep the movement under control for long enough, new generations of Kurds would have been assimilated and lack the desire for Kurdish self-rule. The HDP comfortably winning 13% of the votes last June, a figure that would have been higher had they not been under constant media, judicial and security attacks whilst campaigning, proved to Turkey that the assimilation project of the Kurds had failed. So Turkey is slowly putting into action a war they have in effect been planning since 1938. But I believe such a war will be the final breakup of the country, which is inevitable; Kurdistan will eventually be created regardless. The state may even be calculating that if the worst case scenario were to become a reality, and Kurdistan breaks away from Turkey, a war will allow them to destroy as much of it as possible and massacre as many Kurds as they can get away with before withdrawing in disgrace. However, the outcome will never be what they expect. With neighbourly relations cold or non-existent in all directions, can Turkey afford to have another closed border once Kurdistan is created?

For these reasons, I believe the international community should intervene before it is too late. Turkey has become fully dependant on the USA since Erdogan’s failed Syrian project, so I believe the US is the only country capable of leading that type of pressure. For the sake of the future of Middle East, saving hundreds of thousands of Kurdish lives and preventing Turkey from pushing all their allies into an unwanted war, I truly hope the madness is stopped before we are forced to watch another attempted genocide.

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.

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