[Midden-Oosten] Turkey, the Kurds, and the struggle for Kobane

Jeff meisner op xs4all.nl
Zo Okt 26 21:37:50 CET 2014


Turkey’s real Kurdish problem
Adnan Khan
Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Oct. 22 2014, 3:00 AM EDT
Adnan Khan is a writer and photographer who lives in Istanbul and Islamabad.

There was little joy among Turkey’s Kurds when U.S. warplanes started 
dropping bombs on the Islamic State in Syria. Their reaction was surprising 
to say the least: For weeks, Kurds had been protesting in Istanbul and in 
Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast against the lack of support their 
fellow Kurds were receiving in Kobani, the besieged city just across the 
border in Syria.

Kobani was surrounded on three sides, with the only safe route in or out 
being north to Turkey. But the Turkish army had sealed the border. The 
city’s defenders, a local Syrian Kurdish militia, the armed wing of the 
Democratic Union Party, begged for international assistance. When U.S. 
bombings and supply drops finally helped push back the Islamic State’s 
advance, the Kurds were saved from a likely massacre.

The intervention should have sparked celebration, but the protests 
continued, with Kurds lashing out at the Islamic State and condemning 
Turkey’s actions. More significantly, the protesters railed against the 
United States and its allies, including Canada, denouncing Western 
imperialism and capitalism.

The protesters were largely socialists, a virulent strain of whom remain 
widespread among Turkey’s Kurds. Their anger did not stem from ethnic 
nationalism but political ideology. A revolution is under way in Kobani, 
they say, and everyone – the West, the Islamic State, Arab countries, the 
Turkish government – is trying to suppress it.

Their version of events is worrying. Turkey experienced years of political 
violence after a peace process with its Kurdish minority collapsed in 1993. 
Radical leftists, mostly Kurds sympathetic to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ 
Party (the PKK), battled ultranationalist Turks and Islamists calling 
themselves the Turkish Hezbollah. The government of the day, heavily 
influenced by the military, was suspected of manipulating the Islamists and 
nationalists in an attempt to crush the PKK-led insurgency.

Those were dark days. Thousands of Kurds died and hundreds of thousands were 
displaced after the military razed as many as 3,000 southeastern villages 
suspected of supporting the PKK. “It was like a mob war,” says Tolga Baysal, 
an Istanbul filmmaker who lived through those times. “Hezbollah was 
kidnapping and assassinating suspected PKK members; the PKK was doing the 
same to Hezbollah.”

Now, history appears to be repeating itself. Another Kurdish peace process 
is on the verge of collapse. The Turkish Hezbollah is back, reinvigorated by 
what they view as an Islamic revival in Syria and Iraq, as well as the 
conservative proclivities of the current Turkish government. Kobani has 
re-energized Turkey’s radical left, inspired by the Democratic Union Party, 
which announced last September that it would be setting up the perfect 
socialist society in Kobani. Once again, the government is reaching out to 
ultra-nationalists to counter them.

According to the prevailing narrative, the Kurdish desire for ethnic and 
cultural self-determination has been reawakened by events in Syria. But this 
is oversimplification. The escalating conflict has more to do with political 
ideology – a radical socialism at odds with Turkey’s burgeoning capitalist 
project and the Islamist-rooted government leading it.

Indeed, Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has made 
significant progress over the past decade in granting cultural rights to 
Kurds. A great deal of work remains to be done, but it’s no longer illegal 
to call oneself a Kurd or to refer to a space called Kurdistan. A limited 
number of Kurdish-language TV stations have been issued broadcasting 
licences and large-scale development projects in the southeast have improved 
Kurds’ economic lot.

But the Democratic Union Party and the PKK have a much wider agenda, which 
militants explained to me in 2006, when I visited their base in the Qandil 
mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan.

“The revolution begins with the people,” I was told. “This is what 
distinguishes our socialism from any other socialist movement: individual 
action. The people must take responsibility for their lives. Try to imagine 
it: Power emanating from the bottom up, from the people to the government 
administration in a way that reduces the political leadership to a 
co-ordinating role. This is the PKK’s vision.”

During the week I spent with the revolutionaries, I saw firsthand what their 
utopia might look like: a rigidly organized society where everything was 
shared, gender roles were eliminated and revolutionary ideals were 
indoctrinated. According to leaders, this was only the beginning.

“Ours is a global movement, not just limited to the region,” they said. “But 
we focus on the Middle East as a starting point. We will change the 
sociopolitical landscape of the Middle East as an example for the rest of 
the world.”

Now, that revolutionary project has found its historic moment: the Arab 
Spring. In the predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood of Okmeydani in Istanbul, 
the signs are all there: Graffiti announcing the resurgence of people power, 
hammers and sickles crudely drawn up with bright red paint, images of Che 
Guevara alongside Kurdish revolutionaries. “Kobani is our Stalingrad,” reads 
one common slogan.

“The Islamic State is not alone,” one leftist demonstrator told me. “The 
Islamic State is attacking a revolution. … This is not a struggle against 
the Islamic State. It’s a struggle against the system and its supporters, 
including the Turkish state as well as a mix of others: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, 
England, France, the USA. All of these imperialist and capitalist systems 
should be opposed.”

For Turkey’s government, this sort of fervour threatens to tear down years 
of capitalist enterprise and return Turkey to the bloodshed and economic 
ruin of the 1990s. In their calculation, the Islamic State is the lesser 
threat. Turkey’s radical left, which happens to be Kurdish, is the Pandora’s 
Box – a lid to be kept closed at any cost.

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