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The Kurdish dilemma

By Bashdar Ismaeel - posted Thursday, 31 December 2009

Two months can be a relatively long-time when it comes to politics in Turkey. Only recently there was widespread optimism and hope that Turkey was finally intent on tackling its age-old Kurdish dilemma head-on. However, hope quickly turned into despair with the contentious decision to ban the Democratic Society Party (DTP) by the Turkish Constitutional Court for its alleged links to the PKK - a separatist terrorist organisation - a claim that has long reverberated in hawkish circles.

Big swing in Turkey

When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made an historic speech, widely referenced as the “Kurdish Opening”, his vision was as courageous as his boldness to pass momentous democratic measures in Turkey against a backdrop of opposition.

The plan itself took several more weeks to be unveiled as widespread bickering, controversy and debate gripped Turkey around the ground breaking measures proposed.


While the steps finally unveiled fell short of Kurdish expectations and was undoubtedly watered-down under heavy criticism and pressure from the Turkish opposition, it was nevertheless, for a country that long denied even the existence of its Kurdish population, an important step that was hoped would finally bring unison and stability to the southeast of Turkey.

DTP banned

The decision to ban the DTP in many ways has been long-time coming. Almost as soon as the DTP became the first Kurdish party in the Turkish parliament for 14 years, the party found itself under pressure from many who were intent on clipping the wings of a growingly influential party in the much disenfranchised Kurdish quarters.

Although the decision is bitterly disappointing especially in light of the great deceleration affect it has had on the Kurdish initiative, until mindsets are greatly changed in Turkey such decisions are unsurprising.

The closure of the party is the last in a line of 10 Kurdish parties to be closed down by Turkish authorities. Under the orders of the prosecution, 37 party members including DTP leader Ahmet Turk have been banned from politics for five years. The harsh penal codes when it comes to preserving the foundations of the Turkish republic has meant that even the ruling AKP party has not been immune to the viciousness of the Turkish constitutional courts.

Once sentiments had somewhat calmed, Ahmet Turk strongly indicated that the remaining politicians where the DTP held 21 seats in the 550-member parliament, would form another group and remain in parliament.

While the disillusionment of the politicians is understandable, it is of paramount importance that the Kurds remain on the democratic road. Regardless, of whether another 10 pro-Kurdish parties are banned in subsequent years, it remains very clear that the only place that Kurdish issues can be solved is in parliament and not in the mountains using military force.


Who represents the Kurds?

Clearly, the PKK continues to have strong support among the Kurds in Turkey. Although the DTP made fundamental gains at the municipal elections earlier this year, the PKK continues to be the common denominator when it comes to any discussion around the Kurdish issue.

While the DTP could have done more to take over the new mantle as the chief representation of the Kurds and distance itself emotively from the PKK, the PKK cloud continued to linger in the DTP window. The PKK trace is deep-rooted in the southeast, because the Kurds have had no parliamentary representation in successive decades and consequently a lack of political alternatives to dilute the PKK influence.

Certainly for Turkey, the decision to ban the only legal Kurdish body will have an adverse affect on democracy in the region. Ironically, this position places the PKK closer to the fore as the bastion of Kurdish identity.

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First published in The Kurdish Globe on December 19, 2009.

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About the Author

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance writer and analyst, whose primary focus and expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq and Middle Eastern current affairs. The main focus of his writing is to promote peace, justice and increase awareness of the diversity, suffering and at times explosive mix in Iraq and the Middle East.

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