Atatürk's Republic

Following Turkish News, Politics, Arts and Culture

Posts Tagged ‘minorities in Turkey

Gezi Continues

leave a comment »

Yesterday a tragic incident provided proof that Gezi is far from over.  Many of the facts surrounding the event are still in dispute, but what is clear is that during the course of a protest in Antakya early Tuesday morning, 22 year Ahmet Atakan died.  His death triggered renewed protests across the country, including Istanbul, Ankara and the AKP stronghold of Bursa.  Istiklal Boulevard in Taksim was once again the scene of police intervention with tear gas and water cannons.

Though eyewitnesses report that the protests were smaller than those at the peak of the Gezi uprising this summer, the renewed clashes between police and civilians is an important and potentially dangerous sign.  Many reports state that Atakan died during a protest related to the previous death of a Gezi protester.  However, some also mention that the protest Atakan participated in was against Turkey’s involvement in Syria’s civil war.  Whether or not Atakan went out with the intention of protesting Turkey’s current and future involvement in Syria, his death is perfectly poised to exasperate an already tense situation.

Atakan’s hometown Antakya is located in a small peninsula of Turkish territory that sticks down like a thumb into Syria.  The area has a proud history of religious and ethnic diversity, even through the periods of ethnic cleansing that homogenized much of the rest of Turkey during the 20th century.  However, the Syrian civil war is putting a strain on both inter-communal relationships and the relationship between the citizens of the province and the Turkish government.  Potentially making this situation even more explosive, Atakan was apparently an Arab Alawite, the ethno-religious group to which Assad belongs.  Most Alawites both in and outside of Syria continue to support Assad’s government, if for no other reason than they fear the consequences for their community if the rebels prevail.  So far the Alawite community in Turkey has largely kept a low profile, but this death could energize the community to lash out against the Turkish government or even Sunni refugees and fighters from Syria.  Resentment of Turkey’s unofficial involvement in the Syrian civil war is not isolated to the Alawite community.  Polls consistently show that the majority of Turks are against further intervention in Syria.  The bombing in Reyhanli earlier this summer, which was assumed to be connected to the Syrian regime, already demonstrated the potential for retaliatory attacks against Syrian refugees in Turkey.

In addition to it’s involvement with the Syrian war, Turkey is also currently confronted with another extremely delicate internal situation.  A few days ago, the much hailed peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK broke down.  The Turkish government has claimed that the PKK has not withdrawn enough of its fighters from Turkish territory and now the PKK has stated that it will halt its withdrawal until progress is made on the issue of Kurdish cultural rights.  Ethnically Kurdish areas generally refrained from participating in the protests this summer.  However, there were representatives of the Kurdish BDP party at Gezi and the movement in general has shown itself to be sympathetic to the issue of Kurdish rights.  If the protests we witnessed on Tuesday result in a revived Gezi movement, Turkey’s frustrated Kurdish minority may find this an opportune moment to revive protests for their rights as well.

The Turkish government has a potentially explosive situation on its hands.  In the case of the Gezi protests of this summer, the repeated use of force by the police encouraged protesters to seek out creative non-violent ways to continue their resistance.  However, if the government chooses to meet minority protesters in Turkey’s south with violence, past experiences demonstrate the potential for prolonged, deadly conflicts to erupt.

Advertisements

Written by ataturksrepublic

September 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Kurds, Occupy Gezi and the Peace Process

with one comment

Despite their concurrence with the Kurdish Peace Process in Turkey, the Occupy Gezi protests initially took little interest in the struggle of Kurdish Turks.  Though there were signs of a Kurdish presence in Taksim and Gezi, the vast majority of Kurds have chosen to watch from the sidelines.  However, as the Gezi movement has moved forward it has begun to make some historic connections with the Kurdish movement, even as the Turkish government has begun to retreat from the peace process.

Despite the turmoil in Turkey’s major cities over the past month, steps in the peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK have continued on schedule. The “Wise People” commission finished their tour of Turkey and reported back to PM Erdogan with suggestions on how to continue the detente with the Kurds.  The PKK has been busy with step 1 in the process, moving its guerrillas out of Turkey and into the Kadil mountains of Iraq; the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) claims that 80% of PKK fighters have already left Turkey.  As a result the PKK has begun demanding that Ankara institute promised reforms such as the right to Kurdish-language education and lowering the 10% electoral threshold for parties to be included in the parliament.

Despite the unprecedented initiative on the part of Erdogan and the Turkish government to begin this peace process, the past week produced some worrying developments.  In contrast to the BDP, Erdogan claims that only 15% of PKK fighters have left Turkish territory, the implication of course being that the PKK has not fulfilled their end of the bargain.  In addition, he seems to be full out refusing to even consider implementing promised reforms, step 2 in the outlined process.  In a speech last Wednesday, he claimed that the government has “no plans” to lower the 10% election threshold or to provide “mother tongue” education for minorities.  His related pronouncement that “the only official language is Turkish” hearkened back to the Kemalist nationalism that was instrumental in creating the Kurdish resistance and the PKK in the first place.

On Friday, protests over a perceived government violation of the peace agreement turned deadly.  In the largely Kurdish Lice district in the province of Diyarbakir, protesters clashed with the Turkish army over the building of a new gendarme outpost.  One young man was killed and a number of other seriously injured when members of the military opened fire on the hostile crowd. *(eyewitness reports suggest that the government’s version of events exaggerated the violence of the protestors)

This incident is extremely worrying but so far the PKK seems hesitant to retaliate.  Currently the PKK appears to more eager to see the peace process succeed than the Turkish government.  Indeed Turkey’s Kurdish population has much more to lose from the failure of the peace than the Turkish government or average Turkish citizens.  While Turks of all stripes protested in cities across the country over the past month, the Kurdish south-east has remained almost eerily quiet.  Many have interpreted the lack of protests in Kurdish-majority areas as stemming from a desire to avoid giving the government any excuse to back out of the peace process.  There are likely other factors at play as well.  The Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink who is based in the largely Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, argues that the Kurds do not feel a need to participate in  the Occupy Gezi movement, even if they sympathize with the protesters.  Their “protest” started with the founding of the PKK and has been ongoing ever since.

In contrast, as the protests have gone on those involved have begun to take more and more of an interest in the Kurdish struggle.  The protests have brought together Turks of all different lifestyles, political affiliations and ethnicities and created an arena for them to not only interact but forge bonds in a struggle against mutual enemies.  The hugely important fieldwork conducted by Turkish sociologist Zeynep Tufekci in the midst of the protests in Gezi and Taksim has documented this culture of pluralism and tolerance.  One of the outcomes of Gezi’s nurturing of plurality is the first time large numbers of Turks are fully comprehending the grievances of the country’s Kurds.  After the incident in Lice, crowds gathered in various locals in Istanbul on Friday night in a solidarity protest.  They applied the same terminology to the Lice (diren Lice) as has been utilized in the Gezi protests and chanted pro Kurdish slogans.  As Tukekci observes “This would have been hard to imagine a month ago.”

A great number, if not a majority of Turks have a negative and even hostile view of Kurds.  They have been raised to believe in the centrality of Turkish ethnic identity to the survival of the Turkish nation-state.  Though Kurds make up the majority of the victims of the Turkish government’s war against the PKK, thousands of Turkish soldiers have also been killed.  Turkey still requires all its young men to complete mandatory military service.  Their military training and experience in the field has served to reinforce the idea that Kurds are the enemy to a generation of young men (and their families).   However, Occupy Gezi has introduced the “other 50%” to the grievances of the Kurds in a very personal way.  It is too early to make any predictions as to how Occupy Gezi will affect the outcome of the Kurdish peace process and vice versa.   The Kurdish cause could very well give the Gezi movement the legs it needs to keep going now that its initial, Weberian “charismatic” stage seems to be coming to an end.  No matter if the Lice protests in Istanbul end up being an isolated incident or not, I am optimistic that the pro-Kurdish protests by Turks is a sign of a cultural shift among at least some elements of Turkish society.  After experiencing a month of insults, violence, and pro-government media coverage, I suspect that the “resistors” and their supporters will have trouble believing the official government line on aspirations of the Kurds and the inherent evil of the PKK.

Written by ataturksrepublic

July 1, 2013 at 3:04 pm