With the war between the Turkish state and the PKK having intensified again after Turkey started a new offensive, many comments have started to emerge again about the nature of the conflict. What often plays a central role in peoples’ reasoning, is the question whether a military or political solution will bring an end to the Kurdish issue. This implies that if the state manages to beat the PKK militarily, the problem would be solved. A huge misperception, of course.
One example is a report of the German Science and Politics Foundation SWF, published this week. It gives an overview of what the Turkish state’s approach has been over the last ten, fifteen years. It also reflects briefly on the city wars that were fought in Diyarbakır, Cizre, Şırnak and other Kurdish cities and towns after the ‘peace process’ collapsed in 2015. The SWF writes: “Empowering the idea that the Kurdish question is mainly a security one, these clashes weakened the argument that it necessitates a political solution.” It continues: “The defeat of the PKK in these city wars and in the ensuing clashes in the countryside were taken as a confirmation of the effectiveness of military means and discredited even more the idea that the Kurdish issue requires a non-military solution.”
Frankly, I found this quite astonishing to read. To whom did the city wars weaken the argument that the Kurdish issue requires a non-military solution? To those who don’t fully understand what the city wars were all about, I think. That’s important to reflect on, because it can be directly connected to the new Turkish operations.
The city wars didn’t weaken the argument that the Kurdish issue necessitates a political solution at all – they strengthened it. The wars started because municipalities run by elected Kurdish officials declared themselves autonomous. Autonomy is the ultimate goal of the Kurdish movement, rooted in the internationally acknowledged right to self-determination. If the state ends the negotiation process and refuses to grant autonomy, the people will have to take it. PKK-affiliated youth were tasked with protecting the autonomy, just as the PKK, in some form or another, would have been made responsible for security in North-Kurdistan if the peace process would have been successful. That sounds incredible now, but it isn’t. The Turkish army is an occupation force in Kurdistan and a peace deal can only include the withdrawal of it.
Alive and kicking
The PKK wasn’t ‘beaten’ in the city wars, as the piece I linked to states. The battle was lost militarily, but the PKK is obviously alive and kicking, waging quite a resistance against the Turkish army as I write this column. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Turkey get what it wants to achieve with its continuing military operations and defeats the PKK militarily. Would that solve the problem? No, it would not. Just as the problems in Diyarbakır, Cizre, Şırnak and the other places where the city wars raged were not solved. The people have no local autonomy. They can’t even demonstrate without being attacked by Turkish security forces, they can’t educate their children in their mother tongue, they can’t be politically active without being detained, jailed and prosecuted.
‘Solving’ the Kurdish issue militarily, in other words, means the return to full oppression. That would include the very denial of the existence of Kurds, because you can’t give a few rights and not others. You allow people to live freely, or you don’t, there is no middle way. Or do you think that once the PKK is crushed, the Turkish state will give the Kurds all the rights they are fighting for? Of course not, because if the state was genuinely interested in that, they would set up a negotiating table and solved the problem.
Which completes the circle. There is no choice between a military or a political solution. There is either a solution, or repression. Those who see a military solution as a viable option, reveal themselves as siding with fascism.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan .