“Peace at home. Peace in the world.”
This was the infamous saying of Kemal Ataturk the founder of the Turkish Republic. His profound hypothesis has told no lies as Turkey has in recent times lived up to its Ottoman history and tried to broker peace wherever possible. Erdogan, supported by the Turkish people very publicly denounced Israel’s flotilla attack and subsequently threw its weight behind the Palestinian people and their infinite struggle for freedom. His speech at this year’s UN General Assembly in New York was evidence of such, to such an extent that the Palestinians of the Gaza and West Bank hold the Turkish flag with pride. His presence and stance signifies a return to the grandeur of the Ottoman Empire and with a growing economy and standard of living, Turkey has emerged as a key Muslim nation, representing the Palestinian cause and the cause of Muslims everywhere.
The events of Tuesday, however have changed this slightly and left a sour taste after a sweet embrace. The killing of 26 Turkish soldiers along the Iraqi border by the PKK is indicative of the Kurdish problem that won’t go away and testifies that the first part of Ataturk’s quote –” “Peace at home” has not yet been fulfilled and in fact has been ignored by this glorious nation to its own peril.
Since July of this year more than 50 Turks have been killed in Kurdish attacks against Turkey and a ceasefire at this stage seems unlikely. Erdogan has already cancelled his visit to Kazakhstan and has instructed that the Kurdish problem be handled with an iron fist –” increasing air strikes, intensification of drone attacks and the introduction of empowered police teams which is likely to increase human rights violations against Kurds as in the 1990s.
But is this the correct policy decision for a man who brought dignity back to foreign policy? A man who brokered peace deals with Pakistan, Israel, Syria and plays a key strategic role within NATO during the Arab Spring?
The Kurdish Gripe
The Kurdish population stands at nearly 20% of Turkey’s population. The Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party did relatively well in the state elections in June and due to the presence of Kurds in Turkish society, the ruling party –” The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has adopted Kurdish concerns to its own body of political policy. Due to their implementation there is now a state funded television channel broadcast in Kurdish as well as Kurdish language courses available for university students. They have even improved government investigation of human rights abuses against the Kurds in Turkey itself. So what do the Kurds want?
Just like the stories of self-determination that riddle the region, one can be forgiven for thinking that the Kurds want an autonomous state. In fact, most of them don’t. They only want the opportunity to practice their culture, religion and language without constraint. They want local political control, not independence and they want these rights to be codified and protected in the Turkish constitution.
This is definitely attainable and at a conference held in September of this year it did appear as though this was an amenable proposal to the government as well as various Kurdish factions.
The Arab Spring
However with the onset of the Arab spring and the power shift that has occurred in the region, the Turkish/Kurdish conflict has only been further complicated by extrinsic concerns. Turkey as a key NATO player has been assisting the US in pressurising President Assad of Syria to give in to his people’s demands and hand over power. Syria however has long been housing PKK rebels and has its own Kurdish minority. Syria has never awarded the Syrian Kurds equal rights to the rest of their population, but has still been favoured upon by the PKK as a hostile-free government to enable their attacks against Turkey.
The US has ignored the PKK demands and supported Turkey in her measures against them, given Turkey’s help with the Syrian problem. And Syria, upon experiencing Turkish hostility and support for the revolution has in turn stepped up its support for the PKK against Turkey. This explains why violence between Turkey and the PKK has been mounting in the last few months given the Syrian woes.
This power vacuum again exemplifies that the Arab Spring has effectively sidelined the issues of minority groups within the Arab states namely the Kurds and the Saharawis of the Western Sahara. However it also raises questions as to whether Erdogan can fulfil the responsibility given to him by justice and honour. After all Ataturk’s quote was not meant to be read as two alternatives –” “Peace at home” or Peace in the world”; but rather as a holistic instrument by which to rule –” peace at home amounts to peace in the world. This is the lesson Erdogan should learn from the Ottoman experience in order to capitalise on the noble status Turkey now holds in the global community.