19 March 2016, a bloody suicide bombing referred to Isil, hit the popular Istiklal Street in central Istanbul’s Taksim square area, leaving on the ground at least five people while 36 were injured.
14 March 2016, another suicide bombing in Ankara, this time charged on TAK (Kurdistan Freedom Hawks) a break-away faction of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party).
Turkey is dealing today with many problematic situations outside its boundaries: war against Isil in Syria, broken relationship with Russia, Refugees from Syria on which it made an agreement with the European Union. The big long-standing issue inside the country is Kurds. The Kurdish question has been unresolved since the end of World War One and the dissolution of the Ottoman empire. Kurds, as we know, don’t have an own state and are living in different but also neighbouring countries where they are fighting their governments in order to achieve independence or at least some kind of autonomy or representation in Parliament.
The situation in Turkey is complicated because Kurds are divided in moderates, the HDP which gained 59 seats in the last elections, and the militant PKK. After many years of troubles and struggles the Turkish government appeared to be arriving to a peaceful relationship with PKK , but two years ago the relationship got worse and now PKK is banned again. Not to be underestimated is the relationship between Turkey and Kurds in the other countries. Turkey blamed Kurds in Syria but has good relations with Kurds in Iraq.
But who are the Kurds?
Kurds are between 25 and 35 million of people, the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle east without a State. After World War One and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire there was the idea to create an independent Kurdistan but this hope died with the Treaty of Lausanne which set the boundaries of modern Turkey and left Kurds with minority status in the countries where they lived and still live today, mainly in south-eastern Turkey, north-eastern Syria, northern Iraq, north-western Iran and south-western Armenia. We have to consider also the Kurd diaspora outside middle east, millions of people escaped from war and persecutions.
There is deep-seated hostility between the Turkish state and the country’s Kurds, who constitute 15% to 20% of the population.
Kurds received harsh treatment at the hands of the Turkish authorities for generations. In response to uprisings in the 1920s and 1930s, many Kurds were resettled, Kurdish names and costumes were banned, the use of the Kurdish language was restricted and even the existence of a Kurdish ethnic identity was denied, with people designated “Mountain Turks”.
In 1978, Abdullah Ocalan established the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which called for an independent state within Turkey. Six years later, the group began an armed struggle. Since then, more than 40,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. In the 1990s the PKK reduced its demand for independence, calling instead for greater cultural and political autonomy, but continued to fight. In 2012, the government and PKK began peace talks and the following year a ceasefire was agreed, although clashes continued.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been a thorn in Turkey’s side for decades.
The ceasefire collapsed in July 2015, days after a suicide bombing blamed on IS killed 33 young activists in the mainly Kurdish town of Suruc, near the Syrian border. The PKK responded by attacking Turkish soldiers and police, and the Turkish government launched what it called a “synchronised war on terror” against the PKK and IS. Since then, hundreds of people have been killed in clashes in south-eastern Turkey and in air strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq.
PKK is considered a outlaw organization from the Turkey government and western countries too. Moreover the Turkey’s government says the Syria YPG (People’s Protection Units) and the Syria PYD ( Democratic Union Party) are affiliates of the PKK, share its goal of secession through armed struggle, and are all terrorist organizations.
Not to forget the TAK, a Kurdish militant group which has claimed responsibility for the bombing in the Turkish capital of Ankara that killed 28 people, according to a statement on its website. The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) said the bombing was in response to security operations in the predominantly Kurdish south-east, and that attacks would continue. TAK was once linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers party (PKK). Some Turkish officials allege that TAK still acts as a militant front of the PKK, but TAK says the relationship has been severed. Like PKK, TAK is considered terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.
TAK has previously claimed responsibility for several assaults that left an aircraft cleaner dead. In 2012 the group attacked a Turkish military bus and killed two soldiers and injured 12 people in a coastal resort town. Other notable attacks include the June 2010 bombing of a bus carrying military personnel in Istanbul that killed three people and a September 2011 explosion in central Ankara, where three people were killed and 34 others wounded.
Kurds in Turkish government, the elections of June and November and the People’s Democratic party (HDP).
HPD is often described as Turkey’s answer to Greece’s Syriza and Spain’s Podemos, this democratic-socialist party stood for the first time as a party in June with promises to drive forward the Kurdish peace process and end ethnic, religious and gender discrimination. With a programme focused on minority rights, the rights of women and LGBTs (lesbian gay bisexual and transgender), it was founded in 2012 and led by chairman Selahattin Demirtaş and chairwoman Figen Yüksekdag. Before winning 80 seats in June, the HDP’s MPs stood as independent candidates since Turkey’s election threshold of 10% only applies to political parties. It is the only political party in Turkey that has a 50% women quota. The HDP describes itself as an environmentalist and anti-capitalist party that opposes nuclear power and vows to improve workers’ rights.
Maria Maddalena Vanzin