To this day, Kurdish identity in Turkeyremainsuncertain and a breeding ground for turmoil.The issue dates back to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in1923.SucceedingtheBalfour Declaration, together with the treaties of Sèvres and Lausanne,Mustafa Kemal Atatürk came to political prominence and established the modern Turkish republic.
The armed conflict ensued whenKurdishnationalist insurgent groups began to retaliate against Turkish authoritarianism virtue of greater cultural and political autonomy.The Turks were repulsed by such attempts. Driven by Pan-Turkism and Pan-Turanism, they responded with an iron fist and aggressively denied them the right to exist as their equal. In 1925 Mustafa İsmetİnönü—Atatürk's close friend and Turkey's president from 1938 to 1950 stated:“Our duty is to make Turks out of all the non-Turks within the Turkish country, no matter what. We will cut out and throw away any element that will oppose Turks and Turkishness.”
Two basic tenets of freedom were denied in Turkey throughout the Atatürk era, religion and the tolerance of a non-native populace; hence, the neglect of Kurdish identity.Any attempt to antagonize the militaristic Turkish constitution in that respect was faced with severe punishments including execution. This pushed the Kurds to rise up against Atatürk and his policies and fight for their civil and political liberties. Expectedly, these attempts were suppressed by imprisonment, execution or banishment of the responsible activists and their leaders.Kurdish revolutionary, Sheikh Saidis a case in point, he was captured in 1925 and executed alongside his supporters after an attempted rebellion.
The struggle remained for more than eighty years, during which, no official recognition of the Kurds was permitted, completely depriving them of their national and human rights. Moreover, religious restrictions meant that young veiled women were deprived of their right to wear a headscarf.Such practices prevailed until the emergence of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)that sought the establishment of an independent Marxist-Leninist state in the region, known as Kurdistan.
The PKK was founded in 1978in the village of Fisby a group of Kurdish students headed by Abdullah Öcalan, a Kurdish nationalist leader. Öcalanwas arrested in 1999 by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT) with support of the CIA in Nairobi, he was thereafter deported back to Turkey and sentenced to death under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code, which stipulated that “Any person who carries out any action intended to destroy the unity of the Turkish state or separate any part of the territory shall be punishable by death.” However, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey abolished the death penalty in an attempt to better the odds of being granted membership to the European Union.
AKP's perspective the Kurdish issue:
The Justice and Development Party (AKP), is a conservative political party that was founded in 2001.The party was developed from the concept of moderate Islamism. It is the largest in Turkey and has held a majority of seats for 13 years.
The AKP strived to implement social reform apropos of national racism and sensitivity towards blood and ethnicity across Turkey. Its vision is based on the recognition of pluralism, equality and libertarianism—in accordance with international, cultural and religious charters.AKP's leaders held great discernment towards the Kurdish conflict acknowledged it as political injustice and approached the divide as a collective Turkish and Kurdish problem rather than an independent one.
Throughout Turkish history, the only government that tried to put an end to the national Kurdish conflict was the AKP Government by seeking to implement civil political methods.Despite facing various obstacles, the AKP managed to achieve positive end results. Three main tools were used to deal with the situation:
- 1) Recognition: The AKP reinforced the ideology of cultural pluralism with all its compositions, by accepting differences in language, ethnicity and religion, in addition to legal and cultural doctrines. The AKP acknowledged the Kurdish people as a distinct ethnic group with equal rights. AhmetDavutoglustipulatesas part of his political philosophy that intellectualism reinforces the recognition of Kurdish nationalism.Not to mention that the first to refer to Kurdistan as an individual state was Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Diyarbakir, his declaration was made concurrently with the failure of Kemalism—the founding ideology of the Republic of Turkey—and the downfall of Atatürk's extremist Republican People’s Party.
- 2) Acknowledgment of national and cultural liberties: Accepting another culture entails opening the way for engagement in practices pertinent to its existence and identity. This was shown when a new Kurdish channel was permitted to air on live television, and again, through decriminalizing the teaching and learning of the Kurdish language in schools. It is evident that the AKP has chosen the favourable approach towards harmonising the two cultures, albeit there is still a lack of freedoms as such.
- 3) Constitutional reform: The root causeofTurkey'spolitical crisis stems directly fromitsConstitution of 1921, which allowed the army to interfere leading to the suppression of human The AKP encouraged constitutional revisions, allowing for better correlation with 20th-century principles on a par with Islamic values. Furthermore, the government used its negotiations with the EU as an opportunity to adjust cultural and national liberties within the country. An illustration of such amendments has have been shown by accepting the dictation of an indictment to the accused in the Kurdish language, and as such, their right to plead in Kurdish.Although it may seem futile in contrast with the past, this was marked as a milestone for progress. For instance, Leyla Zana who reportedly identified herself as a Kurd was sentenced to 15 years for"separatist speech".At her inauguration as an MP in 1991, she took the oath of loyalty in Turkish as required by the law and then added in Kurdish "I have completed this formality under duress. I shall struggle so that the Kurdish and Turkish peoples may live together in a democratic framework." In response, Parliament erupted claiming her to be a "Separatist", a "Terrorist" and demands were made to ''arrest her''.Similarly, the chairman of the Turkish Human Rights AssociationAkin Bridal was imprisoned in 2000 under Article 312 for a speech in which he called for "peace and understanding" between the Kurds and the Turks. He was then forced to resign from his post, as the Law on association forbids individuals who breach it from serving as association officials. These cases in point further highlight the evident discrimination of rights underAtatürk's rule and emphasize the importance of constitutional reform which has been initiated by the Justice and Development party in 2010throughits endeavours towards enhancing stability and citizenship rights.
A declaration of the law allowing defendants to plead and hear the indictment in Kurdish during court trials was made on the 24th of January 2012. And in April 2012, a law concerning the trial of terrorist organization members—such as PKK members—was introduced.These initiatives by the AKPwere the first on the path towards establishing a legal ground for peaceful negotiations with the Kurdish Gunmen in July 2014.
Moreover, the Turkish government took further action with reference to the urbanisation and infrastructure of Kurdish zones, located in south-East Anatolia. Paying more attention to their basic needs was influential in changing the image of the Turkish Government in the eyes of the Kurdish people. In 2010 DjalalTalibani, an Iraqi Kurdish politician who served as President of Iraq from 2005 to 2014, stated that in merely eight years, the Justice and Development Party was able to provide more services to the Kurdish region than its predecessors managed to in eight decades.
The AKP and its value to the Kurdish people:
The Justice and Development Party is an indirect evolvement of the Turkish Islamist trend; and as such, plays a significant role for the Kurds due to two main factors: 1) the Kurds are conservative Muslims; hence, their ideas similarly oriented to the Turks. 2) Kurdish people welcomed the peaceful compromise, considering that they have been in dire straits for years on end. Enduringendlessethnic discrimination, social deprivation and constant persecution urged them to leap at the opportunity of drifting away from wars, conspiracies and struggle.
The AKP Government's peaceful approach towards the Kurdish conflict was welcomed by the Kurds in Turkey with open arms and found further support by the Kurds of the Iraqi-Kurdistan region alike.