What is happening in Kurdistan Now?

The Kurdish people are indigenous to the Middle East region. They form the 4th largest ethnic group of the region and are also the world’s largest ethnic group without their own state. They are mostly Sunni Muslims and the estimated 30 million Kurds live mainly in mountainous region of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Some Kurds are migrated to cities such as Istanbul, Tehran and Damascus and assimilated with other people.

During the 20th century, new nation-states were formed in the Middle East region with disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. Since then the Kurds are facing large scale marginalisation particularly in Turkey and Iraq. This had led to their demand for greater autonomy and full independence.

What is the issue of Kurds in Turkey?

The Kurds are the largest minority people in Turkey. Initially, Turkey tried to suppress them with the hope that they will integrate with rest of the population over a period of time. However, it was resisted by the Kurds in the form of sporadic revolts in the early years. In late 1970s, with formation of Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), the resistance became an armed separatist movement. With capturing of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader in 1999, both sides started looking for a settlement. The Turks have liberalised their cultural policies, while the PKK withdrew separatist movement in favour of more autonomy. In 2013, Abdullah Ocalan released a ceasefire letter calling for ending to armed struggle. Since then a peace process was under way.

What is happening now?

The peace process between the Turks and the Kurds was disturbed with new developments in the region.

Firstly, the conflicts in Syria and Iraq had resulted in strengthening of the Kurdish communities in both countries. In Iraq, the Kurdish community achieved nearly complete independence with Bagdad losing its control. The Syrian Kurds, who are allied to PKK, also become independent. The Turkey feared about strengthening of the Kurds in Turkey same as in Syria and Iraq.

Secondly, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans to perpetuate his rule in Turkey by bringing a presidential rule was failed. Victory of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the main legal Kurdish party, in the general elections of June 2015, prevented Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) achieving an absolute majority in the Parliament. Erdogan started accusing the HDP having links with the PKK.

These developments along with Turkey’s increased involvement in the Syrian conflict have complicated the situation. When Turkey joined with coalition forces fight in Syria in 2015, it supported rebels for fighting against Syrian government. At the same time, in spite of raising concerns by the Western forces, Turkey ignored the growth of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)in its territory as they are waging jihad war against Syria. Reports showed that many airstrikes in Syria by Turkey were actually hit the Kurdish ground forces, who are regarded as an effective force for fighting Islamic State (IS). Turkey’s policy was to play the Kurds against ISIL, in the hope that they will cancel each other out. But the plan was failed. Since last few months ISIL has started targeting citizens of Turkey. It carried out attacks against foreign tourists in Istanbul. But despite the growing threat from ISIL, the Turkish government’s main focus is on supressing Kurdish separatists.

All these developments in the region show that the demand of Kurds for greater autonomy may not be realized in the near future.

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