Militarily the war is unwinnable, so politics are vital. Esen Uslu calls for Öcalan’s line to be continued
As readers will have heard, on November 12 a bomb exploded in the middle of İstiklal Avenue - the main pedestrianised area of old Istanbul - killing six people. The alleged culprit and her cohorts were arrested by the police the same night.
Minister of interior Süleyman Soylu went into a harangue praising the quick and decisive action of the police and stating that the alleged culprit was a Syrian trained by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Syria who recently infiltrated into Turkey. He claimed the bombing was ordered by the high command of the PKK based in the Qandil mountains in Iraq.
However, the evidence so far does not bear out the story as told by the minister, who is renowned for being economical with the truth; and the PKK denied any responsibility, stating that it did not “target civilians”. So the allegations did nothing but raise expectations of an oncoming onslaught on Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq. Even the US consul in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, issued a warning 24 hours before an impending attack.
A tweet by Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed former leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), summed up the sentiments felt by many after the bombing, who believed that the attack was carried out by forces other than the PKK:
They would kill innocent people by planting a bomb in İstiklal through a dirty scheme. They would brand those who question the truth hidden behind this brutal terror attack as supporters of terrorism in order to muzzle them. Usurping the pain and ire created by the massacre of our brothers and sisters at İstiklal, they would rain down bombs on Kurds. Calling this dirty scenario ‘defence of motherland’, they would attempt to gather votes by whipping up nationalist sentiments, and hooking up the befuddled opposition to their tail.
They would brand those who do not support the war as traitors. Put your hands on your hearts and tell the truth, for god’s sake: that is the reality, isn’t it? Is it that difficult to resolve this simple, but pathetic riddle?
We would neither sacrifice Turks for Kurds nor Kurds for Turks, we would not surrender to the politics of dirty war. We would hold out our hands to be a society of peace, fraternity, dignity and welfare. Is it too difficult to shout ‘Long live peace’? Despite all the injustices and persecution, we shout it; don’t be afraid, join the outcry: ‘No to war’!
The expected onslaught on Kurdistan started with a massive aerial attack, where aircraft, including UAVs, and ballistic missiles were used against 80-odd targets, including the border town of Kobane in Syria, where Syrian soldiers as well as Kurdish fighters were killed.
The Kurds replied with a couple of small-scale rocket attacks on border posts and another aerial bombardment was unleashed. What is more, president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan raised the spectre of a land assault along the border - the only section of the Syrian border not occupied is the area protected by Russian or US soldiers as per the agreement reached. However, Kobane has remained a thorn in the flesh of the Syrian regime and, using this bombing as a pretext, it is now aiming to re-occupy the area.
In a recent meeting between Erdoğan and US president Joe Biden during the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, it seems that a tacit understanding was reached for Turkey to be able to use US-controlled areas to carry out attacks.
As a result of all this, in Turkey everybody is holding their breath and awaiting what the next day will bring. Meanwhile the six-party opposition grouping has proved loyal to the nationalist, anti-Kurd politics of the Erdoğan regime, while Erdoğan himself has been quick to invite individuals from other parties into his own coalition to drive yet another wedge into the opposition bloc.
What I have reported so far is quite plain to see, even from articles available in the liberal international media. However, there is another worrying aspect to this whole development.
Within the Kurdish freedom movement, guerrillas have had great prestige and have tended to dominate civilian politics. And the prestige of founder and former leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, has been paramount despite the fact that he has been in jail since 1999. By and large his approach has been accepted as the path to follow. He argued that the Turkish army could not uproot the guerrillas, but neither could the guerrillas defeat the army, so it was a dynamic stalemate, and a new approach had to be tried, giving more priority to civilian democratic struggle and cooperation with Turkish progressive forces. That line eventually produced a one-sided declaration of ceasefire.
His main disciple and practitioner of this political line was former HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş, and the successful campaign for a negotiated settlement managed to attain widespread support. However, it seems that a different trend within the guerrilla movement has developed since then. An attack in southern Turkey on a police compound in September by two female fighters, who killed themselves by detonating explosives immediately afterwards, was a clear indication that Öcalan’s line and consequently Demirtaş’s position in politics are no longer upheld by the guerrilla command.
When Demirtaş condemned the attack, he received a severe rebuttal in a declaration issued by the obscure PKK command centre. That declaration seemed to mark a turning point in the stated aims of the guerrillas, who are expected to increase their armed attacks within Turkey. It was based on a narrow, militaristic outlook, and failed to take the actual political situation or the possibility of civilian struggles into account. In a way it is ‘whistling in the dark’, as it speaks of victory being ‘within reach’. It fails to evaluate the line adopted during the 2015 military campaign, which led to the devastation of Kurdish city centres, and instead seems to accept those defeats as actual stepping stones towards the latest campaign. It totally misjudges the political situation in Turkey, assuming the defeat of the AKP government at the next election is a done deal, which will produce some form of regime change. The İstiklal bombing came after this declaration.
In the muddy politics of the Middle East everything is possible, and the Kurdish freedom movement has so far managed to sidestep most of the traps set for it. Let us hope that it will be able to do so once more - otherwise not only a military setback, but outright political defeat is waiting. Let us hope that the Öcalan line is once more upheld by the movement, and that Demirtaş is not shunned.