December 21, 2007

Turkey, US, and the PKK - By Amed Demirhan

The conflict between the Worker’s Party of Kurdistan (Partiya Karkere Kurdistan - PKK) and Turkey is very complex and now involves the United States (US) government again.  However, negative US involvement in this conflict – by tacitly permitting Turkish military incursions in violation of international law - only will hurt US interests in the region.  To understand the consequences of this involvement, one has to look to the nature of the conflict in comparison to other civil wars.

In August 15, 1984, the PKK resorted to armed struggle against the Republic of Turkey, which has denied the existence of the Kurdish people/nation and their rights since its inception.  The PKK became very popular in a short time period, despite its awkward ideology and negative outlook toward Kurdish culture, tradition, and history. The Turkish regime’s brutality and oppression was fundamental to the PKK’s popularity. Shortly after armed conflict started two major Turkish writers, the late left-of-center Ugur Mumcu, and right-of-center Nazli Ilicak, offered a potential solution to dealing with the PKK. In the Turkish dailies “Cumhurriyet” and “Tercuman”, they argued that Turkey had to learn to live with the PKK like the ETA in Spain and the IRA in Northern Ireland.  Since then, many Turkish writers and politicians have repeated this idea, using it in both the positive and negative sense.  It is very nice that they think in those terms but the facts show otherwise. A comparison of these three conflicts and others will shed light on their applicability to the PKK issue.

In terms of the severity of the conflict, the ETA-Spanish case is insignificant. In Spain armed conflict started in 1968 and until 2002, resulted in the deaths of more than 800 people (1). In Northern Ireland, from 1969 to 1998, the conflict resulted in the deaths of 3,600 of which a majority were civilians, and more than 30,000 civilian injured.  The number of wounded civilians is 830 percent of the fatalities.  The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was responsible for 59 percent of the deaths, while the Loyalist paramilitary (Pro British) was responsible for 28 percent and the security forces only 11 percent.

In contrast, the severity of the conflict between PKK and Turkey is much greater.  From 1984 to June 2007, 37,979 people were killed.  The number of wounded soldiers and state supporters was 13,327 while the number of wounded civilians was 7,620.  In other words, wounded civilians were about 20 percent of the fatalities. Security forces were responsible for killing 26,128 PKK fighters and followers, or 68.8 percent of the total.  The PKK was responsible for 11,851 or 31.2 percent of the fatalities according to the Turkish state (3). Additionally, in the 1990s about 20,000 civilians were killed by so-called ‘unknown assailants’ even though several Turkish parliamentarian commissions blamed state sponsored gangs for these deaths.  This data shows no similarity between UK and Turkey while in UK security forces were only responsible for 11% in Turkey they are responsible for 68.8%. At the same time despite all grievances of Northern Ireland Basque Countries there is no comparison Kurdish people condition under Turkish regime.

However, other conflicts are more similar to the PKK and Turkish case in regard to the nature of internal conflict.(4)  The number of displaced people in Iraq (under Saddam) was 4.4%, Bosnia Herzegovina 5.8%, Turkey 5.3%, Rwanda 5.4%, and Angola 4.7 %.  During the same period Turkey was placed in the same category with these countries regarding freedom of the press, according “Freedom House” criteria.

This data reveals the problems with the American intervention in the PKK conflict and its relationship with Turkey.  Turkish state behavior is not much different than the former Yugoslavia, Saddam’s Iraq, and Rwanda, and certainly has nothing in common with Britain and Spain regarding treatment of citizens or handling domestic conflict. In Bosnia, Rwanda, and Iraq, the international community had to interfere against state actors on behalf of oppressed minorities to solve the problem. This has not been the case in Turkey. 

Declaring the PKK as its enemy and allowing Turkey to violate Iraqi sovereignty in order to restore its deteriorating relationship with Turkey will only hurt American interests in the long term.  Turkey has proved many times to be ideologically incompetent, and unable to play a constructive role in the region, or solve its domestic problems as I wrote in one of my recent article. (5)  Therefore, Turkey and the US do not have any serious common ground of friendship in the region. Turkish bombing will not accomplished has not accomplished any thing but all ready hurting America.

Amed Demirhan, University Librarian and writer

Hawler (Erbil) The Federal Region of Kurdistan, Iraq

  • 2Fitzduff , Mari and O’Hagan, Liam INCORE[1]  (200) “ The Northern Ireland Troubles: INCORE background paper” The Northern Ireland conflict, (documented by CAIN (Conflict Archive on the Internet). Colasan, Emin “Kuzey Iraq Harekati” Hurriyet  06/22/2007
  • 4Smith, Dan “The State of War and Peace Atlas” P.26 Pub.  1997, London.


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