Death of Kurdish protestor adds fuel to Turkish fire
In last week’s column, the sensitivity of Turkey’s Kurdish peace process and the accompanying democratic initiative was highlighted with a warning that singlebullet can unravel months or years of gains.
The highly unfortunate death of Medeni Yildirim, caught up as protests in Lice near Diyarbakir against the building of a new Turkish military outpost grew violent, is just the kind of spark that can ignite greater strife.
As the recent Arab Spring has highlighted, youths spraying antigovernment graffiti, a man setting himself alight or local show of discontent, is all it takes to light the touch paper.
In a similar vein, Turkish antigovernment protests have slowly snowballed. The problem with such highly-publicized protests in front of thousands of international cameras is that the government has a small window of opportunity to respond delicately and swiftly. One wrong move, the slightest overreaction or use of force and the smallest of controversial political rhetoric and the situation quickly blossoms into an unmanageable crisis where even if the protests later die down, the government never comes out unscathed.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has enjoyed a decade in power and his achievements, widely acclaimed in Turkey and beyond, are in danger of been eroded.
A year ago, the long disenchant- ed and marginalized Kurds would have jumped at the opportunity to pour fuel on anti-government protests, a perennial role usually reserved for them. In a twist of irony, the Kurdish south east has been quiet whilst the west of the country has been embroiled in mass protests that have served to polarize and destabilize Turkey.
The Kurdish position is owed to renewed hope and expectation that the Kurdish conflict can be peacefully resolved and that Kurds can finally move away from playing second-fiddle under Turkey’s ultra nationalist foundations.
An encouraging and welcome sign was the protests and outcry that erupted amongst Turks in Istanbul in solidarity with the Kurds over the death of Medeni Yildirim.
The governments violent response in Lice and the growing Kurdish frustration with their lack of impetus in implementing legal steps and reform as part of the peace process, adds more pressure on the government.
The Kurdish south-east has been at its most peaceful in almost 3 decades. Recently, Erdogan was quick to emphasise that the peace process will not be affected by Gezi Park protests, and the two issues have been largely separated.
Managing ever rising expectations is a tough task. Although, many AKP initiatives in resolving the age old Kurdish dilemma were unprecedented, Kurdish expectations have outpaced the piece-meal nature of Turkish con- cessions.
A stone-throw away lays a prosperous, flourishing and autonomous Kurdistan Region. To the south, even their Syrian brethren are finally rid of the clutches of tyranny.
Why should the long supressed Turkish Kurds measuring such a large segment of society and in a country with EU aspirations and hailed for its democratic principles, continue to settle for less than their legal entitlement?
It is even more ironic that Turks in West of Turkey in living standards, economic conditions and social infrastructure far beyond those of the Kurds complain about the increasing authoritarian nature of Erdogan’s rule and anti-democratic measures.
Imagine the stance of the Kurds who have suffered greatly since the 1920’s under systematic repression, left to endure second class status and lacked at times even the basic of rights.
Perhaps the newfound and much welcome solidarity between Turks and Kurds is a reflection of that irony.
His image may be tarnished, but not all is lost for Erdogan and the AKP, who as much as the protests and media attention would suggest otherwise, still enjoy good support in Turkey and who can still ensure a successful implementation of the peace process.
However, the message is clear, act quickly, decisively and wholeheartedly, before an unstoppable whirlwind engulfs all of Turkey.