Kurds, minorities deserve to live in peace in Turkey

The region has discovered that ever-increasing levels of authoritarianism do not deliver peace.

By Ronay Bakan

Published: Mon 24 Dec 2018, 7:17 PM

Last updated: Mon 24 Dec 2018, 9:19 PM

In 2015, the rising of Rojava, a Kurdish region in Northern Syria, as an autonomous region escalated tensions between Turkey and the Kurdish national movement, in the context of rising authoritarianism. Kurds represent about 13 per cent of Turkey's population and the ruling government perceives such prospective autonomy within and alongside its border as a threat. The region has discovered that ever-increasing levels of authoritarianism do not deliver peace.
A ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurdish PKK rebels had been in place in 2013, with a peace deal near completion. After 2014, however, the civil war in Syria and Kurds rising as important actors in that country aggravated tensions and contributed to rising authoritarianism in Turkey. When the Turkish government ended the peace process in 2015, the military wing of the PKK movement called for autonomous self-rule declarations in the Kurdish region, soon adopted by neighborhood associations, pro-Kurdish political parties and local residents.
The central government of Turkey refused to recognise the self-rule declarations, and the militias started to bear arms and prepare a defense. In response, the central government-imposed curfews in the urban centres, resulting in violent confrontation between the central state and PKK in Suriçi, Nusaybin, Cizre and others. The 2016 report on urban warfare in Suriçi by HDP, the pro-minority Peoples' Democratic Party, detailed human-rights violations including incursions into homes, torture and maltreatment, particularly after the June 2015 national election, and suggested that these also contributed to the declarations of autonomy.
Starting from August 16, 2015, the state officially declared curfews at least 63 times for either a single day or an indefinite period in various communities in the Kurdish region, according to the Human Rights Association of Turkey. The curfews prohibited movement in more than 30 neighborhoods and towns, also preventing evacuation of the residents caught between the so-called security operations. An estimated 2,000 people died. The number of displaced people ranged from 355,000 to 500,000 according to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights.
The emergence of urban warfare must be contextualised within Turkey's growing political and economic instability since 2015. The urban clashes combined with a failed coup attempt in July 2016, creating an environment in which the AKP government declared emergency rule for two years.   
To prevent internal conflict and restore economic and social stability, Turkey must transform in two ways as recommended by analysts and scholars:
First, the Turkish state must take necessary institutional steps to create more democratic and inclusionary space for all citizens - including the 72 per cent who are ethnic Turks, the 13 per cent who are Kurds and the 15 per cent who represent other minority groups. This requires addressing the demands of minorities through institutional means rather than military intervention. Restoration of democratic public spaces  could allow for peaceful resolution of the most radical demands and would go a long way in preventing conflicts.
Second, Turkey must reconsider organisation of operations for some services. There are various ways to operationalise the state apparatus, from highly decentralised to highly centralised. Turkey is an example of a highly centralised state. The country provides critical services such as health and education from the centre, with exclusive use of Turkish language, criticised by minorities. The central government could delegate some responsibilities to local government.  
The central state also has significant power over the local governance and municipalities. Since 2011, the Peace and Solidarity Party has urged more regional autonomy and recognition of the reality of various ethnic identities in Turkey as a roadmap to democracy. Thus, a critical policy intervention would include reconstructing governance mechanisms and delegating select responsibilities to local governance while encouraging participation of local residents. By decentralising the state and increasing participatory democracy, Turkey would recognise the ethnic and cultural differences of its citizens by engaging with them and listening to their demands. This model of governance would prevent ethnic conflict and stabilising Turkey.
-Yale Global
Ronay Bakan is a Fox International Fellow at Yale's MacMillan Center

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