How to overcome the Kobani tension

Published 15.10.2014 02:23

There is visible tension in Turkish society and it has become rather dangerous. Ever since the Kobani fighting reached a critical point and the HDP made an appeal for the Kurds of Turkey to congregate in public places, the situation has got out of hand. Almost three days of riots, concentrated in the southeastern cities of Turkey but encompassing big cities like Istanbul, have left more than 30 dead, and hundreds of people injured. Massive arrests have also taken place.

Contrary to previous developments in Turkey, this time the casualties resulted mainly from infighting among civilian protesters. Not that the security forces were out of the game, but they suffered heavy casualties (two high ranking police officers killed, one seriously injured). Moreover, the PKK, whose responsibility has been outlined both by the government and independent observers, seems to have very different and contradicting views concerning popular manifestations. The leader of the PKK armed forces in Qandil, Cemil Bayık has declared that all armed militants who had previously left Turkey have been sent back. At the same time, the killing of three policemen in Bingöl has been depicted as a "gross provocation" by the same PKK.

In fact, no one exactly knows how to handle the situation. The government was not expecting such an outburst of violence. The PKK and the Kurdish political movements were not expecting such a "counter uprising" against the Kurdish demonstrators. Abdullah Öcalan, in his prison, was not expecting to play such an instrumental role in extinguishing the uprising by making public a letter he wrote himself. Out of this maelstrom of political pressures, some conclusions can be drawn: First, Turkey, the U.S. and EU are getting closer to a common position through mutual concessions. The U.S. is close to accepting the idea of a secure zone within Syria, where democratic forces against Assad will have a training ground, while Turkey has just accepted the use of the İncirlik Base for air raids in Syria against ISIS.

The bad news is that so many interrogations and hesitations on the part of every local and international actor has already exacerbated the tension and hatred at home. A deeply jingoistic and racist discourse is emerging in the social and mass media. The existence of a huge refugee population, who are already in a precarious position, is adding to the existing increase of social tension. On top of that, European public opinion is fed daily with information depicting Turkey as a wrongdoer for not militarily helping the people fighting in Kobani. Turkey demanded that the PYD fighters join the ranks of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) against the Assad regime, which it has no intention of doing so. Until now, the PYD has been quite content in its relationship with Damascus; Bashar Assad seems hardly bothered by the possibility of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria and is more concerned with retaining a hold on power. Through the terrible fight in Kobani, some fighting units of the FSA are also believed to have entered the fighting alongside the PYD, but this is not dependable information. Anyhow, the situation in northern Syria does not owe anything to Turkish politics, but is described as such, basically to make you forget the criminal wait-and-see policy Western countries have employed for the last three years.

The Turkish government has opted for strong condemnation and a threatening position vis-à-vis the social uprising and vandalism, which perhaps will get out into the daily agenda of international developments. Anyhow, nothing for the time being is done to defuse the tension, and that might become problematic.

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