After the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) governments had enlarged the space of freedom of social groups one by one through a series of democratic reforms, the Kurdish issue continued to remain as one of the few major problems in the country. Although the process of democratization had its repercussions in the daily lives of Kurdish citizens in southeastern Anatolia, 30 years of terrorist activities together with the state's harsh counteractive measures turned the resolution of the long-standing Kurdish issue into one of the greatest challenges facing the AK Party government.
While maintaining the process of Turkey's candidacy to the EU, the AK Party government struggled to integrate almost all of the formerly-excluded social groups into the common denominator of Turkey's citizenship. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's acknowledgment of the Kurdish issue while prime minister in his seminal speech in Diyarbakır, the abolishment of the state of emergency along with laws that restricted citizens' fundamental rights and freedoms in the region, the enactment of homecoming laws backed up by economic aid for Kurdish peasants who were forcefully removed from their hometowns and villages and the introduction of large construction projects in the region, which had severely been neglected in terms of economic investments for a decade, were the foundations on the path toward an ultimate resolution of the Kurdish question. In such a process of recovery, the difference between Turkey's eastern and western regions, that is, between Diyarbakır and İzmir, had gradually begun to diminish in terms of state practices. All these positive developments prompted Erdoğan to take an even greater step, that is, the ultimate resolution of the Kurdish question.
Erdoğan, in line with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), President Masoud Barzani, and the PKK's imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, set forth a significant scheme of resolution concerned not only with southeastern Anatolia, but with the region as a whole. There were two fundamental emphases in the framework of this scheme. First, the PKK would either disarm itself or leave the country as soon as possible, and second, the rights and freedoms related to Kurdish identity, primarily the right to education in one's mother tongue and all the rights deriving from true constitutional citizenship, would be provided. Thus, the major democratic demands of Kurdish people were addressed in general. It is due to this that unlike the past 30 years, the PKK could not have blamed the state with usurping a political and social right in its re-launching of terrorist activities. Instead, its main argument was restricted to the construction of military infrastructure in the region.
The first step of the reconciliation process – the PKK's disarmament – has never been realized. As negotiations were carried out behind closed doors, the PKK struggled to delay with various excuses keeping its promise to disarm itself or to leave the country. During the negotiations, the government took the conductors of the process under its protection against the law. In a similar vein, as opposed to past experiences, in order to prevent any attack on retreating terrorists, the order for opening fire was taken from the military and given to the governors. These acts aimed at securing the reconciliation process and ensuring the PKK's retreat.
By stating in their public discourse that although the reconciliation process must go on, international conjecture has changed in favor of the Kurds, officials from both the PKK and Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) prevented the disarmament of the PKK, while the latter continued to strengthen its influence in the region through repression by abusing the state's promise of non-aggression. In this respect, it is remarkable that the PKK decided to further penetrate the region not through democratic channels, but with aggrandizing its threats to the people in the region.
The PKK's grand error was, in this respect, exaggerated self-confidence derived from regional developments. Its rationale was manifested in the idea that since they are now fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), have a state structure in Syria and since the HDP received six million votes, it could easily launch a revolutionary people's movement in the region as a whole. Turkey's waging war against ISIS and the improvement of regional cooperation between Turkey and the U.S. discredited the PKK's thesis in the international arena while re-launching terrorist activities, which would harm none but the Kurds themselves, severely decreased its popularity among the Kurdish public. Attempting to overcome all these problems by blaming Erdoğan, the leadership of both the PKK and the HDP did not realize the change of regional conjecture since the last general elections. At present, the state with its 30-year experience fighting the PKK has succeeded in setting the balance between freedom and security.
In brief, the PKK unconsciously realized a suicide attempt. It is now seen that re-launching terrorist activities has no longer any moral foundation, not only for the Turkish public, but also for Kurds in the region who now refuse to participate in any demonstrations called by the PKK.
About the author
İhsan Aktaş is Chairman of the Board of GENAR Research Company. He is an academic at the Department of Communication at Istanbul Medipol University.