There is no doubt that the decades-old PKK insurgency has led to destruction and bloodshed in Turkey, none more so than within the Kurdish region itself. However, after decades of conflict and suffering, a true end to the insurgency needs a multi-pronged political and social approach by the government as much as continued military operations. Some of the roots of the PKK conflict lie in the regrettable discriminate policies of former governments in Turkey. While Kurds and Turks have lived side-by-side peacefully for hundreds of years and have been part of a common social fabric, past policies have alienated Kurds.
However, this hardly means that the PKK is a true representative of Kurds or that Kurds condone the bloody insurgency that has blighted Kurdish areas and overshadowed the need for development of the impoverished Kurdish region. As a significant group in the wider region, Kurds are a diverse population across the Middle East. The PKK, in terms of ideology and methods, is not and never has been representative of all parts of the Kurdish divide, let alone the Kurds in Turkey.
In fact, the Kurdish government in northern Iraq – the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – and generally, the local population there, has not tolerated the presence of the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan. Strong strategic, political and economic relations between the KRG and Turkey have looked beyond the narrow prism of Turkey's struggle against the PKK.
To serve and further their own agendas, regional and foreign actors often exploited the PKK in the past, with Kurds suffering the most as a result.
In Syria, there are dozens of Kurdish political groups, many of whom that are not aligned to the dominant political party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) or its People's Protection Units (YPG) forces, which are extensions of the PKK. Yet, without a wider outreach to the Kurdish spectrum in Syria, the empowering of other Kurdish parties as well as other Kurdish military forces to dilute any PYD or YPG hegemony, Turkish military action in Syria risks adding to claims by the YPG that they are the defenders of Kurdish rights. It will also add to the view that Turkey is against Kurdish rights and political gains in Syria.
In Turkey, the Kurdish position has taken tremendous strides since 2002 under the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) spearheaded by first prime minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The implementation of many historic reforms in comparison to the policies of before heralded a welcome and unprecedented chapter in Turkey.
There are dozens of Kurdish AK Party deputies in Parliament today and there are hundreds of Kurdish mayors. There are ministers in the Cabinet of Kurdish origin. Elections in recent years have shown that the AK Party retains a significant Kurdish constituency that has proven pivotal to the party's success in recent years.
This simple facts are enough to highlight that Kurds do not see the PKK as their sole representatives.
However, it is far from a finished job when it comes government policies on the Kurdish population. Without other approaches to deal with the PKK and dilute any appeal of such organizations, there is a danger that some government actions inadvertently serve the PKK camp.
Many Kurds are stuck between the PKK methods they reject and harsh government policies. These Kurds have become somewhat stuck in the middle. In fact, the people who suffer the most under the government fight against the PKK are the local Kurdish population, with the PKK insurgency leading to the loss of thousands of lives and destruction of infrastructure. This alone highlights why the PKK does not serve the general interests of the local population.
More importantly, the longer any insurgency endures, the more those vital resources are lost to rebuilding the disadvantaged region and improving the local economy.
Kurds are allowed the right of representation in Turkey today. However, the fight against the PKK has created a nationalist stigma against Kurds. Clearly, one should be able to express or support one's Kurdish identity without any fear accusations of affiliations to violent groups such as the PKK.
Evidently, the decades of Turkey's fight against the PKK has served no side, and is rather a cycle of violence. As many examples have shown, the military option alone is not enough to end an insurgency. With every drop of blood spilled on either side, the cycle of violence is merely fueled further. Unfortunately, those who suffer the most are ordinary civilians who aside from being a minority, want to live in peace and brotherhood and believe in political means to achieve their objectives.With vital elections around the corner in Turkey, Kurdish votes for the AK Party remain as important to securing victory as the conservative Muslim or nationalist base.
*Middle East Analyst