Time for Kurds to Plan for Autonomy
It is no secret that Kurds have been working towards self-rule for decades now. Iraqi Kurds gained autonomy in 1992 after the U.S. implemented a no-fly zone during the first Gulf War. Syrian Kurds are also carving out their historical territories in northern Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011. Sykes-Picot is slowly but surely fading; world powers U.S. and Russia are scrambling to maintain influence. While the international community is occupied with Kurdish referendum calls, in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Rojava gaining broader support in Syria, Erdogan has quietly upped his aggression towards the Kurds in Turkey.
A fully independent Kurdistan, encompassing all four regions (Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran) is a complex undertaking, one that will be gradual and will take shape in a domino effect. The KRG will be first to gain independence from Iraq, following the battle to liberate Mosul from ISIS. Kurds in Syria have already declared a federal state called Rojava (West-Kurdistan) and are determined to follow through despite Ankara’s objection. Turkey’s Kurds must follow suit and prepare for self-rule.
There are 20 million Kurds in Turkey alone, mostly living in the south-east region, the inevitable divorce is in the making, all thanks to Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish state has not treated its Kurdish minority as equals ever since the creation of the republic in 1923. For nearly a century, the Kurds in Turkey have suffered under numerous regimes and military campaigns, recent events against elected Kurdish officials has only added fuel to the fire and triggered anger across the country.
Erdogan will not allow Kurds to live in peace unless they submit wholeheartedly to the Turkish nation. Kurds have attempted to approach the Turkish state through armed struggle and through nonviolent means, and both have failed. The question is, will the Kurds continue to live under fire or will they take action the way their counterparts did in Iraq and Syria?
It is obvious that the authoritarian regime of Erdogan is many more steps ahead of the Kurds. Realizing that Kurds in Syria are gaining ground, he has quietly attempted to block any sort of unification with the Kurds in Turkey by building a 560-mile long concrete wall bordering Rojava. The wall is estimated to be completed within five months. Erdogan has used the guise that the “security wall” is to prevent terrorists from spilling over into Turkey. Furthermore, he has continued to bombard the YPG Kurds, a U.S. ally in Syria. Turkey’s involvement in Syria is also increasing under “Operation Euphrates Shield” which is aimed at preventing the unification of the Kurdish-controlled cantons of Jazira, Afrin, and Kobane by forcing the YPG to move west of the Euphrates River.
Just a few days before the early morning purge against the democratically elected pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party or HDP, a Turkish court prevented co-chair of the HDP Figen Yuksekdag from traveling abroad. Turkish news Anadolu agency stated that the court decided Yuksekdag was a "flight risk" and had links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey views as a terrorist organization. Figen Yuksekdag is now in prison, as is the other co-chair Selahattin Demirtas. The illegal detainment of Kurdish MPs was followed by the replacement of elected Kurdish administrators in the south-east with unelected Turkish appointed ones.
To make matters worse, Erdogan is working towards reinstating capital punishment, something the EU is strongly against. The death penalty was abolished in 2003 two years before Turkey began the process of joining the 28-nation bloc. Erdogan has urged the Turkish parliament to move forward with the bill announcing he “believes the government will pass it with the right decision.” If the parliament does go through with the decision, the accession talks with the EU would end. Capital punishment in Turkey is aimed towards the Kurds, squashing any hope of Kurdish aspirations for self-rule by instilling fear among the population. It would not be surprising if in the near future the detained Kurdish MPs face the death penalty.
Lastly, Erdogan is demanding that Turkey move towards an executive presidency system in order gain greater control. Since 1982, the office of the president in Turkey holds only symbolic powers, which exempts him from political responsibility, giving greater control to the prime minster. This was one of the main reasons why former PM Ahmet Davutoglu was replaced with Binali Yildirim in early 2016 -- because his views aligned much better with Erdogan. Erdogan also realizes that a Turkey within the European Union would mean more restrictions on his position. Greater decision-making power would allow him to bypass the restraints he currently faces to go after the Kurds.
Erdogan is clearly laying the groundwork to make it much easier to target those who mention desires for any sort of self-rule. Before it is too late, Kurds in Turkey must work to implement autonomous zones in the east. This comes with its own difficulties and will require the assistance of Rojava and the KRG, mainly from pro-PKK Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Turkey’s democracy has not progressed since its founding, and the Kurds inside the country have been held hostage. The Kurds in Turkey should act now before Erdogan becomes the sultan he believes he is.