ISTANBUL.Last Tuesday when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s car approached the Turkish Prime Ministry in Ankara, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was waiting ready for him on the pedestrian walk-way. As Mr. Maliki stepped out of his car, the two kissed each other three times on the cheek, like buddies, with a hug and a smile. The picture was perfect but the talks produced the same old dead-end result: the Iraqi side insists on not recognizing the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization.
According to Turkish media, Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government spokesman Jalal Abdollah says Iraq does not have the right to call the PKK a terrorist organization. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, however, took a new angle: “[W]hat’s heartening about this is that this is now Turkey and Iraq directly engaging on the issue of fighting the PKK at the highest levels… So [it is] a very, very positive step.” The problem is that they don’t agree on what they are fighting against and the State Department does not seem willing to ask the Kurds to respect its list of terrorist organizations. In this spirit, the memorandum of understanding — signed by Mr. Maliki and Mr. Erdogan — to combat the PKK makes no sense.
Turkey’s allies may admit that the PKK is a terrorist organization, but in practice, they hardly treat them as such. Whatever Mr. McCormack’s positive spin on last week’s meeting about the PKK and counterterrorism talks between Turkey and Iraq, the latter has taken over the role formerly played by Syria — to provide safe heaven for PKK’s leaders and members, allowing them to intervene in Turkey’s domestic politics. Conspicuously, Iraq remains under U.S. occupation and Iraqi Kurdistan is the least problematic part.
Finally, taking into consideration the threats of Turkish operations into Iraqi Kurdistan and calls for care in dealing with Kirkuk, two facts must be underlined. First, Turkey has not — yet — launched an offensive into Iraqi Kurdistan; therefore all the rumors and accusations are baseless. Second, Turkey is not the only party warning the United States to pay attention to how it handles Kirkuk’s future status. Turkey just seems easy to accuse because it worries about the Kurdish nationalism.
Evidently, Turks and Kurds seem to have given each other a second and last chance to stay united under one flag. As much as the Iraqi occupation complicated the Kurdish dilemma in the region, Turkish politicians should not hide behind easy excuses. Here is one example in this complicated issue that could have been dealt with better.
Ahmet Turk, the chair of the Kurdish nationalist Democratic Society Party’s (DTP) group in parliament, is a Kurd by ethnicity, even though his name is “Turk.” His grandfather took that last name to symbolize the idea that Kurds have no problem being part of the Turkish nation. His brother served in the Republican People’s Party (CHP) — today’s secular opposition — for many years before he was murdered. Then Mr. Turk became a CHP deputy.
After the 1980 military coup, the name Republican People’s Party and the abbreviation CHP were banned from use and the party started to operate as Social Democratic People’s Party (SHP). In 1989, when the Kurdish Institute in Paris invited SHP deputies to a conference on the centuries-old plight of Kurds in the Middle East, the party declined.
However, Mr. Turk and seven Kurdish members of his party attended. Yet they did not speak. Therefore, party chairman Erdal Inonu decided to give them only disciplinary punishment for violating a party decision. Deniz Baykal, who is now chairman of the party, favored their expulsion — and won. Those who attended the Kurdish conference in Paris were expelled, and their hurt and isolation fueled the creation of the first Kurdish nationalist political party in Turkey: the People’s Labor Party (HEP).
When the Turkish Parliament convened to be sworn in, Turk and his party members approached Devlet Bahceli and the members of his Turkish nationalist party (MHP) to shake their hands. Mr. Bahceli shook Mr. Turk’s hand without hesitation. Mr. Baykal, however, refused to shake Mr. Turk’s hand. Mr. Baykal is still convinced that he did the right thing by expelling them from the party. Yet if they were not expelled, would Turkey’s Kurdish dilemma be the same? Mr. Baykal needs to be put on the spot for his contribution to the Kurdish entanglement.
So far, Mr. Turk has proven that he has grown humble in his political struggle, and tries to bring people together. However, he, like the Iraqi Kurdish leadership, falls short of calling the PKK a terrorist organization. When Mr. Bahceli said he would not extend his hand to DTP if they remain attached to the PKK, he sent a message that his party would not support violence. Only time will tell what will happen.
One thing is clear. This parliament will either prove that the Turkish nation finally feels confident on its own, regardless of its ethnic and religious differences, or it will take the country into dark chaos. In the meantime, if Iraqi Kurdish leaders and the United States continue not to act against PKK terrorism, they will hamper DTP’s opportunity to create a positive atmosphere to open public debate and seek real solutions on some very difficult topics.
Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.