The tragic earthquake in Van (a Turkish-controlled part of Kurdistan) has gripped headlines around the world this week, unsurprisingly considering that as of Monday night the death-toll stands at almost three hundred and the city has been brought to its knees in structural terms.
Yet whilst the international community is quite rightly according significant attention to the natural disaster and offering to support Turkish government’s genuinely admirable relief effort, little talk or action has been forthcoming with regards to the other (man-made) disaster in Kurdistan, currently being created by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration.
Through steadily ratcheting up the arbitrary detention of activists, shelling of towns and marginalisation of Kurds from the political arena, the Turkish Prime Minister had already brutally crushed hopes of a Kurdish Spring, further supressing those under his control, whilst pushing Kurdish communities across the Iraqi border towards humanitarian crisis. Then, last Wednesday, things took a further turn for the worse, following the abhorrent killing of twenty-six Turkish soldiers by Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) rebels – the worst such attack in several years.
In true retaliatory style, some ten thousand more Turkish troops, along with copious air support, were sent across the Iraqi border, killing forty-nine “suspected rebels” in their bases and further driving a further rift between ordinary Turks and Kurds.
The subsequent killing of another three Turkish soldiers is likely to continue this cyclical violence, fuelled further by large nationalistic rallies and provocative rhetoric by the authorities about forcing the PKK to “extinction”. Perhaps the most worrying development however, has been a new pact with the Iranian government to “totally eliminate” what they perceive to be a “common threat”. By politically aligning himself with a regime that is continuing to execute Kurds on trumped-up charges and confessions obtained through torture, Erdoğan has laid the clearest marker yet of his approach to the Kurdish people.
Of course, his authorities have every right to retaliate against the PKK violence, which though perhaps understandable to some is clearly unacceptable. However, Erdoğan and the powers-that-be in Ankara, are consistently discarding any sense of reason, choosing to shun inclusivity, dialogue and genuine overtures to the Kurds, in favour of isolation, extensive military force and alliances with a truly vile, abusive and anti-Kurdish neighbouring government. This simply increases resentment against the Turkish state, prolongs blood-shed and risks undermining the kind of credibility and conciliation that could have resulted from the excellent work of Turkish emergency services, military personnel and government departments in tackling the Van disaster.
Right now Kurds across the region are taking extraordinary and brave actions - such as joining the revolution against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and supporting Iraq’s beleaguered Christian community. Yet governments such as Iran’s, Turkey’s and Iraq’s continue to push them down- sustaining a racial injustice that has lasted for far too long.
Now is the time for Turkey to lead the way by changing course, breaking from the futile search for a military solution and tackling the route causes of Kurdish grievances. It won’t be an easy process, but it is the only way to stop the bloodshed once and for all.