Jun 21, 2011

AK Party won, now Kurds win; here’s why

The Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) landslide victory by almost 50 percent of the vote once more raises the long-standing Kurdish question.
Cities in Turkey’s Southeast, which are mostly inhabited by Kurds, sent a clear message to the victorious prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, by mainly voting for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Even though the AK Party secured around 30 seats in predominantly Kurdish cities, close to the BDP’s 36 seats, this result is still considered a weak performance by the AK Party compared to previous results, especially in the conservative city of Diyarbakır, the biggest in the Southeast. However, expectations are high for solving the Kurdish issue through a reform of the Constitution and economic benefits for the region.
The AK Party government started a so-called “democratization process,” which mainly was an opening process toward Kurds and other minorities through raising democratic standards. During the AK Party era ascendant steps have been taken; yet many more steps should follow for a radical solution of the decades-long Kurdish issue. Undoubtedly, the prime minister’s steps paved the way for Kurdish rights — reflected in liberal policies and infrastructure improvement in Kurdish cities. However, when some bigoted nationalists tried to provoke the process, Prime Minister Erdoğan pushed to halt the process.
After the AK Party’s historic victory, some real challenges face Erdoğan — especially preparing a new constitution. The Kurdish issue is expected to top the agenda, and this issue will collide with Turkish nationalists’ fierce rejection. Yet, we should be sanguine about expectations on the Kurdish question because during his nine years of rule, Erdoğan has proceeded with some resolute steps with unprecedented fortitude such as liberalizing policies and opening a round-the-clock Kurdish TV channel. The new AK Party-led government is trying to solve the most sensitive issue in modern Turkish history gradually and smoothly. Any provocation may get Turkish nationalists angry, aggravate the situation and lead to a stalemate. Additionally, despite all the challenging obstacles, there are signals for a more Kurdish-friendly constitution to end the bloody conflict in southeastern Turkey. Below, I will present short and simple but realistic reasons why I’m optimistic about the AK Party’s solution for the Kurdish question.
At the top of Erdoğan’s agenda for the next period is the new, promised civilian constitution. The most challenging matter to tackle is clearly going to be the Kurdish question — the issue Mr. Erdoğan always wanted to see addressed peacefully. Kurds will get their cultural and political rights with the new constitution. Mr. Erdoğan promised to write a more democratic and liberal constitution — and Kurds are going to be the main beneficiaries of this. Also, there will be exclusive and radical changes in the new constitution for the sake of Kurds and other minorities. The first beneficiaries of individual rights are going to be Kurds and other minorities. However, that’s not going to threaten Turkey’s unity because when Kurdish citizens feel they are equal with Turks and other citizens, they will be proud of their citizenship. Furthermore, as Turkish President Abdullah Gül has indicated on many occasions, diversity is a source of a richer Turkey and not vice versa; that’s what Turkish nationalists, if they really love Turkey, should understand — a more diverse Turkey means a richer Turkey. Moreover, Mr. Erdoğan’s plan for 2023 is very hard to achieve without Kurds because Kurds comprise at least 20 percent of Turkey’s population. So Mr. Erdoğan should consider Kurds as an important factor for his 2023 plan, and he has already done so. Mr. Erdoğan in his campaign rally in Ankara announced his plan for Diyarbakır, which will make this city a financial and tourism hub. Changing the constitution and implementing the “AK Party’s 2023 vision” will solve all political, cultural and economic issues.
These two radical reasons along with what was achieved previously through the “democratization process” and the AK Party leadership’s desire for a solution will put an end to the Kurdish issue, but the road won’t be straightforward, especially given the ultranationalists’ attempts to create problems along the way and depict the matter as grim or a taboo subject that will ruin Turkey’s national unity. However, in the end, wisdom, moderation and tolerance will win, and Mr. Erdoğan’s strong will will gently do away with the hurdles. The pro-Kurdish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-backed BDP should also avoid provocative methods that might gridlock the bleeding wound or damage all the steps that have been taken so far; if not, the BDP will only have itself to blame.

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Jun 5, 2011

Republic of Kurdistan; The first glimmer of hope that demised early

Kurds in 1920 were nearest to statehood than ever as outcome of the Treaty of Sevres. It envisaged interim autonomy for the predominantly Kurdish areas in Turkey and the British-occupied province of Mosul (current Iraqi Kurdistan area). But, the possibility for such a state never occurred, since Kemal Ataturk renounce submission at Sevres. He started a revolution against the Christian forces and drove them out. Then, Kurdistan became four parts. The dream of independent Kurdistan dramatically demised, and the inception of brutal suppression employed. One of four parts of Kurdistan consist modern Iran. Although government of Iran hasn’t implemented same level of brutality as its counterpart in Turkey, yet, it has always been opposed any suggestion of Kurdish separation. Iran has had greater reasons than Turkey to oppose such a step, because it has had more large minorities such as Arabs and Azeries. From the beginning, Iranian authorities allowed Kurds to use their own language and express their culture openly. It’s noteworthy to say, however, that Kurds are around 10 percent of Iran’s population, less than other large minorities such as Turkics and Baluchies. Unlike Turkey and Iraq, however, Kurd’s land in Iran has less demographic share. Kurds in all four parts have almost no vital activity for independence that might be because of brutal suppression of central governments. At the late of 1930s and the beginning of 1940s, affected by European antinationalism, nationalist Kurds emerged. At the beginning of 1940, nationalism beside communism became a favorable common ideology.
As a result of World War two in late August 1941, British troops occupied southern part of Iran, with the Soviets controlling the north. The aim of the occupation was to dislodge Shah of Iran who the Allies forces suspected would turn his pro-German sympathy into Military Corporation. There was no Iranian government at that time. In the absence of a Central government, the Soviets tried to attach northwestern of Iran to the Soviet Union. City of Mahabad which mostly inhabited by Kurds wasn’t occupied by any of the forces that led to vacuum of power. Soviet promoted nationalism amongst Kurds. These factors made Kurds think about self-governing for Kurds within the Iranian state. In 1942, as a result of vacuum of power, a committee supported by tribal leaders took control over the administration of the city. Later at that year, a nationalist political party formed, called the Society for the Revival of Kurdistan (its Kurdish original name was, Komalay Jiyanaway Kurdistan or JK). Qazi Muhammad, member of a respected family in Mahabad elected as the chief of the new party. The party was under Soviet influence, but not control. Then, however, before the declaration of Kurdistan republic, the party elected a committee that started administering the area. The JK’s administration was successful for over five years until the fall of the republic. In 1945, the Kurdistan Democratic Party had started; all member of JK joined the new party. The new party asked for autonomy for Kurds whining the Iranian state not an independent one, Kurdish as an official language and asked for democracy in local administration. Generally, Soviet’s attitude toward Kurdish administration was ambivalent, and they didn’t support it clearly. Kurdish successful administration under Qazi Muhammad’s rule enhanced every aspect in the people’s life in this area.

In September 1945, Qzi Muhammad and other Kurdish leaders visited Soviet’s consul in Tabrez to seek for a new Kurdish republic, and they went to Azerbaijan for the same purpose. There they found that Azerbaijan’s Democratic Party is seeking a republic in Iranian Azerbaijan. On December 10, Azerbaijan’s Democratic Party took control over the East Azerbaijan province from Iranian troops and declared a republic; likewise, Qazi Muhammad decided to take the same step. After five days, on December 15, Kurdish people’s government was found in Mahabad. On January 22, 1946, Qazi Muhammad proclaimed the republic of Kurdistan in Mahabad. According to the republic’s Manifesto, they aimed to gain autonomy from Kurds inside the Iranian state, Kurdish become an official language in the area, electing locals to all official positions and unity and fraternity with Azerbaijanis. The republic was never seeking for independence out of Iranian limits. They aimed to gain autonomy and self-governing whining Iran. Kurdish printing spread throughout the area and a lot of publication were printing in the republic. That boosted the education and printing media in the area. Economically, even though, Soviet hadn’t done much to support Kurdistan republic in Mahabad, but it had an important rule in protecting the borders of the republic from Iranian forces’ intervention. Also as a kind of encouragement for the new-born republic, Soviet was buying the whole of the tobacco that was producing from that area. But regarding the military corporation, Soviet, neither did train the Kurdish republic’s fighters nor did supply them by weapons.

On March 26, 1946, under the pressure of Western powers especially United States, the soviets pledged the Iranian government to withdraw from northern Iran. This step was the beginning of the end of both Mahabad and Azerbaijan republics. Firstly, in June, Iranian forces re-controlled the Iranian Azerbaijan. That was slow killing for Kurdistan republic of Mahabad. The republic isolated from all sides, eventually led to destruction of first and only Kurdish republic in the modern history. The main reason behind the republic’s destruction is clear, Soviet withdrawal from northern Iran, but there are some internal reasons as well. The Kurdistan republic hasn’t had a strong army. General Mustafa Barzani was the commander-in-chief in the republic’s government, but he didn’t have strong enough army to protect the republic from Iranian threats. The army was formed from voluntarily non-trained fighters. Another reason of Kurdistan republic’s collapse is tribal disagreements, a problem that all Kurdish movements suffered from throughout the history. During the republic’s governing, tribal chiefs didn’t help the republic because of their relation with the central government. Ironically, tribal leaders helped the Iranian forces to topple the Kurdistan republic in Mahabad that’s despite, they were Kurds. Tribal chiefs support for Iranian government instead of Kurdistan republic was disenchantment and fatal for the republic in the military aspect.

Diplomatically, likewise all other Kurdish movements, the Kurdistan republic’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party failed to gain support from superpowers. Although Soviet, one of the main powers at that time encouraged the foundation of Kurdistan republic, but when western powers pressed on it to pull out from Iran, it never thought about Kurdish and Azerbaijani republics because they never had a strategic alliance. Also, western powers especially United States did support Iranian government precisely because they didn’t have other choices. Kurds took Soviet’s side; they never attempted to gain western sympathy. There was a possibility of Western power’s support for Kurdish state if they asked their support; because of one reason which is they weren’t Iranian alliance either. Qazi Muhammad and other republic leaders’ insist of relations with Soviet led to republic’s demise. Some may say politics is like a card sometime the winds mayn’t blow in your favor, but the problem in republic’s case is they even didn’t pick a card to test their chance. The absence of accurate diplomatic skills together with tribal chiefs’ embroiled in fighting with their brothers led to Kurdistan republic’s demise.

The foundation of Kurdistan republic in Mahabad, first and only Kurdish republic in modern history, led to a crackdown aftermath. But it hasn’t finished the glimmer of hope in Kurdistan. General Mustafa Barzani after fleeing to Soviet for eleven twelve years, returned to Iraqi Kurdistan in 1958. Barzani started a new struggle for Kurdistan’s independence but this time in Iraqi part of Kurdistan. He gave another hope for Kurdish statehood. Also, in Kurdistan of Turkey the struggle started more actively in the wake of Kurdistan republic’s destruction. Iraqi Kurdistan liberated and gained self-governing with all other aims of Kurdistan republic in Mahanad. No one can deny military struggle’s role in the autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan, but diplomatic struggle also had a vital role. Kurdish movement was sending representative to United States, western powerful countries, even to Israel to gain their support for Kurdish autonomy because they knew that they can’t achieved just by military struggle. The lake of diplomacy in other parts of Kurdistan halt their hope of self-governing. The quake of Kurdistan republic’s demise still affecting Kurds in Iran, they should wake and never lose hope, especially while the region live Arab nation’s uprising against their autocratic leaders. Kurds can invest this opportunity to gain more and more right to live in long awaited prosperous life. Moreover, the only reason that collapsed all Kurdish struggle toward self-governing is differences, so the unity and fraternity of all political parties is the guarantee of any future hope for Kurdish statehood.

* studying politics and International Relations at University of Kurdistan – Hawler(UKH)

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