When this past June, Turkey held their parliamentary elections and the moderate pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) was elected to parliament for the first time, hopes for a more peaceful Turkish-Kurdish relationship were high. The peace negotiations made progress for over two years and the election showed that the population desired peace. A ceasefire, overseen by the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had guaranteed a base for peace talks and eventually a road map to an agreement was reached.
However, last month the war between the Turkish government forces and the PKK recommenced. Since late July, Turkish warplanes have been flying over Turkey’s east, targeting PKK bases. In response, the PKK has attacked Turkish security along the southeast. Over twenty Turkish security personnel have fallen victim to these PKK assaults and the violence continues to spread. While the military planes continue to strike PKK centres, a policeman was killed in Istanbul on August 10th in a bomb attack by Kurdish fighters. Shortly after, two Kurdish men opened fire on the American consulate in Istanbul.
This new outbreak of the conflict brings back memories of the brutal fighting between the Turkish army and the PKK in the 1990s. Ever since it first erupted in 1984, the conflict has caused over 30,000 deaths. More than 3,000 villages have been destroyed, yet no decisive military victory was won in over 30 years of fighting. Experts are certain that the renewed fighting will destroy more of the country, take more lives, and also not result in a decisive victor.
A consensus about why this conflict renewed does not exist. Even though it seemed to be on track to reach a peace agreement, both sides did not shy away or were hesitant about picking up weapons again. The Turkish government blames other countries for stirring up the conflict in hopes of destabilizing the country. However, the Kurdish side claims that the governing Justice and Development Party (AK) of President Recipe Erdogan relaunched the conflict in order to boost Turkish nationalist sentiment following a crushing setback during the June elections.
The question is how to move forward from the recent eruption of violence. Though the Turkish people voted moderate parties like the HDP into parliament, their operational room is highly limited because of this conflict. However, with every day peace is moving further away and the war is solidified. Every time a Kurdish person is detained in the south east of the country without trial the hatred towards the government is sparked. Similarly, every time a funeral of dead security personnel is broadcasted on Turkish national television, Turkish nationalist and anti-Kurdish sentiment grows. This continued polarization particularly affects young people that have grown up in a divided nation.
Yet, it is those young people that need to be called for to hold their government accountable. Turkish and Kurdish people alike have voted for peace, a continued diplomatic approach to the situation. It is time that both the government and the militant PKK realize that a solution will not be reached through weapons. Recent history has shown that this conflict can only end through a diplomatic approach.
The calls from society to lay down the weapons and find a peaceful solution have never been louder. It is important that in this critical situation the tension between the two sides is released. One step towards a peaceful resolution could be by letting international observers visit PKK prisoners. This way rumours about maltreatment could be eradicated. Also current talks between the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the AK could lead to increased influence of both moderate parties, the CHP and the HDP.
However, the biggest factor that gives hope is that it is evident that war is not the solution. Thus, if there is a way out of this critical situation that is peaceful, chances are high both sides will agree to the way. This way could only be an increased influence by the moderate parties. In order to allow that, the international community needs to pressure both sides to lay down their weapons and return to the negotiating table. If this does not happen, Turkey will sink back into a cruel war with no end in sight.