Peace journalism and Turkey’s anti-Kurdish rhetoric


The Kurdish question has once again been re-visited after Turkey launched “Operation Claw-Eagle” as part of its ongoing struggle with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). However, airstrikes are targeting areas in the Kurdistan Region like the Makhmour refugee camp, the Sinjar Mountains, and areas in Duhok province, which are home to refugees and civilians. Most political commentary on this conflict is done through the fold of “war journalism” where gatekeepers focus on official sources rather than the grassroots. States that have allegiances to Ankara continue to spread the Erdogan narrative that there is no solution to the PKK’s violence. When this form of coverage is common it makes it sensible to wage war on “terrorism.”

Since the 1974 formation, PKK objectives have evolved from wanting complete independence to staying with the central government in Turkey, similar to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) relationship with Iraq. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has allowed structural and cultural violence to prevail for the 10 to 15 million Kurds in Turkey.

Structurally, Kurdish media outlets have been shut down and journalists, academics, and political activists have been detained. As of 2019, 10 parliamentarians who belong to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) – including former co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş – and 46 co-mayors remain in prison. Moreover, access to education in the mother tongue and the right to wear traditional attire is prohibited. This culture of oppression and forceful assimilation makes no other avenue of political expression accessible.

The issue is not that Ankara has never engaged in cooperation, it is the attitude and hesitancy to keep negotiations going in the long-term. Firstly, Ankara has failed to distinguish between so-called “terrorist” groups like the PKK and legitimate actors like the HDP who work peacefully within the political arena. Although the PKK and HDP share common goals and organizational associations, this does not mean they share the same vision. Criminalizing the non-violent wing leaves no negotiating partner.

Turkey has an equitable and legitimate demand for strong national security; however, there needs to be a real attempt to normalize the Kurdish question. Ankara is neither accepting of the militant nature of the PKK, yet elevates and negotiates with its leaders, nor is it willing to work with peaceful, elected Kurdish officials. As of 2015, attempts to cooperate with the PKK seem systematically timed with general elections and this begs the question if negotiations are a mere media parade.

It becomes convincing to argue that a huge anti-Kurdish rhetoric exists in Ankara toward the Kurdistan Region which is independent of the PKK or HDP. Turkey shared a strong relationship with the KRG before the September 2017 independence referendum which called for independence from Iraq. After the referendum, Ankara went to all efforts to de-legitimize the votes. Ties between the two governments eventually improved in the months that followed.

For the Kurds, however, it feels like genocide is constant. There is barely time to recover from one trauma to the next. The Dersim genocide (1937), the Anfal campaigns (1986), the Halabja genocide (1988), the Yezidi genocide (2014), or Rojava (2019). These are all examples of the tragedy Kurds have suffered.

History has frequently revealed that generations have been uncritical of the antics and manipulations of these perpetrators. Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic was able to wage war on Muslim Bosnians through the use of “Christoslvisim,” which manipulated culture and history by using the story of the martyred Prince Lazar (1389) as a Christ figure and Slavic Muslims as “Christ-killers.” The Turkish government’s neo-Ottomanism uses religion to further nationalist sentiments by creating the idea that the true Turkish identity is associated with Islam. The AKP’s definition of “the People,” as expressed in Erdogan’s Yeni Türkiye, excludes the Kurds entirely.

Halima Galali was born in London and comes from a Kurdish background. She studies Politics and International Relations at the University of SOAS and is interested in furthering her career in Middle Eastern studies. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany