Erdogan’s aggression against Turkey’s Kurds

Mehmet Kaya, president of a Diyarbakir think-tank, the Tigris Communal Research Center (DITAM), has spent the past nine days in New York and Washington DC, detailing Ankara’s violent repression of Turkey’s Kurdish community.

WASHINGTON, United States (Kurdistan24) - Mehmet Kaya, president of a Diyarbakir think-tank, the Tigris Communal Research Center (DITAM), has spent the past nine days in New York and Washington DC, detailing Ankara’s violent repression of Turkey’s Kurdish community.

Kaya also expressed his high regard for the President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani. Kaya explained that Barzani “prompts confidence in the international arena,” while “most Kurds trust him.”

The National Democratic Institute invited Kaya and other members of DITAM to Washington. In this, their first official visit, the group met with the State Department’s Director of Turkish Affairs and addressed several think tanks in the city.

At a reception sponsored by the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN) on Friday, Kaya stated that the main aim of their visit had been “to break the cycle of indifference” that the US has shown toward Turkey’s Kurds.

In Turkey’s June 2015 elections, Kaya explained, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed to secure a majority. Rather than establish a coalition government, Erdogan called for new elections. To bolster his support among Turks and, thereby, secure a majority in those elections, Erdogan resumed the conflict with the PKK (People’s Workers Party).

And it worked. By polarizing the society through such violence, Erdogan increased his vote and won an absolute majority in the November 2015 elections.

Yet as a consequence of the fighting, Turkey’s Kurds have suffered grievously.

Hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed, while tens of thousands have been displaced. Half of Diyarbakir’s historic district of Sur has been destroyed. Some 30,000 people have been displaced, and there is a city-wide effort to house and feed those who are now homeless. Similar destruction has been inflicted on the Kurdish cities of Nusaybin, Silopi, and Sirnak.

Kurdistan24 asked Kaya why Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was continuing to assault the Kurds in such a brutal fashion. Kaya explained that Erdogan’s underlying motive was to mobilize Turkish nationalists behind him in order to secure the presidential system that he wants so much to establish.

Another Turkish Kurd criticized the PKK for falling into the trap that Erdogan had set for them, when the conflict resumed last summer. The PKK had not expected Ankara to respond to its limited violence with the full military might of its armed forces: tanks, airplanes and helicopters.

Of course, that merely raises the question: just what did the PKK leadership think?

Kaya felt that he had received a sympathetic hearing in Washington, including from the State Department. The basic problem was the conflict in Syria and Iraq. The US and Europe feel that they need Turkey to cope with the refugee crisis, as well as to fight the Islamic State. So they turn a blind eye to Erdogan’s egregious human rights abuses.

According to AKIN’s head, Kani Xulam, Turkey’s Kurds have little problem meeting with US officials. Last December, when Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the HDP (People’s Democratic Party), first visited Washington as head of a Turkish parliamentary party, he met Anthony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State.

Xulam joked, “They didn’t have to go to a coffee shop,” alluding to an incident in February 1991, when no State Department official would meet senior Iraqi Kurdish leaders—Jalal Talabani, Hoshyar Zebari, and Sami Abdul Rahman—in the building itself.

After his talk, Kaya spoke informally to a small group of people. In the course of the discussion, he described the extremely positive part that President Barzani is playing, not just in the Kurdistan Region, but also more broadly in the greater region. “History is pushing him to play a larger role, not just in Iraqi Kurdistan, but toward a bigger role” in unifying the Kurdish people.

The DITAM president explained that for the Kurds in each of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, there were really three choices: autonomy, federation, or statehood.

“Iraqi Kurds are ripest for statehood,” he noted. “They can be a role model for the rest of the Kurds.”

Kaya said that Barzani voices some important concerns. “The YPG (People’s Protection Units) and PKK need to learn to accommodate other Kurdish views.”

Pressed about the ties between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Ankara, Kaya responded, “Masoud Barzani is in a tight spot. He has to deal with Turkey. He also deals with Kurds. He does this in a diplomatic way.”

Kaya added, “Barzani is dealing with Erdogan, not at the expense of the Kurds, but for the good of the Kurds. He has no other choice. What would you do, if you were in his place?”

An Iranian Kurd with significant experience in international organizations concurred, “Given the complexity of the international environment, Masoud Barzani has really demonstrated great leadership.”

Kaya suggested that given his ties with both Ankara and Turkey’s Kurds, “Barzani could be an intermediary, if he wanted.”


Laurie Ann Mylroie, Ph.D., taught at Harvard University and the US Naval War College. Most recently, she served as a cultural advisor to the US military in Afghanistan.


Editing by Delovan Barwari