Syria has virtually become a battleground over recent years with the rise of ISIS and the Syrian Civil War. Apparently more conflict is stirring in neighboring Turkey, which is a member of NATO. In Turkey’s southeastern province, the Kurdish minority is facing unprecedented occupation by Turkish forces. The same Kurds who have been very successful at fighting against ISIS in Syria. They specifically held the battle lines in Kobani while ISIS laid siege. However, recently, Turkey views the Kurds (Politically= Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK) as dangerous terrorists that are a direct threat to their nation. Turkey and the Kurds have been at odds for decades but after a brief and recent peace, bitter conflict has returned.
Conflict returned in 2015 because the Kurdish regions began to claim autonomy. Kurds followed the concept of democratic confederalism developed by jailed Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who promoted the autonomy of local communities and decentralization of the state. According to Joris Levering of Inter Press Service, “When towns and neighborhoods across the Kurdish regions of Turkey started declaring their autonomy in the wake of the re-escalated conflict, the Turkish state under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded by sending in the army and declaring dozens of so-called curfews that in practice amount to military sieges. Besides hundreds of casualties among the army and Kurdish militants, around two hundred civilians are believed to have been killed in the past six months.” The Kurds have been attempting to resolve the conflict diplomatically and have gained 10% of seats in the Turkish Parliament. However, they are being stonewalled and political leaders in the Kurdish regions have been arrested for supporting autonomy. President Erdogan warned that, “It should be known that we will bring the whole world down on those who seek to establish a state within a state under the name of autonomy and self-governance.”
Turkey views the Kurds as a direct threat to its territorial integrity and refuse to allow the country to be divided. They only want a pure Turkish population and require the Kurds to either assimilate fully into Turkish culture or else. The animosity between the Kurds and Turks began after WWI when the Ottoman Empire was broken up by Western treaties. The Treaty of Sevres promised an independent Kurdistan but the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne only created the modern nations of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. The Kurds were basically ignored and their freedom unaccounted for.
Turkey, to add insult to injury, basically banned the Kurdish culture which directly opposed the pure Turkish ideology. During the 1930’s, Turkey attempted to massacre and deport millions of Kurds. According to Cultural Survival, “In 1930 the Turkish Minister of Justice declared, I won’t hide my feelings. The Turk is the only lord, the only master of this country. Those who are not of pure Turkish origin will have only one right in Turkey: the right to be servants and slaves.” Obviously it seemed that there would be no middle ground to allow for peaceful negotiations. Anybody within Turkey that challenges the government in any way is arrested and sentenced from 5-15 years for subverting Turkish social and political foundations. Some were and are also subject to torture.
As mentioned by Cultural Survival, “Turkey is in clear violation of the UN declaration of human rights and the European convention of Human rights. As both a member of the UN and the Council of Europe, Turkey is supposed to respect the fundamental human rights of its minorities.” The Turkish officials are complete hypocrites for supporting human rights and being a key NATO ally, yet they are torturing and killing their own people. To be involved in multinational organizations, you have to respect everyone within and outside your borders and above all promote stability and cooperation. Turkey needs to be held accountable for their actions and the West needs to be more careful of who they choose as an ally. Yes, they are a strong, stable, friendly ally in the Middle East but perhaps that connection is doing more harm than good in matters of foreign policy. If the Kurds cannot acquire their own state, they should at least be granted additional rights that allow them to practice every aspect of their culture.