Talking a way out of chaos

THE MAIN IDEA of this blog is to highlight the comingling of cultures and peoples across Eurasia, and the creative tumult that said comingling spawns. There is little that could be called creative occurring at the moment, however. The tumult is of a decidedly nasty bent.

The journalist Christopher de Bellaigue described the Ottoman Anatolian heartlands as ‘chaotically cosmopolitan’, but at present a jaded observer may comment that there is not so much cosmopolitanism as unadorned chaos. Cases in point:

*a roadside bombing in Gaziantep kills nine including three children; variously blamed on the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), or the Syrian regime

*a re-energised PKK kidnapping a parliamentary deputy, Hüseyin Aygün, on the back roads around Tunceli, an audacious act, snatching a democratically elected official

*inter-communal violence during Ramazan as Alevis were targeted by the Sunni majority in Malatya

*Iran and Turkey at loggerheads over Syria, with some pundits claiming that the bombing in Gaziantep was a foreseeable consequence of Turkey’s meddling in Syrian affairs, the Assad regime using the PKK to strike back at Ankara.

*clashes between Kurds and police in Diyarbakir in July when a rally organised by the pro-Kurdish BDP was disrupted by police

*after some progress finally being made on the issue of the use of Kurdish names and language, a court in Diyarbakır banning, in July, the naming of a park after a Kurdish poet, as well as 19 other municipal parks with Kurdish names (who would’ve thought that dusty Diyarbakır has so many parks…)

There is a lot to be contested here: political agendas, nationalist agendas, issues of democracy and the rule of law, the clash of distinct chauvinisms, conflicting identities and conceptions of the ‘nation’. No doubt debate will rage now about how best to address a whole mess of interconnected issues that are generally lumped together as ‘the Kurdish issue’. There will certainly be those who beat the drums of war, proposing that a military response is the only way to deal with an emboldened PKK.

It’s pretty likely that in Ankara there are some who are kicking themselves that they didn’t capitalise on earlier opportunities to address Kurdish concerns and demands, when the ‘Kurdish opening’ was implemented and the PKK was less on the front foot. Turkish journalist Semih İdiz comments that had Turkey played its cards better earlier as regards its Kurdish population then recent developments in northern Syria, where Kurdish groups have gained control, would not have complicated matters to the extent that they have today.

But there will be those now who declare that any attempt at dialogue was misguided and doomed to failure – the current violence is proof enough – that making concessions on Kurdish demands for cultural and language rights is giving in to terrorists, that questioning notions of homogenous Turkishness is dishonouring the nation/founding fathers/those killed in the PKK insurgency. Pointing to ongoing clashes between the Turkish army and the PKK in the southeast, they will argue that the only way to defeat the PKK is to *defeat* it. One could counter these hawks by saying that the best way to honour the nation/founding fathers/those killed in the PKK insurgency would be to see that Turkey becomes a peaceful, prosperous nation, not one riven by ethnic tensions, insurgency and counter insurgency, not subject to martial law and military depredations.

Of course, nearly 30 years of military action has not defeated the PKK, nor has it allowed enough oxygen to dialogue or democratic initiatives or the will of the people to ensure that they have much impact, far less flourish. Even in the latest series of conflagrations, however, there is reason for hope. The PKK’s brazen kidnapping of Aygün was initially seen as something of a PR coup and taken as a measure of its authority and clout. But rather than cowing the people, the PKK’s actions – snatching an enormously popular figure in Tunceli – provoked outrage, and rather than enduring a long period of confinement, Aygün was released after only two days.

Did the mouse roar? Perhaps so. The Aygün episode may just be a sub-plot in a major drama, but it may have implications for the broader production. Perhaps this means that rather than just a two-way tussle (military vs. PKK), the contested Kurdish issue is seeing the entry of another player – the people – and perhaps now the people, for whom both military and the PKK have purported to act for three decades, are determined to have their say. If the people speak, a solution can be found, and a way out of chaos.

Perhaps the (figurative) gypsy will play, and the Kurd(s) will dance, yet…

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