The Kurdish Question Returns

As things are America doesn’t want to or cannot do away with terror groups. Obama’s war against Islamic State seems to be heading towards a stalemate. Nor is Turkey, America’s NATO partner, willing to see Kurds win the day in Kobani which might further readicalise the Kurdish question in the region. Obama and his coalition of reactionary Arab states are more interested in dislodging Assad in Syria. They are seriously trying to roll back the gains made by the Islamic State in Iraq while allowing Kurds to continue the war on ground.

In Turkey Kurds had been a persecuted minority for long. Even to speak Kurdish language for a Kurd was a punishable offence in Turkey. And the plight of the Kurdish population in Turkey was once vividly exposed by the noted film maker Yilmiz Guney who was himself forced to flee Turkey in the face of police hunt.

No doubt the situation has changed a bit for the better as Kurds in today’s Turkey have some rights. Trukey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has granted over the past decade some cultural rights to Kurds. In Turkey it’s no longer illegal to call oneself a Kurd or to refer to a space called Kurdistan. A limited number of Kurdish-language TV stations have been issued broadcasting licences and economically Kurds in the south eastern Turkey are in a better position today because of ‘development projects’.

Kobani was surrounded on three sides, with the only safe route in or out being north to Turkey. But the Turkish army had sealed the border. The city's defenders, a local Syrian Kurdish militia, the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party, begged for international assistance. When US bombings and supply drops finally helped push back the Islamic State's advance, the Kurds were saved from a likely massacre.

Turkey experienced years of political violence after a peace process with its Kurdish minority collapsed in 1993. Radical leftists, mostly Kurds sympathetic to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (the PKK), battled ultranationalist Turks and Islamists calling themselves the Turkish Hezbollah. The government of the day, heavily influenced by the military, was suspected of manipulating the Islamists and nationalists in an attempt to crush the PKK-led insurgency.

Those were dark days. Thousands of Kurds died and hundreds of thousands were displaced after the military razed as many as 3,000 southeastern villages suspected of supporting the PKK.

Now, history appears to be repeating itself. Another Kurdish peace process is on the verge of collapse. The Turkish Hezbollah is back, reinvigorated by what they view as an Islamic revival in Syria and Iraq, as well as the conservative proclivities of the current Turkish government. But Kobani has re-energized Turkey's radical left as well inspired by the Democratic Union Party, which announced last September that it would be setting up the perfect socialist society in Kobani. Once again, the government is reaching out to ultra-nationalists to counter them. And Islamic State fighters know well how to handle the contradiction of Kurds with the Turkish government.

No doubt, Kurdish desire for ethnic and cultural self-determination has been reawakened by events in Syria. But this is oversimplification. The escalating conflict has more to do with political ideology - a radical socialism at odds with Turkey's burgeoning capitalist project and the Islamist-rooted government leading it.

Now, that revolutionary project has found its historic moment: the Arab Spring. In the predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood of Okmeydani in Istanbul, the signs are all there : Graffiti announcing the resurgence of people power, hammers and sickles crudely drawn up with bright red paint, images of Che Guevara alongside Kurdish revolutionaries. "Kobani is our Stalingrad," reads one common slogan.

The Kobani question is not that simple as it has detonated a chain reaction and communists in Turkey are trying to get back their lost ground and utilise the situation to their advantage. Maybe, this one reason why America delayed its bombing missions to keep the Islamic State's advance in check.

Vol. 47, No. 19, Nov 16 - 22, 2014