Fighting while Making Peace: (Not) Making Progress in Kurdish Issue

Fighting while Making Peace:
(Not) Making Progress in Kurdish Issue


Even though the government’s position towards the Kurdish problem which is an issue that has been setting Turkey’s agenda for many years has been in some sort of continuity, it has undergone a transformation. The denial of Kurds and Kurdish language, declarations of state of emergency in the areas where Kurdish population is dense became obsolete. Although meetings are being pursued under the name of so-called resolution process, peace process, Kurdish initiative; Kurdish political movement has obtained mobility in legal platform and conflict-free phase has started; attacks, oppression and censorship process involving civilians in it has started again. With that turnout, in terms of the Kurdish problem in Turkey, we have entered a brand-new era with an uncertain end for anyone.


Her voice is tired and exhausted… I have never heard her like this in years. ‘They shall kill all Kurdish people at one stroke; this would save both us and them from waiting for what is going to happen every day’ he said on the phone. What she was going through these days has not been on the agenda of his far-away-living Turkish friends whom she spent good old days with in Istanbul while she was studying in college before he moved to Diyarbakır, and she was tired of narrating it. The framework that rendered the things meaningful to her old friends was limited with a concept of the ‘Partiya Karkerên Kurdistani (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) (PKK) terror.’ The things that we talked during the frequent phone calls at the time of Cizre incidents and when we used to meet in İzmir with this dear friend of mine who survived the explosion at the Diyarbakır Rally[1] on June 5th with her husband and baby, whose beloved ones were hurt there and who had people around her joining the PKK right after this incident were approximately similar of this… She mentioned that she was holding herself back from telling all has been happening to her Turkish friends in a way that she was feeling because they might be hurt and offended. The Western Turkish people who are offended by the expression of the events alongside the Kurdish people who died in Diyarbakır, in Cizre… Like all other Kurdish people who have been hearing shootouts every day, she was also tired of telling what we have not seen on TV to those living in the West.

I think our conversations give some sort of information, albeit limited, about what Kurdish people who are constantly living in the conflict zone think of Turkish people. We do not remember any time when the line between İzmir and Diyarbakır was not tense. However, at this very point where agendas became such dissociated, where we came within an inch of drifting away; I think it is now the Western part of the line that is responsible of convincing people to live together in peace, since Kurdish people are wearied. We, Turkish people living in the West, who try to understand a little bit what really is going on should understand and tell it. It is such a shame that most of the time our effort is understood as ‘being in favour of terrorism’ even among ‘intellectuals’ and academics who have access to information channels.

The Kurdish issue has been, as is now, Turkey’s one of the most important and urgent problem awaiting a solution. There were ups and downs, periods when conflicts aggravated, when social tensions increased and decreased and when we were close to have a solution to it. It would not be wrong to say that the conflict-free phase right before the preparation of June 7th elections had aroused an optimistic feeling about how Turkey came a long way on this matter. We were no longer living in an environment where Kurds and Kurdish language were denied, and where the word ‘Kurdish’ was being replaced by the word ‘Eastern’ the expressions, such as “Kurdish Initiative,”[2] “Peace Process,”[3] although we did not exactly know what kinds of meanings they were filled with, were being mentioned by the conservative government. Making a sudden comeback to the atmosphere of the 90s, during which unidentified murders, missing persons under detention, states of emergency were normalised, was a hard thing to guess.[4] The ups and downs on Kurdish issue’s political platform are of course not surprising, but, what was the secret of this sudden comeback on such big matter? What brought us back to this very point?

In terms of the path political parties have charted out, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) (AKP), because of many reasons that are not going to be detailed here, had succeeded in gaining as much support as any other political party could do so far in Kurdish cities. For instance, at the legislative elections in 2011, in the East Anatolia and Southeast Anatolia regions where Kurdish people are densely inhabited at, the voting rate of the AKP was over 50%.[5] As much as in the eyes of conservative and religious Kurdish people, but among liberal and middle class Kurds too, the AKP has been perceived as an alternative to the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (People’s Democratic Party) (HDP) and its followers. The HDP defined a new political path by placing the Kurdish issue on its main axis without forgetting other fractions and problems in Turkey since the beginning of its party founding activities. The authoritarian attitude of the AKP, but particularly of Erdoğan, who was once reckoned on by liberals and who was thought to have the capacity to remove military domination in Turkey up until to the 2010s, had brought, due to several reasons, emotional disengagement from the people coming from different fractions who once supported them. The governmental attitude towards the State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), terror issue, the silence of large masses living in Turkey towards the violent acts taking place right beyond the border isolated Kurdish people who felt this danger close by and loosened further the already loose ties with the central government. The situation inevitably was reflected to the ballot boxes in Kurdish cities during the legislative elections of 2015. The HDP came out the first party in both of the regions of Southeast Anatolia and East Anatolia by getting 43% of the votes in the former and 45% of the votes in latter respectively.[6] On the other hand, the HDP received a substantial amount of support from those who were offended by the AKP and from conservative Kurdish people, as well as from the middle class Kurdish, Turkish and Alevis living in the West in addition to its traditional voters with its desire for Türkiyelileşme (turning away from a struggle for solely more rights for the Kurds and instead calling for the democratisation of Turkey as a whole).[7] It was considered as –perhaps temporary– dynamic that would at least break AKP’s toughness by the Turkish middle class. When considering in terms of election system and the balance between political parties in Turkey, many voters of the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party) (CHP) and even the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Movement Party) (MHP) who had really slight chance of crossing paths with the HDP supported the HDP because if the HDP passed the electoral threshold and took a place in the parliament as a political party, it would prevent the AKP from governing alone like it did within the last 13 years. HDP’s “we will not make you president”[8] slogan was the last straw to this. These were signalling that the Kurdish movement was not only making politics for Kurdish rights and that their political sphere has expanded vastly and that they would also have a voice on other political developments in Turkey.

While peace process began to be discussed and there had been no conflict for a while, an explosion which caused deaths and injuries happened at the rally of Selahattin Demirtaş in Diyarbakır only two days before the June 7th elections. This was followed by the violent incidents in Suruç, Cizre and many other places after the elections. Erdoğan while focusing solely on presidency with a request of 400 deputies from the people during the election campaign, already noticed that the path with Kurds was separated. In fact, the election results showed this. After what has happened, such as the state of emergency in Cizre, the attacks in Diyarbakır, leaving the Kurds alone in the face of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it became thoroughly obvious that Erdoğan could not gain the Kurds back. Hence if we look from the perspective of the government, there appeared no reason to pursue the peace process or to continue the Kurdish initiative. As if so-called peace was not dependent upon the social reconciliation, but related to the desire of an authoritarian leader, “it was put in the fridge”[9] as Erdoğan expressed within a short time, and the conflicts began to rise day by day. The latest events in Ankara more clearly revealed the attitude of the government towards the demand of peace. Before the peace rally took place in Ankara on October 10th, while people were gathering an explosion occurred and tens of people died and wounded.[10] When the pain of the survivors of the incident and the relatives of those killed and wounded coupled with the desperation of the ones who were not there, a terrible state of social trauma emerged. In the light of this event, the Minister of Internal Affairs said there is no security bug and the Minister of Justice replied the question if he would resign with a laugh.[11] At the same time, people who were at the peace rally were telling that the police officers who would normally surround the activists did not show up during the protest, but attacked them after the explosion. They were telling that the medical teams could not help the wounded because of the tear gas used by the policemen. This tragic incident coincided with the days that the PKK announced they would remain inactive unless there is an attack against them and that the President Erdoğan declared that they would believe no longer to such games. Moreover, according to Prime Minister Davutoğlu, suicide bombers could not be caught before proceeding the action. The political power censoring the reflection of this incident on the media banned any news regarding the event. All of these signal that such incident –bothering the conscience of society– would not be investigated thoroughly. In a way, it is said that ‘peace will not come if I am not the President.’ In fact, some opinion leaders who have close ties with the AKP clearly interpret it in a way that it would not come the point if people voted for the AKP.

In Kurdish issue, we have a different process that we never had before. In short, while a substantial amount of people in Turkey accepted the existence of Kurds as well as their pain in the past  and desire for the peace, we are now suddenly back to the days of the hot war by a fire lightened. Indeed, this is experienced in very different ways and depth in the East and the West of Turkey. The war that has become a part of the lives of those living in the East appears solely through the news of the martyrs in the West. Turks only experience the war with the news of the martyrs, as in their daily life they do not hear the sound of gunfire, do not see the ditches excavated on the ground, do not testify the state of emergency. The news of the martyrs on TV breaks the flow of everyday life in the West by the fact that there is an on-going war in the country. Indeed, martyrdom as its form of the testimony for the sanctity of a matter that one could die for can turn out of the greatest weapon of the government and this can prevent us from seeing the real underlying story and the war’s irrationality. Every time when the news of martyrs arrives, the finger of the power points the enemy as the only responsible actor and the period of ceasefire right before the elections can be forgotten in the haze. More importantly, the government praises the martyrdom for years by moving the policies over the martyrdom next level. Some other says he wants to be a martyr himself[12] from the chair he sits. This fiction is not complete. We hear from the sorrowful relatives of the martyrs that the weapons can be silenced when necessary intention is shown, and that the martyrdom is not related at all to the defence of the homeland and sacrificing lives for a sacred ideal, but closely related to the interest of current political elites. We see the martyrs funerals where the question that “Behold the peace process, why did it begin again” is asked more often compared to the past in order to question the death of the relatives as well as the funerals that “Long live Motherland!” slogans are thrown.[13] The relatives of martyrs are aware of the class dimension of the martyrdom for a long time as the large segment of the society. All relatives of martyrs that I have interviewed in the framework of the research I conducted in the years of 2009 and 2010[14] and that I have seen in the association for the relatives of martyrs and in the cemetery stated that the children of rich and particularly of the political elites have never martyrised as they have not done their military service or they have done the military service in safe areas away from the war (e.g. in the officer’s house in large cities), they expressed this situation as ‘poor people’s children are killed.’ Now, the sense of the futility of the war is added to this awareness. At least, the reactions of the relatives of martyrs in the funerals that we have witnessed show us this in the last period. However, this awareness remains insufficient to prevent the gunfight, in such matters that can be solved politically, entering into the civilian life. A firefight in distant, even worse an armed attack to civilians in Cizre, in Diyarbakır might appear in the society through the beating of a Kurd and the attacking to the workplace of Kurds or to the buildings of the HDP in the West of Turkey.

Peace cannot arrive with solely a person’s wish or it cannot be abandoned when it does not match the personal interest of a leader. The last incident in Ankara shows us that when the peace is abandoned, the war not only flows to our houses from the news, but encompasses our living areas too. When we make peace, Turks and Kurds make peace, when we are convinced to live in equal conditions and together, when we wrap the wounded, it is when we will return to the peace. We are not at the end of the road; we have not yet exhausted all the possibilities. We need to convince each other to live in peace before Kurds lose their hope, before Turks who curse the terror and the HDP as they believe it is an extension of the terror forget that it is ‘the war of the palace,’ before more lose their lives and without stretching the line İzmir –Diyarbakır.

Dr. Burcu Şentürk, Ege University

Please cite this publication as follows:

Şentürk, B. (October, 2015), “Fighting while Making Peace: (Not) Making Progress in Kurdish Issue,” Vol. IV, Issue 10, pp.50-58 Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), London, Research Turkey (


Arslan, G. vd. (2015) Beyaz Türklerin Yeni Türkiyesi (New Turkey of the White Turks), (2015, June 20) Hürriyet Kelebek, [Accessed on 9th October 2015], Available at:

Adım Adım Çözüm Süreci (Solution Process Step by Step), SETA (Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research), [Accessed on 9th October 2015], Available at:

(Bölge ve İllere Göre Seçim Sonuçları) Election Results According to Regions and Provinces, (2011, June 13) BBC Turkish, [Accessed on 9th October 2015], Available at:

Canlı Yayında Bakana İstifa Sorusu Güldürdü (The Question of Resignation to the Ministry Made Him Laugh on Live Broadcast), (2015, October 10), Cumhuriyet, [Accessed on 20th October 2015], Available at:

Cizre’de Sokağa Çıkma Yasağı Kaldırıldı (The Curfew in Cizre is Removed), (2015, September 14), Habertürk, [Accessed on 8th October 2015], Available at:

Doğu’da Kürtler Ak Parti’den Uzaklaştı (Kurds Became Distant from AKP in the East). (2015, June 9) Aljazeera Turk, [Accessed on 15th October 2015], Available at:

Karakuş, A. (2015) “Çözüm Süreci Şimdilik Buzdolabında (The Process Of Solution Is In The Fridge For Now)” Milliyet. [Accessed on 30th September 2015], Available at:

Konda (2015) 7 Haziran Sandık ve Seçmen Analizi (Analysis of Polls and Voters of June 7), [Accessed on 9th October 2015], Available at:

Somer, M., & Liaras, E. G. (2010). Turkey’s New Kurdish Opening: Religious versus Secular Values. Middle East Policy, 17(2), 152-165.

Şentürk, B. (2012) İki Tarafta Evlat Acısı (The Pain of Child on Both Sides), İletişim Yayınları, İstanbul.

Taner Yıldız: Amacım Şehit Olmak (My Goal is to Be a Martyr) (2015, August 19), Cumhuriyet, [Accessed on 9th October 2015], Available at:

Two Explosions Hit Kurdish Political Rally in Turkey (2015, June 5), The Guardian, [Accessed on 9th October 2015], Available at:

Van Bruinessen, M. (2000). Kurdish Ethno-Nationalism versus Nation-Building States: Collected Articles (Vol. 47). The Isis Press.

We Will not Make You the President, HDP Co-Chair tells (2015, March 17), Hürriyet Daily News, [Accessed on 7th October 2015], Available at:

Yarbay Abinin Şehit İsyanı (Lieutenant Colonel’s Rebel for the Martyr)), Hürriyet, [Accessed on 6th October 2015], Available at:


[1] The rally that HDP’s co-president Selahattin Demirtaş and some MPs of the HDP deputies attended before the general elections on June 7th was bombed. The group that stayed there to protest the incident received police intervention at the demonstration site.

[2] The Kurdish Initiative is an initiative that was started by the government with the alleged aim of ending the conflict and attaining developments in terms of human rights of Kurdish people. However, its content has never been shared publically. For a debate on this topic please see Somer ve Liaras 2010.

[3] The Peace Process is a phase that was initiated with Erdoğan’s declaration on December 28th 2012 that there were meetings held with the arrested leader of the PKK, and this phase then progressed with PKK’s ceasefire on March 2013; it is a period during which parties established dialogues. For a time schedule regarding the developments of Kurdish problem beginning from the period of the Peace Process please see:

[4] It can be said that the 90s have a very special place for Turkey’s political history in regards to the Kurdish issue. Because, these were the years during which there were considerable amount of human rights violations in East and Southeast Anatolia, state of emergency declarations was occasionally taking place, and unidentified murders, the burning down and evacuation of villages were normalised, however these were also the years during which none of these issues were announced to the Western part of the Turkey. For a study that discusses the dynamics of Kurdish problem during the years please see: Bruinessen 2000: Part 12. Moreover, 9th issue of the magazine Toplum ve Kuram (Society and Theory) that was exclusively reserved to the Kurdish issue during the 90s gives the opportunity for discussion of this subject through different topics and perspectives.



[7] As it was shown in the report of KONDA prepared on June 7th elections, the votes for the HDP increased in the areas where there is not a density of Kurdish population; the HDP gathered votes where it had never received votes before. According to the same report, although a big majority of Alevis voted for the CHP, their second choice among political parties has been the HDP with a level of 12% (KONDA, 2015). For another analysis on June 7th elections, please see

For a short interview that was conducted in neighbourhoods where “White Turks” are in majority and where the vote rate has gone way beyond 10% in the last election please see Arslan et al., 2015.

[8] For one of Demirtaş’s speech where he uses this slogan, please see:




[12] For the declaration of Taner Yıldız stating he wants to be martyr, see:

[13] See:

[14] Şentürk, B. (2012) İki Tarafta Evlat Acısı (The Pain of Child on Both Sides), İletişim Yayınları, İstanbul



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