Turkey has arrested thousands of people, mainly Kurds, over the past few years for activities, affiliations and beliefs that it defines as political crimes.  Indeed over the past decade around 12,000 mainly Kurdish citizens have been arrested and charged under the country’s sweeping anti-terror legislation. The arrests have been stepped up in the last three years, with nearly four thousand arrests in the last 30 months. The latest high profile arrests are of writer and publisher Ragip Zarakolu and political scientist, Professor Büşra Ersanlı, who were detained on 28 October in the continuing operation targeting Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK) members and supporters. These latest arrests have provoked widespread outrage inside the country and protests internationally. Intellectuals inside Turkey have raised their voices against the persecution of their colleagues and even took the unusual step of organising a vigil outside the courthouse in Istanbul when the cases were being heard.

Earlier a wave of arrests was carried out in several districts of Istanbul on 4 October when a total of 92 people were taken into police custody on the basis of alleged membership in the KCK, the umbrella organisation that includes the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) among many other Kurdish civil society and cultural organisations.

It is perfectly obvious to all who take an interest in Turkish politics that this is no simple legal process but is a highly politicised action aimed at criminalising the Kurds and political dissent generally during what is a crucial period when the ruling AKP is drawing up a new constitution. Ersanli, for example, is an expert on constitutional law and has been working with the Peace and Democracy Party BDP’s Constitutional Commission.

The repeated waves of arrests against leading Kurdish activists, politicians, intellectuals and community leaders also adds more fuel to an already increasingly volatile political situation, with the war against the Kurds also being stepped up on the military front with the operations across the border and air raids on Kurdish camps. This two-pronged strategy of repression at home and cross-border military action is clearly aimed at the elimination of all Kurdish resistance. This misguided exercise exposes a blinkered approach on the part of Turkey as repression has shown that it can provide no lasting solution. The conflict, in fact, will ultimately need to be resolved through dialogue and negotiation as steps towards an enduring peace settlement, which is what Kurdish spokespeople have consistently advocated and continue to do so despite all provocations.

Turkey adopted its extremely aggressive stance towards the Kurdish movement in recent months, when it ratcheted up the repression in the wake of the June general election as a response to the political success of the Kurds. Kurdish backed candidates made surprise and significant gains in that election.

The AKP government of Prime Minister Erdogan, with the support of its international allies, is attempting to combine repression at home with military action across the border aimed at destroying the Kurdish guerrillas and going for a “Tamil solution” to its Kurdish problem. It appears to believe that this “more of the same” approach will solve the decades-long conflict.

But, as Peace in Kurdistan has repeatedly stated, the Kurdish issue is not at root a problem of terrorism but it is a conflict whose origins lie deep in Turkish history and can only be resolved through the constitutional recognition of a people denied their fundamental legal, social, cultural and political rights. Indeed, Turkey still refuses even to acknowledge the distinct identity or language of the Kurdish people. Until these fundamental anomalies are addressed, Turkey will not be able to achieve a solution and peace will remain elusive. The country, which currently has a strong economy and a high profile in the region where it is becoming a more active player in regional politics, is bound to remain weakened as long as it fails to address the fundamental issues raised by the Kurdish conflict because at stake is not only the fate of the Kurds, but of the character of the Turkish Republic, how it is governed and the relationship of the state with all its citizens. If Turkey is going to truly become a modern, transparently governed democracy then it cannot continue to rule by fear and repression, stifling dissent and throwing thousands of people into prison simply for expressing opinions that are at variance with the official narrative of events.

In the course of the recent operations against the KCK hundreds of people have been detained to add to the thousands already arrested. Where will it all end?

Since Turkey’s parliament voted to extend by another year a mandate allowing the Turkish military to carry out cross-border operations against Kurdish camps in northern Iraq (south Kurdistan), the death toll has sharply increased on both sides. Recent controversy has emerged with allegations of the use of banned chemical weapons against Kurdish guerrillas following air raids in the Kazan Valley which led to the discovery of badly mutilated and severely burned bodies of some 24 Kurdish guerrillas. After the attack dismembered body parts were found scattered across the valley.

As of 6 November the bodies were being held at the Forensic Medicine Institute in Malatya and according to PM Erdogan “everything is proceeding according to the law, down to the DNA tests.” While the Turkish government unexpectedly repudiates the allegations of the use of chemical weapons, human rights activists maintain that the only explanation for the kinds of burns seen on the bodies is that chemical agents had been used. Calls for an investigation have been made by the BDP in the political arena and taken up by the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD). The fact is that lack of clarity on this issue can only add to the deep mistrust that exists between Kurds and the Turkish state and will add yet more fuel to the conflict.

PIK reiterates its call for all those who want to see an end to the conflict to exert their influence to ensure that Turkey changes course before its aggressive manoeuvres engulf the country in a full-scale and an ever more bloody conflict. That is why the intention of the United States to supply Turkey with three new deadly Cobra attack helicopters is just one more misguided move and should be prevented. It can only exacerbate an already deteriorating situation.

The Kurds desperately want to live in peace; but at the moment, it seems quite clear from all their actions that Turkey’s leaders have chosen the path of war in a futile bid to eliminate every manifestation of independent Kurdish organisation, activity and even thinking.


Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Sirinathsingh – Tel: 020 7272 4131

Patrons: Lord Avebury, Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Alyn Smith MEP, Hywel Williams MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, John Austin, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Mark Thomas, Bairbre de Brún MEP