Kurdish peace process in need of a rescue

Mahir Zeynalov
Mahir Zeynalov
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88 years ago, Kurdish rebel leader Sheikh Said rose up against repressive policies of the new Turkish Republic, rallying thousands of his supporters to fight against what they believed is the state that had turned against Islam by abolishing the Caliphate in Istanbul.

His small army had made steady progress in a very short period of time and captured several districts in the southeastern and eastern Turkey, a rural area predominantly populated by Kurds. His rebellion was clustered around several districts of Diyarbakır, particularly Lice.

The Turkish army soon outflanked ranks of rebels and swept territories they controlled. The crackdown on the uprising was bloody and brutal. On 28 June 1925, Sheikh Said and several of his companions were executed in a fashion that inspired many more uprisings in the future.

On the 88th anniversary of the Sheikh Said rebellion, a group of 250 gathered outside an army post authorities are emboldening by building additional blocks in Kavacik village of Diyarbakir's Lice district, demanding the authorities halt the construction. Military outposts in the region are reminiscent of the dark past, when the state considered every Kurdish dissident as a terrorist and employed brutal means to silence them, particularly in early 1990s. As the settlement process to end the decades old conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is in full swing, people in the region are questioning the rationale behind building and strengthening the army posts.

On Friday, the crowd outside the Lice outpost was warned to leave the area but they refused and attempted to storm the army post, throwing rocks and Molotov Cocktails and setting fire to tents of construction workers. The government version of the events suggests that the soldiers fired in the air and one killed, nine others injured during the melee. The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), however, claims that the 18 years old protester, Medeni Yildirim, was killed from behind.

The deadly confrontation in Lice has sparked protests across the country, from Istanbul to Hakkari province on the Iraqi border. On Sunday, police and protesters clashed in many southeastern cities, including Diyarbakir. The mounting tension is the most significant challenge that could test the vulnerability of the settlement process and now poses greater risk to derail the most serious peace efforts so far to halt the conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people.

On the 88th anniversary of the Sheikh Said rebellion, a group of 250 gathered outside an army post authorities are emboldening by building additional blocks in Kavacik village of Diyarbakir's Lice district, demanding the authorities halt the construction.

Mahir Zeynalov

The process has gone through thick and thin since the beginning of this year and even survived when three members of the PKK was assassinated in Paris in what French prosecutors branded as "internal reckoning." The government established 63-member wise men commission (three of them later withdrew in protest), tasked with explaining the details of the process to people and report back to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on what needs to be done to move forward with the project.

The process was largely swept aside from Turkey's already busy agenda when the country was rocked by three-week anti-government protests in June. Despite worries, the prime minister announced last week that the peace process continues unabated but suggested that they are still in the very early stages of the process.

When the BDP demanded the government move forward to improve rights of Kurdish people as part of the second stage of the process, Erdogan said in a surprising statement that the first stage, including withdrawal of PKK members from Turkey to Iraq, has not completed. He said only up to 20 per cent of all militants left Turkey and the PKK has a long way to go to end its presence in the country.

There is no major reason why the peace process could not finalize but we have yet to see the incident in Lice becoming a challenge to the government. The Diyarbakir governor’s office suggested on Sunday that the drug barons in the region fear that their drug trade will be threatened by the peace process and that the incident in Lice is part of an effort to what it said to “sabotage the process.”

No matter what the truth is behind the incident in Lice, long flashpoint of PKK-linked unrest coupled with brutal state treatment, next steps by the government in this respect will be key in the fate of the peace process. As the PKK militants slowly withdraw from the country, Kurds will loathe to see the state is emboldening its military presence in the region and similar incidents could hurt the peace process.

The Interior Ministry has already tasked a team of inspectors with investigating the incident in a first step that could alleviate the tensions. The government, however, regardless of the findings, should reach out to the people in the region, avoid sharp rhetoric and make sure that appointed local authorities and security forces cannot act with impunity.

Protests organized by the BDP in four major cities in southeastern Turkey on Sunday showed that these rallies will continue throughout the summer and possible crackdown on peaceful protests may prove counterproductive to the peace process. The government should largely complete the process as it will hold three elections next year and it will be almost next to impossible to avoid the sharp language.

Mahir Zeynalov is an Istanbul-based journalist with English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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