In response to the civilian death in Diyarbakir, Turkey on September 11 at the hands of suspected Kurdish militants, a comment written by ‘Drew‘ at Vice News sought to place the situation into perspective. The murdered waiter, he said, was just “at the wrong place at the wrong time”. In other words, although his death was a tragedy, he was not the target of the attack and, considering that the others injured were police officers, it is clear that creating ‘terror’ by killing a civilian was almost certainly not the motive behind the act.
In the context of Ankara’s war against the PKK, many more civilians have been killed by Turkish forces than by the progressive guerrilla organisation. All were tragedies! In a war, however, innocent citizens often find themselves caught in the middle of the fighting, and it is rare for civilians not to die during civil conflicts. For that reason, the sooner the Turkish State decides to re-enter the peace negotiations advocated by the PKK the better.
Why did this civilian death occur?
Friday’s attack (which would probably be considered a mistake by PKK headquarters) could in part be down to the fact that the PKK is a large organisation with many local groups (which are spread out over a large territory and are difficult to ‘standardise’ effectively). Drew, however, points out a comparison with other guerrilla/resistance organisations, asserting that a significant number of people who join such groups often have “little to no” qualifications, opportunities, or wealth, and are thus forced by circumstance to participate in activities the State considers to be illegal.
Drew then asks a couple of important questions for the Turkish State: A) Is the ‘stick’ (rather than the carrot) genuinely “effective at dissuading young Kurds in Turkey from taking up arms for an autonomous Kurdistan?”; and “B) Are there opportunities in the south and south east parts of Turkey for Kurds to not just exist but to thrive appropriately in correlation to a median standard of life?” The answer to both these questions, he suggests, is generally negative. In other words, young Kurds will only be more likely to enter into ‘legality’ if they have more opportunities (war, for example, doesn’t suddenly give people education, jobs, and wellbeing).
In short, some people belonging to the PKK may make incredibly unfortunate decisions at points that lead to civilians losing their lives. And, while we can seek to explain these mistakes in terms of present circumstances and historical context, these individual actions (and their individual perpetrators) should be condemned and should be brought to justice. The PKK as an organisation, however, is not the one responsible for decades of Kurdish oppression and exploitation in Turkey (or the wider Middle East). Nor is it responsible for the failure of the peace negotiations. Nor are its ideologues able to control the actions of all their comrades.
How do we ensure that this does not happen again?
Without wanting to simplify the situation excessively, it seems like the answer is pretty clear – the Turkish State must ensure that ethnic minorities not only have access to opportunity but also have their democratic rights respected. For, if not, oppressed and exploited citizens will be much more tempted to support revolutionary change (through the PKK) than ‘democratic’ change (through the HDP).