Sunday, March 1, 2015

Daily Times Editorial March 2, 2015

Armed or political? It appears the 30-year-old conflict between central Turkish authorities and the country’s oppressed and marginalised Kurds may finally be drawing to a close. On Saturday, representatives of the pro-Kurd People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the Turkish government held a joint press conference at which a message from the jailed leader of the main Kurdish resistance, the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, called on his followers to lay down their arms in a forthcoming conference in spring. The HDP’s Sirri Sureyya Onder at the press conference emphasised, “This is a historic declaration of will to replace armed struggle with democratic struggle.” The statement came after Onder had a 45-minute meeting with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan and Interior Minister Efkan Ala in Istanbul. The ground for this meeting and its outcome had been laid earlier by HDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas, whose deputies shuttled between Ocalan’s island prison of Imrali in the Marmara Sea near Istanbul and the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq where the PKK’s fighters are based. The PKK, a nationalist Kurd guerrilla resistance, is listed by Turkey, the US, NATO and the EU as a terrorist organisation, much like all such armed resistance movements have been lumped in the terrorist basket worldwide after 9/11. There was a time after the Second World War and within the framework of the Cold War when armed struggle against colonialism, imperialism, oppression and despotism was hailed as legitimate and heroic. This was a period when most if not all third world countries, whether still under colonialism or having ‘graduated’ to the pantheon of post-colonial dependencies, were under the draconian rule of military dictatorships and authoritarian civilian despots backed by the west led by the US. On the other hand, the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba and the communist bloc as a whole supported the struggles of peoples all over the world for liberation and freedom. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its communist Eastern European allies, and especially after 9/11, all such liberation movements found themselves confined to the ever-increasing-in-size waste basket labelled ‘terrorist organisations’. So much so, even the Kashmir armed resistance was so dubbed and has since, along with its sister liberation movements in the rest of the world, struggled to establish the verity and justification of its resort to armed struggle. This development was eventually tied up with the received wisdom post-1991 that revolution had been consigned to the dustbin of history and there was no alternative to the new world order of liberal democracy as the political shell for all states and free market economies (capitalist) for all societies. Although those capitalism advocates who have written off revolution as a possibility may be jumping the historical gun in their current triumphalism because of only a superficial understanding of the processes of history and revolutions, the past offers the lesson that revolutions occur when the people come to the conclusion that there is no other way to overcome oppression and deprivation (of rights, livelihood, etc). It cannot be denied that the current received wisdom has permeated the consciousness of the people of the globe, east and west, north and south, and the advent of formally democratic even if flawed governments has blunted the appeal of radical ideas (with the exception of course of the Islamist terrorist phenomenon, which is another discussion altogether), it would be philosophical, political and historical shortsightedness to ignore the possibilities of new forms of ‘revolution’ to overcome the peoples of the world’s discontents with an unequal and unjust internal and global order. Whatever the final outcome of the debate about armed versus political struggle, it is a matter of satisfaction that the Turkish government of President Recip Tayyip Erdogan has attempted, since it came to power, to ease the restrictions on its Kurd minority’s rights. For example, there was a time when calling yourself a Kurd or speaking in the Kurdish language could land you in a Turkish jail. These absurd draconian restrictions stemming from a flawed ultra-nationalist Turkish rhetoric steeped in post-Ottoman visions of uniform identity, were gradually but steadily loosened by Erdogan’s government. Caution was dictated by the apprehension of a Turkish nationalist backlash. Similarly, the current dialogue with the PKK runs the same risks. However, the courage of the Erdogan government in grasping this nettle firmly can only be admired and welcomed. There are lessons in the Turkish effort to make its democracy truly representative and inclusive, extending identity and other rights to the Kurdish people in order to pave the way for persuading the PKK and other Kurdish groups that the new Turkey had turned its back on despotism and oppression and was prepared to embrace its Kurdish citizens. Shades of what is needed in Pakistan vis-à-vis Balochistan there. If only…

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