Friday, July 23, 2010

The PKK, Tamil Tiger & Turkey

Friday, July 23 2010
makaleSalah Bayaziddi- There is a widespread historical grievance and dissatisfaction among Kurdish people in every corner of this country, and the Turkish government should finally come to its senses and look for a long-standing peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict....
Will Turkey be able to repeat Sri Lankan experiment?

In their "final showdown" with the PKK, Turkey turns to Sri Lanka for lessons on beating down the insurgency.

When the Sri Lankan government finally declared victory over the armed insurgent group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, it was an end to the island's 26 years of civil war and uncompromising brutal ethnic conflict. This also seems to bring to a close the Tigers' fight for a separate state, and it enforces the domination of the exclusionist political system of the Sinhalese majority over the Tamil minority in an ethnic conflict that witnessed the death of more than 100,000 people. Far from Sri Lanka, the Kurdish national movement in Turkey, a chronic case of ethnic conflict in the Middle East, has remained defiant to the assimilation and pan-Turkism policies of this country since the rise of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923. Same as with the Tamil conflict, an ethnic armed organization called Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been fighting against the exclusionist state of the Turkish majority since 1984. To counter PKK activities in the Kurdish-dominated regions of the southeast, Turkish policymakers very closely are reviewing the Tamil Tigers' experiment in Sri Lanka, and they plan to repeat the same type of victory in their final showdown with the PKK.

Since the end of World War II and the recognition of the boundaries of the nation-state, the international system was not favorable to dramatic changes; stateless nationalism had no choice but to engage in war of secession, which in turn would develop into major regional conflicts. Unlike the Kurdish conflict in Turkey, resentment of the Tamil's privileged status under British colonial rulers surfaced when the Sinhalese majority took power after independence in 1948. With Sinhalese nationalism on the rise, the Tamil minority was pushed aside and had no choice but to take up arms, and a full-scale war erupted years later. In the midst of this period, the Tamil Tigers formed to wage a war of secession on the exclusionist government of the Sinhalese majority on behalf of the Tamil minority in 1983. The Tamil Tigers opted for extremism and wanted a separate Tamil homeland. To combat this plan, the Sri Lankan government took all counter measures to defeat them, which resulted in the continuation of 26 years of brutal civil war on this island. Along the bloody line of this ethnic conflict, sometimes "the national struggle" came to justify methods that could badly damage the popular support of the movement. The Tigers' use of suicide bombers and government accusations of Tamil's recruiting children as young as 13 to fight and using human shields seemed to have weakened LTTE's position in their fight against the Sri Lankan government.

In the same way, the old structure of the Cold War era couldn't protect the boundaries of the Turkish majority role from the growth of the Kurdish nationalism, and no more the structure of nation-state could be seen as a legitimate political system in multi-ethnic societies. It was in this political hothouse atmosphere that the Kurdish nationalist movement in 1980s and the 1990s--led by the PKK--started to challenge the very structure of the state and its legitimate Kemalist ideology of one state and one nation. In fact, it was some measures of the growing support for the widespread Kurdish radicalization that prompted the military to claim it was acting to foil a Kurdish uprising. There are also other tactical and logistical measures that helped intensify the PKK's armed uprising against the Turkish state. In this respect, we can talk about the use of a classic guerrilla war campaign. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the PKK had acquired the characteristic of a mass uprising and received some degree of sanctuary and training facilities from neighboring countries.

Unlike the PKK, the Tamil Tigers had no luxury of such geographical favors as high mountains and terrain or mobile personnel for waging a classic guerilla war. In fact, they were completely surrounded inside their relatively small coastal areas in the northeast on a border with an enemy who was fully armed in the south. They had limited room to maneuver on the ground. However, at the peak of their strength, the Tamil Tigers had close to 15,000 fighters, controlled nearly a third of the island, and were operating an effectively autonomous Tamil state only two years ago. By the spring of 2009, the Sri Lankan government was reviewing a plan to finish the Tamil Tigers' insurgency once and for all, and it was clear that in Sinhalese's majority political system, there was no room for a Tamil enclave state to exist.

When the president of Sri Lanka declared that island's separatist Tamil Tigers defeated, it was an end to several decades of bitter ethnic bloodshed. The Sri Lankan military had captured the last strip of beach held by the Tamil Tigers, leaving them completely surrounded and eventually denying them a chance of escaping by boat. During these military operations, the Sri Lankan government also barred diplomats, independent journalists, and most aid workers from the conflict area where an independent probe into possible war crimes in Sri Lanka was vital. When Sri Lankan troops killed the Tamil Tigers' leader, Velupillai Probhakaran, it was a major blow to the Tigers' fight for a separate state.

For achieving such a military victory, Turkish policymakers aim to take all drastic measures and are reviewing different scenarios to repeat the Sri Lankan experiment.

In the wake of increasing tension due to continuation of military confrontation with the PKK, Turkey has urged the U.S., the central government in Baghdad, and the KRG to take more concrete steps against the PKK. A trilateral committee was formed in Baghdad in November 2008 (Iraqi, Turkish, and U.S. officials), to combat the PKK where it hasn't been able to find any solution so far. The U.S. has avoided any direct military confrontation with the PKK, but they have confirmed that the PKK remains a common enemy of Turkey, the U.S., and Iraq, and is a threat to the stability of the region, and they will continue to support efforts by Turkey and Iraq to deal with the problem. Most recently, Turkey submitted a list of about 250 members of the PKK sought for extradition from Iraq, and they warned the KRG of any impending operations. In midst of this political coordination, KRG officials have insisted on a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey while they will not be part of any military confrontation with the PKK.

According to a UN document, the Tamil Tigers' military defeat ends a less than three-decades-long brutal civil war that killed over 100,000 Sri Lankan citizens, minority Hindu Tamil, and majority Buddhist Sinhalese alike, and it was named the oldest ongoing major conflict on Earth. Yet today, we witness a different world--and at almost every turn, violent ethnic confrontations have yielded negotiated peace accords (such as the case with the Kosovo Liberation Army or the Irish Republican Army. Turkey also shouldn't look for a military solution to the Kurdish question, and Turkish policymakers should learn their lessons from the past and finally come to the conclusion that there are no similarities between the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and the Kurdish question in Turkey. The Kurdish question in Turkey is not just about the presence of a few thousand armed PKK fighters in the border regions. There is a widespread historical grievance and dissatisfaction among Kurdish people in every corner of this country, and the Turkish government should finally come to its senses and look for a long-standing peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict.