Last week (June 19) saw the latest clashes between the Turkish security forces and the militants of the outlawed terror organisation the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey’s southeast. Eight soldiers were killed and 16 wounded in a pre-dawn raid by the PKK on military border posts in the Dağlıca district of Hakkari province, on the border with Iraq. The attack prompted the familiar public outrage, and the military duly responded, launching a massive operation in the mountains of southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. Over the following days the Turkish media reported with unconcealed satisfaction the rising numbers of PKK members “neutralized” in counter strikes.

The PKK always intensifies its operations during the spring and summer months, so these clashes should not come as a surprise. This time, however, the sense of disappointment among many observers (as opposed to the anger of most) was palpable. Just a week before, efforts toward a diplomatic solution seemed to be gaining genuine momentum, with the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) approaching a rare agreement with the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) on the issue. The agreement was for the formation of an inter-party parliamentary commission to chart the course for a meaningful, long-term, political solution to a conflict that has cost close to 50,000 lives over the past 20 years. Such moves now seem hopelessly out of touch with the overwhelming public mood of anger and bloodlust.

The life and death story of one of the eight killed soldiers received particular attention in a number of Turkish news sources. The June 22 edition of daily Cumhuriyet published a short piece titled, “Martyr İsa’s story is Turkey’s reality,” referring to İsa Sayın, who died in the latest clashes. The article described the life and death story of Sayın as illustrating what it called “all of the contradictions and pain of Turkey’s last thirty years.” Sayın was born in 1991 in Ulukaya village, in the largely Kurdish southeastern province of Muş. During the early 1990s the conflict between the Turkish army and the PKK was at its most fierce, with the former conducting a scorched earth policy across the southeast, emptying and burning down villages suspected of supporting PKK militants. Sayın’s family house was burned down in 1993, and his family was forced to move away and settle in the city of Mersin on the Mediterranean coast. There, his father worked for construction firms in order to look after his six children. Sayın remained illiterate, and he had to do irregular work alongside his father in construction until he was conscripted to do his 15 months’ compulsory military service. It was during his military service that Sayın was posted to Hakkari province, where he was killed in last week’s attacks. In a further twist, it later emerged that the Sayın family is related to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Muş parliamentary representative, Sırrı Sakik.

With regard to a long term solution to the problem, there can’t be many grounds for optimism. When news filters through of every fallen “martyr” in the Turkish army, the sheer virulence of the nationalist reaction somehow always comes as a surprise. The country becomes increasingly divided; the hand of the doves becoming weaker and weaker against that of the hawks. It’s difficult to see how an inclusive, broader definition of “Turkishness” can gain traction when such a stubborn die has already been cast. Of course, the Kurdish question crosses national boundaries, and its future will likely be most affected by the rapidly changing landscapes in northern Iraq and northern Syria. It seems increasingly naive to tie a comprehensive solution to simply granting Kurds the right to broadcast in their own language on Turkish television, or for Turkish schools to teach Kurdish as a first language where the demand exists. Language is only one symbol of a more fundamental and profound sense among so many, that they are living in a country essentially “not their own.”

Perhaps it’s best to end with a quotation from İsa Sayın’s mother, appreciating just how distant the solution that she demands may well be:

“Weapons, blood, and pain will lead nowhere. Ask mothers about this pain, they know their children’s pain best. The blood has to stop running. We want a solution to the problem. The armed one in the mountains is a Kurd, and my dead son is also a Kurd. Brother is killing brother. We want the state to solve this problem.”

%d bloggers like this: