‘As gates to peace close…’

In the wake of the heinous murder of Tahir Elçi, Diyarbakır Bar Assoication Chairman, here is the article I wrote for Today’s Zaman some days ago:


Was it a bullet or a “hard object” that hit the bulletproof glass of Selahattin Demirtaş’s car?

No matter what, the news did not come as a surprise for all those who have been watching the developments in the mainly Kurdish provinces with raised eyebrows.

The bizarre incident followed an extended clash outside the town of Nusaybin, which has been kept under siege by the security forces, with a curfew extended over 11 days. During the clashes, Mardin Mayor — and a “grand old figure” of the Kurdish political movement — Ahmet Türk, was manhandled and Professor Mithat Sancar, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy of Mardin, had to be rushed to hospital after being attacked by a water cannon at close range.

What takes place in those provinces and in towns such as Lice, Cizre, Nusaybin, Yüksekova etc., whose local populations’ deep sympathies for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), has never been a secret, but falls off the radar of the media in Turkey and abroad.

The Turkish media, under immense pressure and gradual take-over of control, exercise huge self-censorship of events and have returned to the old official rhetoric guided by sheer nationalism. The attention of the international media lies elsewhere: almost exclusively on the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq.

The question I am often asked by those living outside Turkey these days is what Ankara truly intends to do by keeping the low intensity warfare in the Southeast, targeting strongholds of the KCK, with a focus on towns that declared de facto self-rule.

The pattern is clear: Governors of provinces, acting on government orders, implement laws to declare curfews here and there, as the security apparatus announce certain areas as “safety zones” — areas forbidden for the civilians.

This de-facto emergency rule turns those large settlements into locations with hellish conditions, where the locals, in thousands, believe, after an extended curfew with no water, food and medicine, they have to migrate elsewhere. The end result will not be a direct deportation of the masses, but an inflicted, indirect one.

There seems to be no end to the pattern of escalation. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had said the operations will continue during the winter, as some top PKK figures — such as Duran Kalkan — took the bet and announced that this winter would be the final showdown over control of the provinces. Ankara seems fixed on being able to break the backbone of the PKK, while the “command” of the latter is waiting for the conditions in the growing warfare against ISIL to change in its favor, well aware that it constitutes the backbone of combat units in the field.

Needless to say, there will be no winner of this conflict, as before.

There are other elements worth mentioning. The indiscriminate killings and brutality exposed a powerful regrouping and the re-entry of dirty war in the conflict. The recent firings of bullets in the air of some “special-ops” after operations accompanied by the chanting of slogans like “Allahu Akbar!” and ultranationalist writings on the town walls are harbingers of further civilian suffering and arbitrary behavior, which in the end may sideline the authority of Ankara to be an authority acting on its own to settle scores completely outside the law.

On the political level, with this “tête-à-tête” stage, the AKP leadership may have in mind to force the HDP’s 59 deputies to come back to the table, mainly to discuss and agree on a shift to the presidential system. We should not be surprised if discussions center on the HDP support for this in exchange for a cease-fire. The HDP, squeezed between the PKK’s warlords and the obsession of the AKP’s top ranks for autocratic rule, is now engaged in not cutting off its ties with the local Kurds and trying to win time.

With the domination of the AKP in Parliament and neo-militarism on the rise, there are worse options to consider. If the conflict rises, with more blood spilled, the dominant conservative-nationalist block in Parliament may move ahead to lift the immunities of the HDP and even a closure of the party as a whole.

Remember, the age of any compromise is over in Turkey; it is wide open for all sorts of punitive measures, mutually.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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