General Yasar Buyukanit, the chief of the Turkish General Staff (TGS), yesterday (December 11) admitted that Turkey was losing the psychological war against Kurdish separatism.
Buyukanit was speaking at a symposium in Ankara organized by the Strategic Research and Studies Center (SAREM), a think tank established by the TGS, on the economic and ideological dimensions of the struggle against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In a nuanced and remarkably candid assessment of Turkey’s attempts to contain the PKK insurgency, Buyukanit admitted that, whatever their successes on the battlefield, the Turkish authorities had been outmaneuvered on the propaganda front and had allowed the PKK-led Kurdish nationalist movement to appropriate the terminology of rights and freedoms.
Buyukanit warned against assuming that, just because the PKK received support from outside Turkey, this meant that the root of the problem also lay outside the country.
“First you need to look inside yourselves,” he told the symposium. “If you can’t sever the support that is coming from inside [the country] then you can’t do anything about the foreign support” (Radikal, Cumhuriyet, December 12).
Buyukanit noted that, since the PKK launched its insurgency in August 1984, Turkey had allowed it to take the moral high ground by portraying the conflict not just as an armed struggle, but as a clash of values. He admitted that Turkey had allowed the PKK-led Kurdish nationalist movement to appropriate values such as human rights, democracy, freedom, and peace.
“Who uses these values at the moment? The terrorists use them,” Buyukanit said. “And we end up on the defensive. It is we who look as if we don’t care about human rights, don’t believe in democracy, are opposed to freedom and hate peace. This is our fault.”
“Put yourself in the position of a foreigner,” Buyukanit told his audience. “[They see] some people in Turkey who are always talking about human rights, democracy, freedom, and peace. There is another group that is struggling against them. Who is this group? The security forces and the organs of state. [The foreigners] then say that the military and the police are fighting against those who want democracy, human rights, and peace. This is a psychological war. It makes it look as if we hate democracy and freedom” (Radikal, Cumhuriyet, December 12).
Buyukanit refused to single out any one state institution but, in what appeared to be a reference to the recent rise in ethnic violence between Kurds and Turks, he warned that all of Turkish society had a responsibility to prevent the PKK from achieving its aims.
“Our area of responsibility is the armed struggle,” he said. “But you cannot combat terrorism by arms alone. There are economic, psychological, political, and human rights dimensions. As a result, when we fight against terrorism we must as a society avoid doing anything which will give hope to the terrorists and the terrorist organization” (Radikal, December 12).
Perhaps most surprisingly for a member of an institution that has previously dismissed even the possibility of the PKK achieving its aims, Buyukanit suggested that, for the moment at least, Turkey was losing the psychological war.
“There have recently been some developments which have led the [the PKK] to wonder whether their efforts are succeeding,” he said. “Terrorism has become both politicized and legalized. The politicization has finished. The legalization is partly complete. All that remains is the legalization of the [PKK] itself” (Radikal, Hurriyet, Taraf, Hurriyet, Milliyet, Vatan, December 12).
When asked by a member of the audience what he meant by saying that terrorism had been legalized, Buyukanit did not pull any punches.
“The PKK has become politically legalized by entering parliament. They are doing things like proposing changes to the constitution,” he replied in an unmistakable reference to the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which won 20 seats in parliament in the July 22 general election (Hurriyet, Vatan, Radikal, Sabah, Taraf, December 12).
Ahmet Turk, head of the DTP parliamentary party, refuted the accusation: “We are trying to reduce tensions. We expect everybody to display sensitivity when making statements,” he said (Radikal, December 12).
But his words appear to have gone unheeded by his colleagues in the DTP. The DTP has persistently refused to characterize the PKK as a terrorist organization or explicitly condemn its use of violence. At the same time as Buyukanit was addressing the SAREM symposium, DTP MP Aysul Tugluk, who once served as lawyer for imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, was giving a speech in parliament. Several DTPs have recently advocated a redrafting of the Turkish constitution and the recognition of Turks and Kurds as equal co-founders of the state. In her speech to parliament Tugluk called for reconciliation between “the Turkish and Kurdish peoples.”
“There is a need for a new strategic partnership, a new strategic alliance,” she said. “No army can stand against an idea whose time has come.” (Radikal, Cumhuriyet, December 12).
But just as Ahmet Turk’s message did not appear to be getting through to Tugluk, neither did Buyukanit’s about Turkey appropriating the moral high ground when it came to rights and freedoms seem to be getting through to elements in the Turkish judiciary. Yesterday (December 11), 54 DTP MPs went on trial for holding a press conference in March this year to accuse the Turkish authorities of slowly poisoning Ocalan in his cell on the prison island of Imrali. Subsequent laboratory tests failed to find any evidence to corroborate their claims. Nevertheless, the 54 mayors now face up to two years in prison for allegedly praising Ocalan during their press conference (NTV, CNNTurk, December 11).