[Marxism] FP: New Kurds on the Block

Shalva Eliava shalva.eliava at outlook.com
Fri Oct 2 19:23:34 MDT 2015


New Kurds on the Block
The Rise of Turkey's Militant Youth
By Micha'el Tanchum

For years now, the Turks have anxiously watched the chaos engulfing
Syria and Iraq. But now the country is facing its own potential civil
war. In late July, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)
made the ill-advised decision to discontinue two-and-half years of peace
negotiations with the Kurdish militants and launch a military campaign
against them. Since then, the Kurdish regions, one quarter of Turkey’s
territory, have become active conflict zones, with the military and
police facing regular attacks from Kurdish rocket-propelled grenades and
improvised explosive devices.

Over 120 Turkish security personnel have died in clashes with militants
affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) since the
ceasefire agreement fell apart two months ago. Starting in August, after
hundreds of Turkish aerial assaults on PKK guerrilla positions in
neighboring Iraq, the military and police attempted to place Turkey’s
southeast Kurdish region under lockdown. Over a dozen Kurdish-majority
towns and districts responded by declaring themselves “autonomous.”
Turkish security forces have found themselves facing unprecedented
resistance from new PKK-affiliated urban youth militias. Turkish
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP caretaker government,
meanwhile, appear to have been caught unprepared by the dynamics of the
conflict that they have unleashed.


Ankara most likely assumed that it could bring the Kurdish population
into submission through the use of overwhelming force—aerial bombing
combined with the deployment of commando units—much like the so-called
dirty war in the 1990s that succeeded in degrading the PKK’s capacity to
conduct guerrilla warfare in the Kurdish countryside. Back then, to
target the PKK and subdue the Kurdish populace, the Turkish government
forcibly evacuated rural communities and razed their villages. But that
was yesterday’s war, and it won’t work with today’s Kurdish movement,
which is overwhelmingly urban, politically sophisticated, and broad based.

Murad Sezer / Reuters

Turkish security forces use tear gas to disperse Turkish Kurds near the
Turkish-Syrian border, September 26, 2014.

Another key difference is that, whereas the PKK was relatively isolated
within Turkey in the 1990s, today, there is a de facto autonomous
Kurdish region across the border in Syria that is run by the
PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD). The PYD’s three autonomous
cantons, known among the Kurds as Rojavaye Kurdistane (“Western
Kurdistan”), or more commonly as Rojava (the West), have heightened
Turkish Kurds’ desire for autonomy, particularly after the PYD’s January
victory against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in the autonomous
canton of Kobani. With the help of U.S. air cover, PYD and PKK fighters,
assisted by Kurdish volunteers from Turkey, broke ISIS’ siege of the city.

And yet a week before the United States came to its aid, the PYD had
been struggling to beat back ISIS. At that time, President Erdogan
expressed delight in the impending collapse of the Kurdish stronghold
and exultantly declared, “Kobani is on the verge of falling.” Erdogan’s
remarks sparked four days of violent riots in 35 cities across Turkey
and the government put most of southeastern Turkey under curfew.
Following the victory at Kobani, however, millions of conservative Kurds
embraced the cause for an autonomous Rojava and switched their
allegiance from Erdogan’s ruling AKP to the Kurdish-oriented People’s
Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey’s June 7 parliamentary elections. The
swell in Kurdish support enabled the HDP to cross the 10 percent
electoral threshold and become the first Kurdish-led party in
parliament. The AKP thus lost its majority hold.

After Kobani, additional victories against ISIS in northern Syria
enabled the PYD to geographically link two of its three cantons, raising
the prospect that Rojava would soon become a contiguous, autonomous
Kurdish entity stretching along almost the entirety of Turkey’s southern
border. With this development, Erdogan took more drastic measures and
attempted to seek the assistance of the international community. “I am
appealing to the whole world,” he said in a speech one month before
Turkey launched its anti-PKK, military campaign. “We will never allow
the establishment of a [Kurdish] state in Syria’s north and our south.
We will continue our fight in this regard no matter what it costs.”

Osman Orsal / Reuters

Supporters of the Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) cheer
during a gathering to celebrate their party's victory during the
parliamentary election, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, June 8, 2015.

While the costs of government’s war against the PKK are indeed proving
to be high, Erdogan is also in a battle for his own political survival.
He has blocked the formation of a coalition government and has instead
forced snap elections, to be held on November 1, in an attempt to
reinstate a single-party AKP-government. Having lost Kurdish support,
about 5.5 percent of the AKP’s electoral base, Erdogan hopes to win
votes from the AKP’s right-of-center political rival, the Nationalist
Movement Party, by capitalizing on the current anti-PKK sentiment among
non-Kurdish Turks.


The embattled southern city of Cizre has become the symbolic epicenter
of the conflict. There, more than 5,000 security personnel with armored
vehicles battled armed Kurdish youth militias ensconced in homemade
trenches. Although Turkish forces regained control of the city after
nine days of what was tantamount to martial law, most residents blame
Ankara for the damage and civilian deaths they attribute to the
military’s indiscriminate tactics.

Cizre is illustrative of the fallout for the AKP from antagonizing the
Kurds. In that city, the HDP had received 85 percent of the vote, but
Erdogan has effectively nullified the results and blocked the Kurds from
gaining some semblance of autonomy through parliamentary politics. The
Kurdish citizens of Cizre and their compatriots across Turkey are
consequently more willing to resort to violence to make themselves heard.

Even though in March, the PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan called
for the Kurds to abandon the armed struggle, Turkey’s military campaign
has triggered a new mindset within the Kurdish movement. On September
10, the Executive Council of the Union of Communities of Kurdistan, the
pan-Kurdish political organization dominated by the PKK and its
affiliated parties and organizations, issued a call for “total
resistance” against the state’s security forces operating in Turkey’s
Kurdish regions. Headed by the PKK’s acting political leader Cemil
Bayik, the Executive Council wrote in a statement, “The people of Cizre
should be supported in the same way the resistance in Kobani was
supported. It is time to rise up and stand by the people of Bakure
(“Northern”) [Turkish] Kurdistan.”

Before his death in 2012, the respected elder statesman of Kurdish
politics, Serafettin Elci, famously warned the Turkish establishment
that the times were changing. “We are the last generation you are going
to negotiate with,” he declared. “After us, you will confront an angry
youth that has grown up in war.” The prophetic admonition from the late
philosopher and lawyer, who himself served an eight-month term in
Diyarbakir military prison, has come true.

As the statement indicates, localized Kurdish youth militias are
increasingly driving the course of events. Loosely formed within the
past few years under the banner of the PKK’s Patriotic Revolutionary
Youth Movement (YDG-H), these militias are composed of Kurdish youth,
aged 15–25, who grew up during the dirty war and came of age witnessing
the success of asymmetrical urban warfare conducted by jihadist
organizations in Iraq and Syria. Similar to jihadist youth across the
border, the Kurdish YDG-H have their own culture of extreme
self-sacrifice and are fueled by a narrative that vilifies the Turkish
state, and its torture of Kurds, and lionizes the most extreme PKK

Analysts writing in the Turkish media, such as Metin Gurcan, have dubbed
these new Kurdish youth fighters the “Mad Max” generation: social
media-savvy militants prone to radicalization because of the personal
meaning and excitement they find in armed clashes against the Turkish state.


Before his death in 2012, the respected elder statesman of Kurdish
politics, Serafettin Elci, famously warned the Turkish establishment
that the times were changing. “We are the last generation you are going
to negotiate with,” he declared. “After us, you will confront an angry
youth that has grown up in war.” The prophetic admonition from the late
philosopher and lawyer, who himself served an eight-month term in
Diyarbakir military prison, has come true.

Although the so-called Mad Max generation remains to be fully
understood, it is clear that the traditional PKK chain-of-command will
not be able to exercise complete control over these urban Kurdish
rebels. With Ocalan, and Bayik, and the rest of the PKK’s top leadership
all in their sixties, the window for arriving at a peaceful political
settlement may be closing.

Denis Sinyakov / Reuters

A Kurdish man waves a scarf painted with traditional Kurdish colors
during a rally in Turkey, November 11, 2007.

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Meanwhile, because the AKP government needs to achieve some sort of
progress in its fight against the PKK before the November 1 elections,
the state is likely to escalate the conflict. There have already been
hundreds of attacks by violent mobs on the offices of the HDP and on
ordinary Kurds across Turkey. These clashes will likely enlarge the
ranks of the Kurdish youth militias who pride themselves on their
self-designated role as protectors of the Kurds. In other words, the
AKP’s anti-Kurdish campaign will essentially help the youth militias
recruit from the Kurdish neighborhoods of Turkey’s major urban centers.

The prospect for urban street violence before the elections is also
increased by the dangerous game of one-upmanship between thefar-right
“Idealist Hearths,” a youth movement tied to the Nationalist Movement
Party, and the more radical elements within the AKP’s own youth movement.

Today the Kurdish issue is a qualitatively more intractable than it was
in the 1990s. The Turkish state will not easily defeat thousands of
urban militants who possess broad popular support. Nor will Ankara
quickly recover from the social and economic damage caused by its effort
to do so. There is no end to the war unless there is a resumption of
peace negotiations with the PKK and the acceptance of a Kurdish rights
movement within Turkey’s parliamentary system. If Ankara chooses to
escalate its campaign against the Kurdish urban youth militias, it may
find itself facing a debilitating forever war, permanently at odds with
most of its Kurdish population and regretting the missed opportunity for
a permanent solution

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