Turkey. Nearly 100 people – exgenerals and other officers, influential journalists and university rectors – were arrested during winter and spring for involvement in the ultranationalist conspiracy Ergenekon (“the deep state”). 56 people were charged with suspicion of attempting to provoke a coup against the country’s Islamist government, for example through acts of violence against secular institutions. The trial began in July. 13 of the defendants risked life imprisonment. 86 others were already facing trial since 2008. In order to facilitate the judicial process, the government passed a legislative amendment that made it possible to bring militants to justice in civil courts. According to countryaah, assessors believed that regardless of the court’s ruling, the scandal had shifted the balance of power in the country from the military to the government.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched in August the plan “Democratic opening” aimed at reconciliation with the Kurdish minority. The plan meant, among other things, that it would be allowed to use Kurdish and other minority languages in political campaigns. 34 members of the Kurdish PKK guerrilla tested the game by crossing the Iraqi border in October and surrendering to the Turkish military. They could have been indicted for membership in a terrorist organization but instead all were released. The question was delicate; the country’s nationalist opposition felt that the government was negotiating with terrorists. It was unclear whether Parliament would approve the plan. In December, the country’s constitutional court decided to ban the Kurdish-friendly party DTP (Democratic Social Party), which had 21 seats in parliament. The court ruled that the party had been in contact with the PKK. Over the years, a number of similar Kurdish-friendly parties have been banned and then reformed.
Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the local elections on March 29 but received a significantly lower share of votes, 38.8 percent, than in the 2007 parliamentary elections. The AKP retained the mayor’s posts in Istanbul and Ankara.
Turkey’s proximity to the EU hardly progressed at all. In January, Erdoğan appointed Egemen Bagis as EU negotiator, a position with ministerial status. A new policy area, on tax reform, was opened for negotiations on June 30, opening eleven of the 35 areas. But both Germany and France remained negative to Turkish membership. The Independent Commission for Turkey, led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, in September criticized these countries for delaying the negotiations. The main stumbling block was Turkey’s refusal to recognize the state of Cyprus and open its ports and airports for Cypriot traffic.
Turkey’s relationship with Israel, which has been characterized by intensive security cooperation since the 1990s, failed in the aftermath of Israel’s offensive against Gaza at the New Year, which Erdoğan described as genocide. In October, Turkey canceled an air force exercise it planned to hold with Israel, and at the same time, Turkish public service TV aired a drama series in which Israeli soldiers were portrayed as bloodthirsty beasts.
The approach to Armenia went better. In April, the countries agreed on a so-called roadmap to peace under Swiss mediation. The aim was to open the border, which Turkey closed in 1993, to restore diplomatic relations and to start bilateral cooperation. The foreign ministers of both countries signed the agreement on October 10, but it remained for the parliaments to ratify it. The contradictions were about the murders of 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey in 1915-23 and Turkey’s support to Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
US President Obama visited Turkey and gave a speech to Parliament on April 6, assuring that the United States was kind to Islam. Erdoğan repaid the visit in December. President Abdullah G邦l visited Iraq on March 23, where he and President Jalal Talabani signed agreements on cooperation in many areas. It was the first time in over 30 years that a Turkish head of state visited Iraq. The fighting between Turkish government troops and PKK soldiers, based in northern Iraq, continued during the year.
Turkey and four EU countries – Romania, Bulgaria, Austria and Hungary – agreed in July to build the 330-kilometer Nabucco gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Europe. Many legal details remained to be resolved.
More than 30 people were killed in the fall of September 7-10 in northwestern Turkey and the northern outskirts of Istanbul.
A smoking ban was introduced in July at all bars, cafes and restaurants. The ban sparked widespread protests.
The Kurdish question
The conflict between the government and the Kurdish separatist organization PKK was the most important political issue in Turkish politics in the 1990s. In the southeastern part of Turkey there are approx. ten million Kurds. The area is characterized by a very uneven distribution of land, high unemployment and illiteracy. The war between the Turkish army and the PKK started in 1984. In 1989, the PKK allied with a number of leftist barrels. This increased the Kurdish rebels’ ability to strike in Turkey’s largest cities.
As a result of the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad lost control of the Kurdish part of Iraq. This allowed PKK to establish itself there. In 1992, Turkey signed a security agreement with the Kurdish parties in Iraq, but this did not prevent the PKK from attacking targets in Turkey from neighboring countries.
On several occasions in the 1990s, Turkey attacked the PKK’s bases on Iraqi territory. In 1992, the country went into full military invasion of Northern Iraq to evict the PKK, but failed. In 1995, 35,000 Turkish soldiers supported by tanks, helicopters and F-16 fighters entered Northern Iraq to break the PKK once and for all. Turkish politician Tansu Çiller described the offensive as the largest Turkish military operation ever, but had to withstand harsh criticism from European governments and Western human rights organizations. Following pressure from the US and the EU, for example, Turkey had to withdraw from Iraq without any military or political solution.
In 1994, eight Kurdish elected officials were jailed; the same year, the Pro-Kurdish Democracy Party (DEP), formed in 1993, was also banned. In 1994, the accused members of the National Assembly were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for separatist propaganda, for supporting the PKK or being a member of an armed group. The most serious part of the charge of treason, which could have resulted in the death penalty, was waived on the last day of the trial. The judgments led to new condemnation of Turkey by European human rights activists.
In 1999, PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was kidnapped by Turkish agents in Nairobi and taken to Turkey. The arrest triggered violent Kurdish demonstrations across much of the world, especially in Europe. In May 1999, Öcalan was tried, charged with treason, and sentenced to death in June 1999. However, the death sentence was appealed, and after Turkey repealed the death penalty in 2002, the sentence was turned into life imprisonment. During the trial, Öcalan appealed for a ceasefire, and in September 1999 PKK declared unilateral ceasefire in the fight against the Turkish forces.
After the ceasefire, the security situation in Southeast Turkey was dramatically improved, and the state of emergency was lifted in 2002. Conditions in the Kurdish areas were then calm for several years, but after PKK’s successor Kongra-Gel in 2004 lifted the self-imposed ceasefire together, it was regular. between Kurdish militia and Turkish government forces.
In the spring of 2005, the PKK was reestablished in Northern Iraq, possibly following a split in Kongra-Gel, and in the autumn of 2005, a severe flare-up of Kurdish unrest in several Turkish cities. The violence between the PKK and the security forces has since been extensive, with many dead and injured on both sides. Turkish authorities view the fight against the PKK as part of the fight against terrorism and have asked the United States to intervene against 4,000 PKK fighters located in the mountains of northern Iraq. The United States has not fulfilled this desire for various reasons.
The PKK has been on the US list of terrorist organizations since 1997. The Turkish government is concerned about its territorial security after the PKK and Kongra-Gel took refuge in northern Iraq and later Syria, and conducted many military operations into Iraqi territory. In 2003, a group of Turkish elite soldiers were arrested by US soldiers in northern Iraq and wearing hoods. They were questioned and later released, but the incident gained tremendous attention in the Turkish public, and was portrayed as a serious national humiliation in most mass media.
As part of the application for membership in the EU, Turkey made several legislative changes after 2003 that gave the Kurds expanded political and cultural rights. Among other things, place names and signs in Kurdish have been introduced, and broadcasting in Kurdish was allowed in 2009. Despite this introduction of cultural rights, the question of granting Kurds collective rights is very sensitive. This is seen by many Turks as a step towards ethnic separatism, which in turn could pose a danger of fragmentation of Turkey as a state. Turkey’s indivisibility is enshrined in the Constitution and is a central pillar of the national feeling of many Turks. A section of the Criminal Code also makes it punishable to promote separatism.
In 2009, the AK government initiated secret meetings between the intelligence service and PKK in Oslo, and negotiations began in 2012. However, these negotiations were counteracted by prosecutors who demanded an inquiry by the head of the intelligence service, Hakan Fidan. He was accused of leaking secret information to the PKK and of working with the PKK to create a Kurdish state. These allegations were probably linked to the preacher Fethullah Gülen and his large Islamic movement Hizmet.
The AKP began as a democratizing force also in relation to the Kurds, but has continued to crack down on Kurdish political parties and accuse Kurdish politicians of terrorism and separatism. New Kurdish parties are banned after a few years, and new parties are formed. The AKP and Erdoğan have increasingly applied a nationalist rhetoric to the Kurdish issue, and increasingly argued for the use of military force.
After the Kurdish territory in northern Iraq became the site of PKK forces, Turkey has sought Western support to attack Iraqi territory. In the Syrian conflict, Turkey initially supported the Free Syrian Army, and it is claimed that this group was trained and coordinated by Turkish intelligence and military in Turkish territory. Turkey, along with the United States and several Gulf states, must have supported this army later, in order to overthrow President Assad. Turkey also wanted to prevent the PKK from strengthening in Syrian territory, which could pose a threat to Turkey. This led Turkey to withhold supplies and people who would cross the border into Syria to fight against the army of the Islamic State, IS. This sparked huge protests among Kurds in Turkey and Europe.
Many Turkish and foreign journalists and politicians claim that Turkey’s fear of a strengthened PKK also led Turkey to support Islamist groups in Syria, as a counterweight to the PKK. Both weapons and personnel should have been released into Syria. Alleged audio footage of intelligence, military and ministers planning a secret raid into Syria was leaked on YouTube in 2014 and spread on Twitter, prompting the authorities to block these services.
In 2013 and 2014, several trailers belonging to the intelligence service were stopped and searched by police and gendarmes in Adana, following orders from state prosecutors who had been advised of the transports. They were allegedly loaded with heavy weapons and artillery, but were released after a violent confrontation between police and intelligence agents. The government claims that the charge was humanitarian support for Turkmen groups, and the prosecutors and over thirty gendarmerie officers were indicted for espionage and for overthrowing the government. Erdoğan claims that this is part of the Gülen movement’s attempt to take over the state. Two newspaper editors have been arrested for mentioning the incident with the transport, and could be convicted of treason. Turkey’s relations with its own Kurds thus appear to be increasingly influenced by the military strategy to weaken the PKK in Northern Iraq and Kurdish forces in Syria. The wars in Iraq and Syria have thus led to a clear deterioration of the climate between the Turkish state and the Kurds.
Many Kurds accuse Turkish authorities of failing to prevent Islamist bombing against a Kurdish youth meeting in Suruc in July 2015, and against a pro-Kurdish peace demonstration in Ankara in October of that year. Authorities reject the charges, and Erdoğan has stated that IS, Kurdish forces and Syrian intelligence are behind.
The AKP has never become the party of the Kurds, although it had relatively large support in the Kurdish-dominated provinces in the past. The largest current Kurdish party BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), has succeeded in breaking out of the ethnic and becoming a party to a wider Turkish left and democratizing movements.