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Where Are the Kurdish Protesters?


The Turkish protests have lasted for almost a month now, but one group has yet to check into Taksim Square so far. The Kurds, who make up almost 20 percent of Turkey’s population and are usually at the forefront of any anti-government protest, have been a no show. Why? The New York Times explains:

The reticence of Turkey’s Kurds . . . to embrace the protest movement is partly because Mr. Erdogan has offered them the best chance in decades of achieving a settlement of their grievances through a landmark peace agreement with the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the P.K.K.

Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former Chief of Staff, who helped broker the peace in Ireland and who is currently trying to do the same for the Turks and the Kurds, is worried about the protesters harming the peace process. A strong leader like Erdogan is indispensable in the negotiations, and the protests, he suggests, are sapping the Prime Minister’s strength. The Guardian reports:

‘There are [often] spoilers, external factors,’ Powell said. ‘I hope it doesn’t happen here. Prime minister Erdogan and Hakan Fidan deserve a lot of support. It would be a tragedy if [these demonstrations] had the effect of knocking the peace process off track … If you look back on this in 50 years time, the peace process will be the most important thing.

Maybe, or maybe not. We certainly wouldn’t go as far as Powell in dismissing as historically inconsequential the complicated sets of grievances and divisions on display in the protests. To pick just one issue, Erdogan’s heavy-handed approach has already had a very real effect on Turkey’s prospects for EU membership, the consequences of which could easily reverberate across the next half century.

Nonetheless, Powell reminds us that the riots are far from the only story worth paying attention to when it comes to Turkey. From the Kurdish question to a splintering Syria to a showdown with a nuclear Iran, Turkey is a key actor in the region. Getting wound up over one story to the exclusion of all others can lead to one missing the forest for the trees.

[Turkish protesters and riot policemen clash on June 1, 2013, during a protest against the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park. Photo courtesy of Getty Images]

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  • ljgude

    Interesting how complex politics can get. The Kurds as allies of the Islamist regime at this moment in time and the much vaunted Kemalist military defanged leaving the secularists rioting on their own. While in Egypt the mix of military, Morsi and street riots are a very different porridge. No wonder the post colonialists in DC are confused.

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