While we struggle to come up with ways to cope with our own Kurdish problem, the issue is rapidly crossing borders and is on the verge of becoming internationalized. The Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq has substantial autonomy. 85% of our exports to our second-largest market — Iraq — actually go to the Kurdish region. The opening of bank branches, more than 1000 companies and ever-intensifying energy relations illustrate the strong bond between Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Iraqi Kurds, although not endeared to the PKK, are not willing to take up arms against it. They think that the PKK has a certain sympathy among their own population, and that to tangle with it would upset the region’s stability. In Syria, the strongest Kurdish party has organic ties to the PKK. Since the beginning of the uprising, Syria’s Kurds have maintained harmonious relations with the Assad regime. In a country where they once did not even have identification cards, they are now acquiring political weight.
All these realities are internationalizing the problems Kurds face within the four countries in which they live, including Turkey and Iran. Despite all the problems we have, when it comes to Kurdish nationalism, Turkey is the country most at ease. We know from the election results that the Kurds of our land have chosen the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as their first choice.
The importance of this preference is that it shows that the Kurds in Turkey, contrary to the Kurds of Iraq, actually want to play a part in the political structure of our country. But we must acknowledge that stalling on the Kurdish problem forever by treating a large portion of children, journalists and the silent majority as terrorists or aspiring terrorists, will come at a cost. Endless jail terms mean that what goes on in prisons, as well as the flaws in our judiciary system, further increase this cost.
This is why the crisis in Syria has put on the agenda many issues that we had previously been unaware of. Although Turkey has already lost some of its best cards because of its misguided policy vis-a-vis the Syrian crisis, it must stand resolute against pressures for a military operation. It is no secret that the much-debated “safe zone” option will only be accepted if Syrian Kurds begin to cross our border. Syrian Kurds, despite their lack of experience, might seek more autonomy from a weakening regime in Damascus.
No matter how you look it, it is high time for Turkey to give up stale, futile approaches to its Kurdish problem.