Turkey is still far from achieving membership in the European Union. Arguments for this vary from lack of democracy, economic instability, violations of international law and so on. Additionally, Turkey has a very poor human rights record, which is documented in various human rights reports. The Kurds have suffered beyond anything most of us have witnessed or can even imagine, ever since the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923.
Turkey has to take into account that EU membership entails sharing the same basic, underlying values and the same community of binding law. In order to establish this foundation Turkey has to comply with the Copenhagen criteria. The Kurdish population in Turkey hoped that an EU membership would improve their basic democratic rights. It seems that their hope rests on fragile ground.
In a state that wishes to achieve EU membership – a war has been going on for more than 24 years. Many actors have called upon Turkey to solve the problems by peaceful means, not at least the Kurds themselves. The PKK has officially declared five unilateral cease-fires, initiatives that have been ignored by both Turkey and the EU. The armed conflict escalated spring in the 2008, and the EU as well as the international community where reticent regarding Turkey?s cross-border attacks against the PKK in Northern Iraq. The operations hit villages, livestock and civilians hard (KHRP report 2008). Turkey has the perceived EU?s and the US?s attitude as a tacit acceptance. This is far from a ?war against terror?; it is a war against the Kurdish people, a war against thousands of youths, a war against the citizens of Turkey.
The lack of political firmness from the EU regarding Turkey?s treatment of its Kurdish population is a matter of concern and the reactions towards Turkey, for example in the 2007 European Parliament?s Draft Report, are too weak. The report clearly expresses the view that it is the PKK that is to be blamed for the problems in Turkey. It says that the European Parliament ??strongly condemns the violence perpetrated by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and other terrorist groups on Turkish soil?. Further, it ?reiterates its solidarity with Turkey in its fight against terrorism and once again calls upon the PKK to declare and respect an immediate and unconditional ceasefire? (27, page 7).This is however, exactly what the PKK repeatedly has been doing without being given any opportunity to sit on the table.
The PKK was added to the European Union’s list of groups branded as terrorists in 2002, because of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. This was done in order to bring the EU list in line with the US terrorist blacklist. The blacklisting of the PKK disregards the distinction between acts of terrorism and acts of resistance against a state that employs terrorist methods. Originally, the PKK was not included in the blacklist; however, as Turkey pushed for listing the PKK, the EU gave in. In this way Turkey was able to use the US led ?war against terror? as a pretext to continue its politics of repression and denial. Stigmatising a group as ?terrorist?, like the EU, the US and Turkey do in the case of the PKK, is an effective means to exclude the group from the political arena, including individuals and organisations that support it. The blacklist is thereby used against an organisation with which the other party does not want to negotiate; in addition, it becomes an accusation towards an entire people and its representatives. The following example may serve as an illustration:
Ever since the DTP members entered the Turkish Parliament in 2007, the Prime Minister, the EU and the United States have put pressure upon them to condemn the PKK. In the past several years, Turkey has banned or dissolved many Kurdish parties, allegedly for supporting the PKK and thereby threatening the unity of the nation-state. Turkish courts continue to penalise elected politicians, advocates, journalists, writers and other public figures. The reasons are many: such as, giving a blessing in Kurdish, sending a greeting card wishing ?happy new year? in Kurdish, offending Turkish military by condemning its operations against the PKK, ?insulting Turkishness? or ?insulting the Turkish nation?, discussing the Armenian issue or the Kurdish question?, and so on. Any improvements in human rights conditions in Turkey depends on the political will to abide by international human rights standards by which it is already bound. The EU has been supportive of the cultural rights of Kurds. A European delegation in its report on local democracy in Turkey criticised the Turkish policy and called on Turkey to sign the Council of Europe?s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. However, there is a huge distance between these conventions and the Kurdish reality in Turkey.
The blacklisting of the PKK represents a serious hindrance for those who are trying to take an active role as mediators or negotiators between the parties. Thus, dropping the ?terrorism? label from the non-International armed conflict between the government of Turkey and the PKK will help normalise the situation in the region and encourage the democratic voices in Turkey to speak out. Before EU membership is granted, the Kurdish question has to be solved peacefully. Peace will not be achieved by accusing Kurds, whether they express support the PKK or not, of being ?terrorists?.
Does the EU want the armed conflict to continue? Does the EU have the possibilities to take the necessary steps in order to find a durable solution? I suppose the answer to the first question is no, the answer to the latter is yes; the EU has the opportunity to contribute to a peaceful solution. One concrete and effective step would be to remove the PKK from the blacklist and thereby eliminate the argument that enforces Turkey?s negative politics towards the Kurds. Blacklisting the PKK will never lead to a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem or to the democratisation of Turkey. On the contrary, the problems will probably increase in the future.
This campaign calls on both Turkey and the EU to reconsider their views. If Turkey uses the opportunity to initiate a dialogue and abolish the use of arms and force, it would probably have a positive effect on their chances for EU membership as well.
KARIANE WESTRHEIM is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen, Norway. Her research includes critical pedagogy, multiculturalism and education in conflict areas. Her current work focuses on the educational policy of the Kurdistan Workers? Party (PKK). Westrheim is a board member of the Rafto Prize Committee (www.rafto.no) and has been engaged in Kurdish issues since 1994 when Leyla Zana was awarded the Rafto Prize.
E-mail: [email protected]
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