This is the first of two articles focusing on the bias in Turkey towards one militant group, Hamas, over another, the PKK.
The famous quote “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” holds true as much today as it always has, especially, and absurdly, within Turkey.
In recent years the Turkish state’s relations with Israel have seen a gradual decline since the ascendency to power of the Islamist rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP Turkish acronym) in 2004. Alongside this deterioration of relations has arisen a bias in Turkey, both from the state and the media, in their approach to dealing with two militant groups that most countries recognize as terrorist organizations.
Hamas on the one hand, opposed to the existence of Israel, has fought a bloody war with that country since the 1990s, whilst the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been fighting Turkey since 1984, initially demanding a separate state for Turkey’s Kurds, but later changing their demands, calling instead for cultural and political rights for Kurds.
Elections and legitimacy
The AKP has taken a critical approach towards Israel on the Palestinian issue, increasingly so since the 2009 Israeli offensive on Gaza, as highlighted in the very public spat between Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year. Relations between the two countries have become so bad that Erdogan has started lobbying for the recognition of Hamas as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people despite that organizations refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Erdogan’s argument is that Hamas won the Palestinian Authority (PA) 2006 parliamentary elections and has the right to represent the Palestinians.
“Hamas entered the elections as a political party. If the whole world had given them the chance of becoming a political player, maybe they would not be in a situation like this after the elections that they won. The world has not respected the political will of the Palestinian people.”
argued Erdogan in an interview with Newsweek in January 2009.
Further still, the situation has worsened with the recent Gaza flotilla incident where 9 Turkish nationals were killed by Israeli commandos. As a result Erdogan and the AKP have taken an even harsher tone towards Israel with reference to Hamas, putting Turkish-Israeli relations at an unprecedented low.
“I do not think that Hamas is a terrorist organization…They are Palestinians in resistance, fighting for their own land,”
“This action, totally contrary to the principles of international law, is inhumane state terrorism”.
Taking Erdogan’s logic on why Hamas should be recognized on the grounds of winning the 2006 elections, it is possible to see a double standard in his argument. During the 2009 Turkish local elections the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) put on a strong showing, gaining large support in the predominantly Kurdish areas of the country, only narrowly coming second to the AKP. Yet Erdogan and the AKP run government banned that party for being a “focal point of terrorism”, imprisoning dozens of its members and banning from politics for 5 years its top brass.
Erdogan had arrogantly hoped to win over most of the Kurdish areas after introducing cosmetic reforms, vowing that he would “take that castle” in reference to the largest Kurdish dominated city of Diyarbakir. AKP even went as far as to hand out free electronic appliances to Kurds to gain their votes. But once the DTP showed its strength, the state resorted to banning them. Incidentally the Kurds kept the castle with over 66% of the vote.
The DTP quickly reorganized under a new name, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and again the Turkish state, and in some cases, ordinary Turks, have been hard at work harassing, intimidating and imprisoning its members, as well as trying to outlaw the BDP.
What is interesting to note in this parallel is how Israel did not intervene to prevent Hamas taking part in the 2006 PA elections, leaving the Palestinians instead to choose their own representatives. However, Israel had set conditions for holding peace talks with the Palestinians. One of them being, understandably, that Hamas cease aggression towards Israel as well as recognize Israel’s right to exist; something that Hamas has yet to agree to. Meanwhile, Turkey has, to date, refused to accept the PKK as a key player in solving the Kurdish question and has moved to ban any pro-Kurdish political party that shows any sign of factoring the PKK into a Kurdish solution.
And all this is despite a number of unilateral ceasefires declared by the PKK since the 1990s which Turkey has ignored, instead favoring a ‘surrender or die’ approach towards the PKK. Considering this, one could say that Israel and the PKK would make realistic negotiating partners for peace, in comparison to Hamas and Turkey and their ‘all or nothing’ attitudes.
Equally absurd is Turkey’s critique of Israel’s reaction and use of force, by labeling it “state terrorism”. Not that Israel is not famous for using heavy handed force which is rightly questionable and worrying, i.e. Gaza offensive 2009. But the absurdity, again, lies in the reality of Turkish politics and state policies.
Turkey reacts with the charge of “state terrorism” at Israel for boarding a ship and subduing hostile crew members, leaving 9 dead. But what of the continued oppression of the Kurds? The most shocking policy that Turkey has pursued in recent years has been the imprisonment of children under anti-terror laws. Children of 14 and 15 years of age are being imprisoned for throwing stones at Turkish police and chanting slogans in support of the PKK, a crime under Turkish anti-terror laws. Yet Turkey complains about Israel shooting violent activists that support Hamas.
Furthermore, for the past 6 years Turkey has routinely shelled and bombed the Kurdistan region of Iraq where the PKK has bases, and has launched numerous ground offensives into Iraqi Kurdistan, the latest being in 2008. Ironically, Turkey has done this in part with the use of Israeli bought unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The result has been loss of civilian life, property and livestock. Iraqi Kurds, in those areas bombed and raided, are now displaced in their own country, too afraid to return to their villages because of Turkish heavy handed tactics.
This obvious double standard and contradictory attitude of the Turkish state raises a number of questions, such as; What is it that distinguishes Hamas so fundamentally from the PKK that Erdogan and Turkey feel the need to champion them? What is it the PKK is not doing that Hamas is doing? Could it be the extremist hard-line approach of calling for the destruction of Israel? or maybe the firing of rockets on Israeli civilian areas?
Additionally, what constitutes “state terrorism” to the Turks? The killing of 9 people on a ship heading towards a naval blockade? is the imprisonment of children, 14 or 15 years old just for throwing stones and shouting slogans, not state terrorism? taking away someone’s childhood because of mere sticks and stones, as well as words? What about the constant bombardment of neighboring countries, killing civilians, with the excuse of fighting ‘terrorism’?
Despite all this, what one could call hypocrisy, Turkey maintains its hostile stance towards Israel whilst conveniently ignoring its own domestic issues. They champion one militant group, Hamas, yet deny engaging their own home grown one, the PKK.
Well they have not totally ignored the domestic issues in relation to the recent flotilla incident. Turkish intelligence services are now suggesting there could be a link between Israel and the PKK’s actions. Maybe someone should remind them who it was that helped capture the leader of the PKK for Turkey in 1999.