Kurdish Civilians Need Empathy, Not Pity


Cizre, Şırnak Province.

Peace talks with the PKK were doomed to fail.

For a long time it had been clear that the conflict with the PKK would turn into an ugly urban warfare, hence cause civilian casualties, mainly because during the “peace process” the PKK was hardly peaceful. It stockpiled weapons in cities as Turkey’s security forces and intelligence stood and watched. And the government was never consistent and honest about the talks. First they denied they ever took place. When it was undeniable, they attempted to bully people into supporting the talks. Also, lack of legal framework and transparency has always been an issue.

Turkish military is extremely experienced in dealing with the PKK’s guerilla warfare in the mountains. But having to deal with terrorists in such a large scale in urban areas is a relatively new and harder task. As Minister of Internal Affairs stated, operations in Cizre ended. Yet it is inevitable that similar clashes will occur in the future.

Supressed Kurds, Depressed Turks

Life is becoming impossible for ordinary Kurds in the area. During Cizre operations, people died in crossfire, they were not able to bury their dead, access to food and medical services because of the strictly imposed curfew… According to a police report, as many as 100.000 people were displaced. What is more disturbing is that these facts do not seem to agitate the Western part of the country. There is an alarming lack of empathy which, I think, is horribly damaging the country’s unity more than the PKK’s military efforts. People in metropolises go on with their busy lives and are non-reacting to the news of dying innocent civilians, including a 3-month-old baby, in the country’s South-East.

The reasons for this numbness are various. Turks may have simply stopped believing in politics and speaking up. Because nothing they do really seems to sufficiently affect the country’s direction. After massive Gezi Park protests, strongly substantiated corruption charges, Gülen Movement’s rebellion and so on, the ruling AKP grew even more powerful and its authoritarian tendencies intensified. The AKP lost the majority in the parliament in June 2015, yet the opposition parties were simply not competent enough to compromise on their differences and form a government. So, the anti-AKP people are just tired and depressed and gave up on not just the Kurds but the whole political process. Whereas Erdoğan managed to consolidate his electorate solidly and people back him even when he changes his policies 180 degrees which he definitely did in the Kurdish case. Indeed, the AKP and Erdoğan were selling “peace” during ceasefire and declaring every skeptical voice as “traitors”, “enemies of peace”. They are now selling patriotism in war time and declaring opposing voices, again, traitors, terrorists, enemies of state…

Hearts and Minds

Of course, Turkey will not lose the region in military terms. But right now it is losing a lot of hearts and minds, which is pretty much the PKK’s strategy.The living conditions brought about by the clashes in the area create hatred that will eventually feed the PKK.

Kurdish civilians need empathy, not pity. And the Turks need to show that empathy in order to keep their emotional bonds with the Kurds strong and their country intact. It is past time for them to show that they care and shed at least a few tears for also the civilians caught in the middle. It will definitely contribute to the country’s unity much more than killing hundreds of terrorists.