Turkey must save the Kurds

Asli Aydintasbas writes: My generation of Turks grew up hating Kurdish separatists. Instead of questioning why Kurds weren’t allowed to speak their own language, live in their own villages or sing their own songs, we blamed the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., which had been waging a guerrilla war against Turkey since 1984, for all of Turkey’s woes. Kurds were responsible for the death of our soldiers, we said. They were guilty of tearing up the country, draining our resources and siding with our enemies. In the mainstream press, they were simply “baby killers.”

Over the past few decades, that view started to soften as the history of human rights abuses committed in Turkey’s Kurdish regions was revealed. An ongoing peace process with the P.K.K., and the Turkish government’s post-2010 rapprochement with Iraq’s Kurdish region has begun to heal the rift between Turks and Kurds. And Iraqi Kurds, landlocked and alienated in an unstable country, started seeing Turkey as a key ally — reciprocated thanks to Turkey’s commercial appetite in the oil-rich region.

When secular Turks staged mass protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year, Kurds came out in support of the demonstrators. They camped out in Istanbul’s Gezi Park alongside leftists, students and artists — ostensibly to save a bunch of trees from an ugly development project, but in reality to protest Mr. Erdogan’s repressive style of governance.

Today, the Kurds are showing even greater courage. In Iraq and Syria, they are fighting Islamic State terrorists on our borders. Together with Iraqi Kurdish forces, the P.K.K. and its Syrian offshoots, our Kurdish compatriots have effectively formed a buffer zone between modern Turkey and the medieval radicalism propagated by the Islamic State. They are protecting not only our physical well-being but our entire way of life — and for this we must be grateful.[Continue reading…]

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