Should The Kurds Hold On To Their Territorial Claim?

By Hüseyin Tunç

George Orwell said: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.” (“Politics and the English Language,” 1946)

The simple word terrorism is behind numerous acts of state-sponsored violence inflicted upon civilians. As a political artifice, terrorism has enabled states to conduct terrorism under the very name of the fight against terrorism. Turkey’s recent military engagement in Kurdish civilian enclaves in Southeastern Turkey is no different; Kurdish noncombatants, including elders, women, and children have been killed, as this simple term, “terrorism,” is enough to legitimize and cover the very acts of terrorism carried by the state.

In the contemporary world, the prevailing approach has been to distinguish between non-state groups that pose a challenge to central authority or have secessionist claim for a particular territory within the boundaries of a state with mere terrorist movements that have no territorial ambition. While the former is usually not labeled as a terrorist, but rather identified as insurgent or guerilla movement by the people who are not entrapped by the thought-language corruption (unless the group wreaks aggregate levels of violence on civilians or undertakes terrorist acts), the latter is simply characterized as a terrorist whose sole existence is to inflict fear. The fight for self-determination and against brutal dictatorial regimes has some sort of ‘unuttered’ or ‘silent’ legitimacy, and, in fact, is appealing.

The Kurds close to the ideology of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) – mainly in Turkey, Syria, and Iran – acquiesced in their territorial claim for statehood and now favor self-autonomy and national democratization as means to Kurdish emancipation. They believe that real emancipation for the Kurds would come not through establishing their own nation-state, but through democratizing the countries where they live.

While noble, this attempt has clear downsides. Territorial claim has legitimacy, and eases the understanding of the outside world about the Kurdish fight against their central states – not to even mention the quarrels from the ardent Kurds about the ‘utopia of democratizing the Kurds’ oppressors’ for a better life for the Kurds.

In addition, for a nation-state with secessionist movement in its territory, the biggest fear is the divisibility of nation, and this is usually a strong reason to draw the state to the negotiating table. This is because self-determination for a people is a rightful claim, as proclaimed in Wilson’s fourteen principles. This is the art of diplomacy for the weak: To utilize the means at their disposal to force the state to negotiate.

Also, negotiation is still a give-and-take in international diplomacy, and definitely in civil conflicts, and a win-lose understanding is still prevailing. Possible win-win resolutions are neither familiar to the Kurds’ respective states nor held on to by them. Thus, giving up the claim for Kurdish territorial right is not helping the Kurds; rather it is further perpetuating an impasse. Secession should always be the BATNA (the best alternative) for the Kurds and they should vehemently claim it. This claim would leverage the Kurds in the negotiating table and would push their corresponding states to give them self-governing rights in return for no separation as a part of this give-and-take. The Kurds, therefore, should hold on to their territorial claim and should not give up it easily; only then, at least, the self-Kurdish autonomy will materialize, and could even be the states’ own proposition, as for states self-autonomy is more desirable and acceptable than separation.


 

The Kurdish Self-Governance Movement in Turkey’s South East