Kurds in turkey: dispute over guerrilla monument

Hardly erected, the statue of a co-founder of the Kurdish PKK is torn down again. It was a nuisance for Erdogan, but also for Ocalan.

Security forces in Diyarbakir, southern Turkey. Photo: dpa

After a prolonged peaceful period in Turkey’s Kurdish areas, clashes broke out again yesterday, with a 22-year-old Kurd being shot dead by security forces. The cause is the dispute over the demolition of a large bronze statue showing one of the founders of the PKK, Mahsum Korkmaz, in guerrilla clothing and holding a Kalashnikov. The statue had been ceremonially unveiled on August 16 in Lice, a town north of the Kurdish metropolis of Diyarbakir, and had immediately led to an outcry among Turkish nationalists.

The images that flickered across TV screens into Turkish living rooms yesterday are reminiscent of ten years ago. Armored military trucks storm Lice, some of them having their tires shot out on the way. Around the military trucks, protesting Kurdish youths rage. The atmosphere, correspondents on the ground report, is extremely tense after a protester was shot dead.

The statue of the Kurdish guerrilla leader, who died fighting the army in 1986, had been unveiled Saturday in a solemn ceremony attended by representatives of the Kurdish BDP. Immediately afterwards, the governor of Diyarbakir, appointed by the central government in Ankara, ordered the demolition of the statue. On Monday, a court in Diyarbakir upheld the governor’s order, which additionally opened an investigation against the monument’s builders. Early Tuesday morning, military units removed Mahsum Korkmaz from his pedestal. The life-size statue of Korkmaz, erected on a pedestal at least three meters high, was a provocation for the Turkish right, as well as a large section of the public.

Korkmaz is considered the military leader of the PKK’s guerrilla units, which opened the armed struggle for a separate Kurdish state in 1984 with concerted attacks on several gendarmerie and police stations in Turkey. After Abdullah ocalan, Korkmaz is the PKK’s best-known founder. Lice, where his statue had now been erected, is considered the birthplace of the PKK.

A nuisance for Erdogan

Although acting Prime Minister and President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not yet commented publicly on the incident, it is a major irritant for the AKP government. The deputy chairman of the nationalist MHP, Oktay Vuray, used the opportunity to massively attack Erdogan. Thanks to the government’s policy, he said at an event in Alanya, statues of Ataturk, the founder of the republic, were gradually being removed all over the country. Instead, terrorists could now build statues of their heroes.

Oktay Vuray’s criticism referred to the so-called peace process that the government initiated with the PKK and its historic leader Abdullah ocalan in early 2013. According to the nationalists, the construction of the statue of Mahsum Korkmaz is just another sign that the peace process is promoting the secession of the Kurdish regions.

Apart from Erdogan, the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah ocalan is therefore likely to have been more annoyed than pleased by the action of his comrades in Lice. Because, like Erdogan, he sees this as a disruption of the peace process, which ocalan actually believes is well on its way after Erdogan won the presidential election. To a delegation of the Kurdish HDP, which visited him on the prison island of Imrali after the election, ocalan pressed a statement into his hand in which he stated that the final end of the 30-year armed struggle in Turkey was imminent. The good performance of Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas in the presidential elections a week ago, he said, was the signal that the Kurds were about to become the country’s main opposition by political means.

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