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WikiLeaks: 2006-07-05: 06ANKARA3899: Turkey: Worrisome Trends in Kurdish Politics

by WikiLeaks. 06ANKARA3899: July 05, 2006.

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2012 at 05:18 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06ANKARA3899 2006-07-05 08:51 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Ankara
DE RUEHAK #3899/01 1860851
P 050851Z JUL 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 003899 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/05/2016 
Classified by Pol Officer Philip Kaplan; reason 1.4 (b) and 
1.  (C) Summary: Despite some small steps forward, cynicism 
and suspicion dominate the mood among Turkey,s Southeast 
Kurds.  The Democractic Society Party (DTP), which has pushed 
to allow the PKK to be a legitimate interlocutor with Ankara, 
remains the leading political party in the region, and 
alternatives to the DTP are even less constructive.  In 
particular, the reemergence of the radical Islamic Turkish 
Hizbullah bears close watching.  End summary. 
2.  (C) During a June 20-23 trip to Mardin, Sirnak, and 
Diyarbakir provinces, Adana Consulate PO and poloff held a 
series of meetings with local officials to discuss regional 
economic and political developments.  This cable addresses 
trends in Kurdish politics.  Septel will address economic 
developments in the region and the ongoing construction 
project at Habur gate. 
Pessimism Reins in Southeast 
3.  (C) Contacts among Diyarbakir,s NGO community and the 
Cizre branch of the DTP described the mood in the Southeast 
as pessimistic, despite some recent small steps forward. 
Long-time Consulate contact and head of the Diyarbakir Bar 
Association Sezgin Tanrikulu asserted to us that the recent 
conference in Diyarbakir on the Kurdish issue represented the 
first time Kurds of all political stripes had come together 
under one roof to share views constructively.  Officials at 
the Cizre DTP branch told us that the Semdinli verdict 
(reftel) stands as a positive move by the State and expressed 
hope that the convictions and sentences  would stick. 
4.  (C) These encouraging events are tempered, however, by 
doubt and cynicism that permeated all of the discussions with 
our Kurdish interlocutors.  In particular, Tanrikulu noted 
that he was pleased with the outcome of this stage of the 
Semdinli trial but is convinced the judiciary will ultimately 
acquit the jandarma NCOs.  Tanrikulu, who attended the 
Semdinli trial in Van province and has been an outspoken 
critic of the security apparatus, added that he had recently 
received several threatening phone calls from what he 
speculates were jandarma intelligence (formerly JITEM, now 
called JIT, according to our contacts) officers.  He echoed 
comments we heard earlier from the Cizre DTP officials, 
claiming that the arrest of bookstore owner Seferi Yilmaz was 
a deliberate provocation designed to send a message to Kurds 
not to cross swords with the State. 
5.  (C) Some of our contacts were also deeply suspicious 
about the conduct of military operations against the PKK. 
The Cizre DTP officials claimed that the security forces had 
deliberately set the Cudi mountains on fire in Sirnak, 
destroying thousands of acres of land and livestock.  (Note: 
local press claims Turkish soldiers are not allowing 
civilians access to extinguish the fires. End note.)  Bishop 
Samuel Aktas at the Mor Gabriel Syriac Orthodox monastery in 
Mardin told us the local Syriac villagers who returned from 
Europe in 2005 may have to forfeit some of their Sari village 
land because of the slow return of Kurdish village guards to 
the area seeking to reclaim their property.  As a result, 
Aktas asserted, the village guards set a nearby forest on 
fire (consulate officers later saw an enormous stretch of 
burned forest near the monastery) in order to give the 
impression to local jandarma that the PKK is active in the 
area and that the village guards need to stay. 
Youths to the PKK 
6.  (C) Our contacts did not believe that the Southeast is 
returning to the levels of violence and tension the region 
saw in the 1990s, but most noted that the current tension 
will not go away soon and expect that PKK-related violence 
will continue.  One potential reason for a steady drumbeat of 
clashes may be due to the flow of disenchanted Kurdish youths 
ANKARA 00003899  002 OF 003 
to the ranks of the PKK.  Southeastern Industrialists and 
Businessmens Association (GUNSIAD) President Shahismail 
Bedirhanoglu, a long-time contact and a recent International 
Visitors Program participant, claimed that although tension 
had lessened since the March riots in Diyarbakir, Kurdish 
youths still cannot find work, and many are leaving the 
cities to join the PKK.  Diyarbakir Human Rights Association 
(HRA) chairman Selahattin Demirtas told us that the number of 
young people joining the PKK has increased notably over the 
last year.  One way HRA can monitor this trend, Demirtas 
claimed, is by the number of families contacting HRA to let 
them know their children have gone missing.  Many of the 
families later tell HRA that the children have left their 
homes to fight for the PKK.  Demirtas claimed that somewhere 
around 1,000 youths had joined the PKK since the beginning of 
2005, many from Diyarbakir and other southeastern cities and 
villages, but also from Mersin. 
--------------------------------------------- ------------- 
DTP not the only game in town, but that,s not a good thing 
--------------------------------------------- ------------- 
7.  (C) According to our contacts, the DTP remains the main 
political force in the region.  The gains the Justice and 
Development Party (AKP) made locally in the run-up to the 
2004 local elections appear to be softening as tension and 
violence have increased.  (Comment: Diyarbakir AK officials 
claim just the opposite and bank on a previously untapped 
Islamic female vote to buoy their future numbers.    Even if 
these predictions hold true, much urban Kurdish support and 
most village support squarely is in DTP,s corner.  End 
Comment.)  Close Embassy contact and former MP Hasim Hasimi, 
who himself has a wide range of contacts both among Kurds on 
the left and among more conservative, pious circles, told us 
that although the DTP was primarily run by leftist 
intellectuals who have little contact with man-on-the-street 
Kurds, the party is still the only legitimate political force 
in the region for now.  Hasimi argued that DTP,s enduring 
popularity is tied directly to its relationship to the PKK. 
As clashes with the PKK have increased, support for the DTP 
has also gone up.  Yet, Hasimi asserted, there is a 
significant portion of Kurds in the Southeast (he couldn,t 
say what percentage) who are disenchanted with DTP 
politics--particularly more religious Kurds, who see the DTP 
as Marxist-Leninist and therefore atheist, but also among 
moderate Kurds who want to distance themselves from PKK 
violence.  Tanrikulu told us that there is a perception among 
many Kurds that neither the DTP nor the AKP has been able to 
address their concerns and they want an alternative. 
8.  (C) The problem, according to Hasimi, is that the 
alternatives are no more practical or constructive than the 
DTP.  Abdulmelik Firat,s Hak-Par group and other voices like 
long-time Kurdish political activist Serafettin Elci are 
trying to distance themselves from the PKK and become a 
legitimate Kurdish interlocutor with the Ankara political 
establishment.  In a meeting with us, a founding member of 
Hak-Par, who has pending cases against him for using Kurdish 
openly at political rallies,  condemned the PKK,s use of 
violence but also claimed the only solution to the Kurdish 
issue was a federal state.  Hasimi later asserted to us that 
no one in Ankara would accept this.  &Even the PKK has given 
up on a federal Turkey,8 Hasimi observed. 
Turkish Hizbullah Resurgent? 
9.  (C) Turkish Hizbullah may be benefiting from the 
uncertainty among  Kurds, particularly religious Kurds.  Our 
contacts were universal in claiming that support for radical 
Islam*Turkish Hizbullah, in particular*is on the rise again 
in the Southeast.  Hasimi attributed Hizbullah,s reemergence 
to dissatisfaction with the DTP and ongoing tension in the 
region.  Our contacts claimed that this version of Hizbullah 
is different from that which terrorized Kurdish businessmen 
associated with the PKK in the 1990s.  Bishop Aktas said that 
the spread of radical Islam from the Middle East has fueled 
the group,s rebirth, adding that unlike in the 1990s, 
Hizbullah does not now need State support to survive.  (Note: 
Many Turks believe that Hizbullah received arms and money 
from the State in the 1990s to fight a proxy war against PKK 
ANKARA 00003899  003 OF 003 
supporters in the Southeast.  Dozens of unexplained murders 
were attributed to the group until it was wrapped up by 
Turkish authorities in early 2000*scant months after PKK 
leader Ocalan was captured. End note.) 
10.  (C) Both Hasimi and Tanrikulu said that several 
foundations have sprung up in Diyarbakir and elsewhere in the 
Southeast with direct ties to Hizbullah.  They singled out 
one called &Mustazaflar8 that has branches in (at a 
minimum) Sirnak and Diyarbakir provinces.  Tanrikulu conceded 
that the group is not yet strong enough to become a major 
force in local politics but remains a potential threat. 
Tanrikulu claimed that the security forces are aware of 
Hizbullah,s revival but are thus far only keeping a close 
eye on them.  Reflecting the deep cynicism that pervades 
here, Tanrikulu speculated that the security forces may leave 
them alone hoping that the group begins attacking PKK 
supporters once again. 
Barzani,s Regional Influence Growing 
11.  (C) Another potential wildcard in Kurdish politics is 
the popularity of Mesud Barzani, whose KRG-based media 
outlets pepper the Southeast airwaves with stories of 
increasing Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq.  Kurdish 
politicians in Turkey, including Elci and former MP and 
darling of the EU Leyla Zana, have recently paid homage to 
Barzani, perhaps in part as a reflection of his emerging 
influence over Kurds in Turkey.  Hasimi told us that the 
Barzani clan has long had a place in the hearts of Kurds 
thanks to the efforts of Barzani,s father*both a Kurdish 
nationalist and a leading Naksibendi (religious brotherhood, 
popular among Kurds in particular, that counts PM Erdogan as 
one of its members).  From the late-1970s through the 1990s, 
the PKK eclipsed the Barzanis, popularity among Kurds in 
Turkey, according to Hasimi.  Increasing autonomy for Kurds 
in northern Iraq, however, has led to a revival of Barzani,s 
popularity.  Hasimi claims that Kurds of all stripes can like 
him*unlike the PKK.  Leftist Kurds like him because he is a 
strong Kurdish nationalist who has stood up to the Turks in 
the past (Note: Barzani also cooperated with the Turkish 
military against fellow Kurds in the 1990s..   End note). 
Religious Kurds can like him because of his Naksibendi 
connections.  Tribal leaders in the Southeast*most of whom 
tend to be successful businessmen*have reached out to him aswell, according to 
Hasimi.  Hasimi noted, however, that for 
now anyway Barzani,s pull is limited because the PKK still 
holds the hearts of most Kurds, and tribal rivalries will 
eventually get in the way of deep cooperation. 
12.  (C) Comment:  Part of the enduring problem in Kurdish 
politics is trying to pin down what Kurds really want.  A 
separate state?  A federal Turkey?  More cultural rights? 
Economic opportunities?  We find  competing and overlapping 
trends,  reflecting  inability to come to a consensus.  The 
emotional nature of the issue suggests it will not be  easily 
solved through a series of policy changes.   Kurds in the 
southeast  have  a deep sense of alienation*alienation that 
begins as soon as they enter the Turkish school system. 
Demirtas told us that when young Kurds go to school for the 
first time, they typically know little Turkish and have had 
virtually no exposure to the state,s limited welfare arms. 
They immediately feel like they do not belong, and teachers 
do nothing to help them out.  From that moment on, they know 
they are outsiders. 
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