First of all, in a similar manner to the Gezi Protests, mainstream media outlets have been guilty of auto-censorship. Thus, the information to be gained from television outlets have been scarce and official statements do not reflect the incident that occurred in Lice (a town in Diyarbakır) on the 28th June where 1 person lost his life and 9 were wounded. The main information medium has once again been twitter.
In summary, a group of 200-250 walked to the Kayacık town police headquarters to protest the ongoing re-construction. After tensions escalated, the Gendarmerie decided to intervene. Whilst live bullets were used – on top of the usual tear gas a sound grenades, official sources state the Gendarmerie fired in the air whereas BDP have been stating that the protesters were aimed at directly. According to Diyarbakır Mayor Kıraç, a group of 50-60 protesters from amongst the whole group threw molotov cocktails at the construction worker’s tents and the under construction headquarter building.
Link to footage from the Lice Protest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sH_NzJDtFG8
The Lice incident is significant on two grounds. One is its place within the Kurdish Peace Process and the second is the support it has found within the Gezi Movement. The way the Gezi Portests have been handled by Erdoğan and the AKP has also intensified anxieties as to the sincerity of the government in terms of the 2nd stage of the Kurdish peace process. In this sense, the link between the Gezi Protests and the Lice incident is of importance.
Brief background on the Kurdish Peace Process:
Within the framework of peace negotiations, the PKK agreed to withdraw is physical (armed) presence from within Turkish territories and started a gradual pull out on the 8th of May. This phase of the peace process – ending armed conflict and withdrawal of the PKK- has been referred to as the first stage. The second stage will require the Turkish political system to incorporate the demands of its Kurdish constituents by making reforms to the political system that enable the creation of democratic mechanisms which will enable a political solution to the Kurdish problem. As such, the second stage is all on the shoulders of the Turkish government.
Unfortunately, there have been a number of errors that I would like to comment on. I will also list a number of action plans that need to be adhered to for the Kurdish Peace process to yield results:
First, the reason there was a protest in Lice in the first place was because the number of police headquarter constructions have been increasing ever since the PKK started withdrawing from eastern provinces. This move can only be seen as an attempt on the side of the government to fortify regions that have been evacuated by the PKK. On top of this, Lice is not even close to the border and the construction of kalekols (a play on words from ‘karakol’: ‘karakol’ means police headquarter whereas ‘kale’ means fortress) are completely at odds with the spirit of the peace process in the first place.
Second, protesting against the construction of police headquarters, especially in its current context, is a natural right.
Third, I find it impossible to believe that the government had not predicted or at least factored in the potential of protests against such constructions. This incident clearly highlights one of two possibilities, each as dire as the other: Either the government is not serious in terms of the desired outcome of the peace porcess, or there are certain groups within the state apparatus that are deliberately sabotaging the process.
(This incident will only please the crowds that opposed the peace process in the first place. This way, those that did not see a light at the end of the tunnel can refer to the Lice incident as proof. However, we should not forget that the peace process was on the ropes at the very start due to the assassinations in Paris. That incident didn’t kill the peace process, so we shouldn’t assume that it is over now.)
Fourth, the central focus of the Lice incident at the moment is on whether the shootings were intentional or accidental. Independent of this, 1 person is dead and 10 are injured, this fact needs to be the centre of the discussion. In connection to the point I made above (in italics), the government has to adress the Lice incident and not try to sweep it under the carpet as it did with the Uludere incident (also called the Roboski Massacre) where 34 Kurds were taken for PKK members and killed by two Turkish Airforce F-16 jets. That time, Erdoğan did all he could to change the domestic agenda and cover up tracks. The government has to find out who is to blame with the Lice incident and bring them to justice.
Fifth, the whole policy of erecting or refortifying damaged headquarters in the absence of skirmishes with the PKK has been criticised by the BDP (Kurdish Party). The AKP/Erdoğan has to start heeding the comments of the opposition. Taking a 50% ballot box win as a paper seal to do things on their own, in their own way and to not seek consensus of any form or agreement with its opposition will not solve the crisis.
The Gezi Protests and the Lice incident:
I don’t even want to refer to the ‘Gezi Protest’ as a protest anymore. Resistance is a more appropriate word and is used more widely within the Gezi context in Turkish anyway. Since the Gezi Protests have turned into a resistance against the authoritarian rule of the AKP in general, and of Erdoğan in specific, disparate political movements and identities have joined in arms to resist the “50% voted for us, that is the national will” attitude of the AKP.
Proof of this has been the nationwide anger against the use of disproportionate force and the death of a protester in Lice: Yesterday, there were protest marches taking place is Istanbul, İzmir and Ankara (and maybe other cities – I havent had the time to research this point) This example shows that the distance which used to exist between Diyarbakır and Istanbul, between the East and West of Turkey does not exist at the current moment. Whereas violence against Kurds in the east has been a rampant and tragic fact of life in Turkey, it did not provoke anger or support for the Kurdish cause in western hubs like İstanbul, Ankara or İzmir (at least not on mass). This time it has: The Forum notes that I have read for the 28th of June (for multiple cities) and the Yoğurtçupark forum (Istanbuk) that I attended was dominated by the Lice incident.
From the other side of the coin, the support given to the Kurdish cause by the overarching Gezi Resistance (Socialists, Alevis, Sunnis, Anti-Capitalist Muslims, LGBT, Nationalists to name a few) will most likely result in Kurds throwing their support even more than they have behind the resistance against the AKP. On this note, my own observations throughout the resistance has been that at times, the nationalist rhetoric used by the protesters had the undesired effect of isolating the Kurds from the movement. Not only that, but also the fact that the AKP have come closer (at least on the surface) to finding a settlement to the Kurdish problem might have resulted in a higher support rate for the AKP.
Next step forward:
As I mentioned above, the government has been dragging its feet when it comes to legislative reforms and have intensified the construction of police headquarters in volatile regions, which are at odds with the peace process. This will only bolster the ranks of the resistance and increase the percentage of the public that feel threatened by the AKP.
Both in terms of the peace process and the anti-AKP resistance in general, the ‘second stage’ of the action plan needs to get going. In other words, it is imperative for the government to take legislative steps that will enable a democratic track to open dialogue. We have not even come close to the issue of releasing Abdullah Ocalan or at least putting him in house arrest, which will be the toughest step in the whole process without a shadow of a doubt. Facilitating the involvement of Öcalan in the peace process would also be a tactically sound move if the AKP are serious about a political settlement to the Kurdish problem.
Update: (June 29: 18.17 Turkish Local Time) Large crowds are already gathered and still growing in Taksim Square (Istanbul) and Gundoğdu Square (İzmir) this very moment. They are asking for justice and standing in support of Lice.