x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Turkish Kurds rejoice after call to end armed struggle

These are glorious, momentous times for the Kurdish people, an Arabic-language commentator says. Other topics: Syria and understanding the Arab Spring.

The 15 million Turkish Kurds rejoice and hope after Ocalan calls for an end to armed struggle

Turkey's Kurdish community of 15 million has celebrated Nowruz - a time-honoured pre-Islamic festival marking the start of the spring and the beginning of the New Year on the Persian calendar - with more excitement and optimism than in many years, Kuwaiti academic Mohammed Al Yusefi wrote in yesterday's edition of the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan.

During the festivities last week about 250,000 Kurds, dressed up in their colourful traditional attire, gathered in a public square in the city of Diyarbakir in south-east Turkey, the Kurdish heartland. They were about to hear a "historic speech from their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who has been locked up in a solitary prison on Imrali Island in the Sea of Marmara since his abduction in Kenya in 1999", Al Yusefi said.

"They were really in for a landmark speech; their charismatic leader called on the militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to stop fighting and to withdraw from Turkish territory."

"Today, we wake up to a new Turkey in a new Middle East," Ocalan told his followers and sympathisers in an address relayed by a Kurdish member of the Turkish parliament. " … We say to the peoples of this region - Arabs, Persians, Turks and Kurds - enough killing one other … We tell them that we have started a new chapter, a phase where politics takes priority over weapons. This is the beginning."

Ocalan's declaration is the culmination of a long armed struggle led by the PKK since a few years after its founding as a political party in the mid-1970s, with a far-left agenda advocating Kurdish nationalism.

The party's armed wing has long engaged in a bloody fight against Turkish forces. About 40,000 people have been killed, most of them Kurds, and thousands more Kurds are held in Turkey' s penitentiaries, the writer said.

Hundreds of Kurdish villages were severely damaged during the struggle, among other material losses estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars over nearly three decades.

Turkey's attitude to the Kurdish question has significantly mellowed since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. Before then, the Kurds had been denied their cultural rights for decades, ever since the establishment of modern Turkey in 1923.

AKP's recognition of the legitimacy of a range of Kurdish demands - such as access to schooling and media sources in the Kurdish language - has helped to bring Ankara and the PKK to the negotiating table, and that in turn led eventually to Ocalan's change of policy.

"These are glorious, momentous times for the Kurdish people," the author said in conclusion. "One genuinely hopes that peace will prevail in those beautiful, mountainous quarters, and that continued dialogue, not guns, takes the upper hand."

In Syria both sides are using foreign fighters

Moaz Al Khatib, the Syrian opposition coalition leader, has dismissed criticism that the opposition is allowing foreign fighters to join the battle against the regime, Abdulrahman Al Rashed noted in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

Mr Al Khatib said the criticism is off base when no one acts against the Russians, Iranians and Hizbollah members fighting alongside the regime.

Mr Al Khatib has a point, the writer said. Even in wars, there are rules of engagement that are supposed to apply to both parties. Bashar Al Assad's forces have not respected any such rules, and so they cannot call on the opposition forces, which are the weaker side, to observe them.

The regime is using warplanes to shell towns, cities, hospitals and schools, and using ambulances to carry fighters. Their acts have become more ruthless as they suffer setbacks, with use of chemical weapons reported in Rif Dimashq.

Had critics of the opposition backed the revolutionaries early enough, the situation would not have become this complicated, the writer added. Toppling the regime 18 months ago would have been much easier.

It is no longer possible to open a new front against extremists joining the rebels from abroad.

The war is between just two forces, the regime and the rebels. It does not make sense to ask the rebels to combat those who fight alongside them.

Too early to assess results of Arab Spring

Media outlets and social-network members are increasingly using expressions such as "the so-called Arab Spring", "the Islamists' spring", and "the Arab Autumn", Ahmed Amiri noted in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad.

"I fear there will come a day when the term 'Arab Spring' is outlawed," he wrote.

"Every day, more people are asking 'didn't we tell you?', claiming clairvoyance and intelligence, even if they didn't see anything coming before Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire."

Either your spring immediately produces fully-fledged democracies, under which the Arab citizens revel in prosperity and hold every official accountable, or this spring of yours is chaos, sedition and mayhem, the writer went on.

This is all-or-nothing thinking, with no compromise or nuances.

But this is a vast movement of change in five countries after decades of stagnation and tyranny. The all-or-nothing attitude is like asking a woman, the day after she divorced her husband following years of abuse, "do you think your life will be better now?"

It does not stand to reason to judge change in a certain nation after one or two years when the nation in question suffered dictatorship, corruption and frustration for decades.


* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk