Turkey offers reforms for Kurdish minority

Long-simmering tensions with Kurdish militant separatists led to a week-long incursion into northern Iraq in February to target bases.

The Turkish government has announced a significant aid package for the country's Kurdish population just weeks after it ended a military incursion into northern Iraq. That fight had been aimed at rooting out militants fighting for an independent Kurdish state.

The government appears to be appealing for greater support among Turkey's Kurdish population and preventing a domestic backlash over the recent attack. Turkey has long struggled to accept its Kurdish minority seeing them as a separatist threat. Approximately 12 million Kurds live in Turkey, equaling about a fifth of its population.

Since the US invasion of Iraq, Turkey's political and military establishments have grown more wary of Kurdish separatism following the establishment of a strong Kurdish entity in northern Iraq. From there, Turkish officials claimed the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has launched military raids on Turkey. The PKK is outlawed in Turkey and has been labeled a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

Turkey's fight against PKK militants has put the US in a somewhat uncomfortable position, as its strongest allies in the Iraq war are the Army's Kurdish contingents, reported The Christian Science Monitor. But following numerous clashes in the fall of 2007, US officials agreed to allow a "very limited," week-long invasion of northern Iraq by the Turkish Army in February, the BBC reported.

The aim [was] to isolate the organisation and prevent it using northern Iraq as a launch pad for attacks on Turkish soil.

Turkey's recent announcement about the planned economic and cultural aid package will be formally presented April 6 when Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan visits southeast Turkey, one former adviser told the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.

"Mr. Prime Minister will make very important statements in Diyarbakir. He will deliver important initiatives to promote Kurdish culture and language as well as a comprehensive package for the region. He will say Turkey has entered the solution process. We are working on that."

The New York Times interviewed Mr. Erdogan about Turkey's relationship with the Kurds.

Turkey's government is planning a broad series of investments worth as much as $12 billion in the country's largely Kurdish southeast, in a new economic effort intended to create jobs and draw young men away from militancy.

The projects will include a Kurdish language state television channel, a measure that Kurds in Turkey have sought for years as they have battled with restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language. The New York Times also reports the government will make significant investments in local infrastructure.

Mr. Erdogan is still identifying funds for the economic effort, which was started years ago by a previous administration but languished. The state will invest between $11 billion and $12 billion over five years to build two large dams and a system of water canals, complete paved roads and remove land mines from the fields along the Syrian border.

Critics have been quick to blame Turkish policies toward the Kurds as the cause of resentment and separatist desires, arguing that a policy of greater democratic freedom and Kurdish rights rather than military actions is needed. In a recent opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune, Aliza Marcus and Andrew Apostolou, two Kurdish experts, criticized Turkey's military response.

The core of Turkey's "Kurdish problem" is not the PKK. It is Turkey's denial of basic political and cultural rights to its Kurds, who are about one-fifth of the population.

An editorial in the news blogging site PoliGazette also affirmed Turkey's struggle with its Kurdish minority.

It's undeniable for anyone that Turkey has made a lot of mistakes when it comes to its Kurdish population. For a long time, Turkey tried to 'assimilate' the Kurds, basically forcing them to break with their own culture and language. This approach hasn't exactly been successful, to put it mildly, and has, instead, only angered many Kurds.

With the announced aid package, the government is now hoping to appease the Kurdish population, reports The New York Times.

The program is intended to drain support for the militant Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, by improving the lives of Turkey's impoverished Kurdish minority, Mr. Erdogan said.

A former aide to the prime minister confirmed the analysis, reports United Press International:

If civilian and cultural openings follow the military operations and unemployment problem of the people in region is solved, the DTP [the Kurdish Democratic Society Party] will get a very heavy defeat and lose its claim. Unless the [ruling Justice and Development Party] AKP takes such a step, things will get harder for AKP in the region.

The announcement of the new plans follow the visit of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to Turkey in response to the recent military incursion. During his trip he condemned the PKK but also called on Turkey to recognize the Kurdish element, reports the Eurasia Daily Monitor.

"During his recent two-day recent visit to Ankara, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, pleased his hosts by condemning the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and inviting Turkish businesses to bid for Iraqi infrastructure projects. But he also defied Turkey's reluctance to acknowledge the Kurdish political reality in northern Iraq by referring to the region as "Kurdistan."

The new investment deal was signed during Mr. Talabani's visit and, the Associated Press reports, affirmed the strong links between Turkey and northern Iraq.

Turkey is already an active economic player in Iraq. Despite the political tensions, Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region has relied heavily on Turkish food imports as well as Turkish investment in construction works and Turkish electricity.

Having sought to land a knock-out blow on the PKK's military capacity, Turkey it seems is now engaged in an attempt to woo both its own Kurdish population, as well as those in neighboring Iraq, through the establishment of more solid economic ties.

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