Turkey: Is a Kurdish School Boycott a Sign of the Future?

Have Turkey’s Kurds discovered the power of Gandhi and Rosa Parks?

It certainly looked that way in mid-September as thousands of school children across Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast stayed away from school to protest the lack of Kurdish-language education in Turkish state schools.

Acts of mass civil disobedience have been largely absent from the 26-year war that the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, has waged against the Turkish state.

Today, observers believe it could become a key Kurdish nationalist tactic, as the PKK faces off against a Turkish government trying to revive efforts to end the war, and struggles to retain the support of its Kurdish support base whose loyalty risks being worn away by a growing economic prosperity and steady, if slow-paced improvements in civil liberties.

Timed to coincide with the start of the new school year, the five-day long boycott was called by a Kurdish NGO that has no known links to the PKK. But it was the backing of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) – a Kurdish party that shares the PKK’s support base – that ensured that thousands of children stayed away.

The BDP has developed quite a taste for boycotts recently. On September 12, in a face-off against the government, it called on Kurds to boycott a constitutional referendum, and got what it wanted: roughly half of voters in the southeast stayed at home, with absenteeism in some areas higher than 90 percent.

“The basic attitude is ‘you ignore us, we ignore you'”, said Hakan Tahmaz, an ethnic Turk who has written widely on the Kurdish issue. “Boycotts do not polarize the country in the same way as PKK attacks on Turkish soldiers do, but the philosophy behind them is in some ways more radical: creating de facto autonomy…”

September 24, 2010


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