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Analysis of Turkey’s 2013 Kurdish Initiative

Analysis of Turkey’s 2013 Kurdish Initiative

In January 2013, the Turkish government’s new initiative to seek a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict resulted in indirect negotiations with jailed Leader Abdullah Ocalan. Consequently, the PKK announced a cease fire and withdrew their rebels from inside Turkey borders. The purpose of this essay is to analyze the Turkish Government’s 2013 Kurdish Initiative. The question is whether this initiative can help end Turkey’s Kurdish ethnic conflict?

Under the current initiative both Turkey and PKK have an opportunity to reach a permanent solution for mutual benefit. On the other hand, if peace talks fail, this violent conflict may continue for another decade and could end up in civil war. The Kurdish ethnic problem is complicated and has international dimensions which would require comprehensive and detailed research; therefore, this research paper will briefly touch upon the Kurdish issues and then focus on the 2013 Turkish Government’s initiative.

Turkey’s 2013 Kurdish initiative is Prime Minister Erdogan administration’s second attempt. The first Kurdish opening started in 2009 with a cease-fire and symbolic returns of 34 PKK members from Northern Iraq to Turkey. However, pro-Kurdish Party’s (BDP) overstated welcoming demonstrations resulted in a massive reaction by Turkish nationalists and the mass media. Ending the first opening process was followed by the arrest of Kurdish politicians.

The Turkish government kept in touch with PKK and started secret negotiations in Oslo. The government admitted to the negotiations after they were leaked to the public. At the same time armed conflict between the Turkish Army and PKK became more violent and the number of deaths reached 700 in fourteen months, the highest number in thirteen years. The jailed PKK Leader Ocalan sent a message to the Turkish government announcing his willingness to help stop the violence. Months later the Turkish Government created a new Kurdish initiative in January 2013.

Obviously the aim is simply to stop the insurgency and attain peace. However, paving the way to peace does not mean the same thing for each side. The Turkish government wants the PKK to disarm before beginning negotiations, while the PKK insists on democratic reforms and more ethnic rights before any disarmament.

The Turkish government took the first step and let the pro-Kurd politicians visit jailed PKK leader Ocalan. The government then allowed Ocalan to communicate “indirectly” with government and the public. BDP parliaments’ visit was the first during his14 year old incarceration. Following this visit Ocalan sent letters to the PKK leaders asking for a non-conflict period and the withdrawal of PKK militants from Turkey. The PKK leadership in Iraq announced their loyalty to Ocalan and declared a ceasefire. The non-conflict period and the withdraws started in the spring.

During this period Prime Ministers Erdogan’s administration established a Wise-Men Commission to gather public support to the ongoing initiative. In this respect, a 63- Wise Men appointed by government amongst intellectuals, scholars, performers, and NGO agents. The Wise-men independently served as a messenger between the public and Turkish government.

The AKP proposed that a Parliamentary Commission for the Kurdish initiative be established in May 8, 2012. However, CHP and MHP announced that they would not assign any representatives to this commission.

Next steps of the peace process is still unknown by public. It is expected some progress by government before the end of June 2013.

Turks and Kurds have been living together in Turkey for about one thousand years without a major conflict. The Kurd’s problems are not with Turks but rather with the Turkish government. Millions of Turks and Kurds are married to each other. Turkey’s new Kurdish initiative has had broad support from Turkish, pro-Kurdish groups, media and international actors. Generally, the media and international actors have faith in the process.

Turkey’s ethnic Kurd conflict extends over two hundred years and this issue can be solved only with pro-active political measurements. Turkey is currently in a low-intensive war with the PKK; still, the Kurdish issue cannot be irreducible as a terrorist activity.

The Kurds with 30 million in population are the largest stateless people in the world, and they have had a long struggle with Iraq, Iran and Turkey. It is therefore possible that the Kurdish self determination in wanting to be recognized as an independent State may find broad support and sympathy in the international arena. Kurds have had autonomy in Iraq since 1970 and post-Saddam Iraqi constitution defines Kurds as a federal entity.

Consequently, Turkey may under the risk of separation and / or possible threat of civil war; moreover, anti-Kurdish sentiment is growing in different forms in Turkish society as seen in areas such as in social media, soccer stadiums, magazines, Internet forums. Hence, Turkey has to solve the ethnic issues with its Kurdish citizens and improve instruments for living together in peace.

PKK has been designated as a terrorist organization by European Union, United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom and Turkey. Turkey’s dilemma is that Official and direct negotiations with an organization so designated would be inappropriate for a democratic country but other democratic Kurdish organizations are not able / eager to stop PKK.

The PKK also has a dilemma. The PKK has demographic advantages, domestic and diaspora support which may help the organization to survive for another decade or even decades; it is still however not possible for the PKK to defeat Turkey. In addition to this, according to election results nearly half of the Kurds are supporting AKP. Religion is one of the dominant factors in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia and AKP using that for their political advantage.

These dilemmas compel both parties to work with each other in order to reach a resolution. This resolution can be either living together with different forms of state or separating. But these alternative solutions are not the subject of this essay.

First impression of the Kurdish Opening of Turkish Government:

1. The ongoing cease-fire is a temporary success for the Turkish government and this presents the possibility of achieving permanent peace for country.

2. After 14 years in the jail, Ocalan still has the power to start or stop the ethnic violence and willing to help reach a peaceful solution. In pulling their militants from Turkey, PKK also shows a willingness to settle this dispute with the Turkish government in the framework of a dialogue.

3. The main problem with this peace process is that either it doesn’t have a clear road map or the government intends to keep it a secret. According to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay this new initiative will be as transparent as possible. It is understandable however that due to the sensitivity involved that the procedures may not be truly transparent; nevertheless, without a road map it is impossible to understand and evaluate how this initiative will progress.

4. Most of the Kurdish problems are as a result of the democratic consolidation of Turkey, thus permanent peace could be attained once a mature democracy is reached. The present constitution (prepared by 1980 Military Coup) and its’ current practises (such as the strong central government and weak local governments, the strong influence of executive on legislative and judicial system, 10 percent electoral threshold) hinder ethnic rights and democratization.

5. Turkish opposition parties (except pro-Kurdish BDP) are not involved in the process; however, the major opposition party’s participation is essential in these types of national issues in order to reach a permanent solution.

6. Wise-men committee is a good idea to smooth the process and to gather public support. In practise selection of the members are arguable. Most members were not expert any conflict or ethnic issues. They were sent to public without a guide, reference or knowledge and they faced the extreme reactions by nationalists or veterans. Due to lack of publicity and preparation this exercise did not help to create a public opinion for peace, but help to unification of the Turkish nationalists. Wise-men committees completed their mission and reported the results they gathered.

7. This peace process is being managed by only a few of people. Considering the sensitivity of the subject this method is appropriate. Typically, communications between PKK and the government takes place through media channels and otherwise through indirect means. This model of communication may cause a significant amount of misinformation signifying a need for a reliable third party to serve as a mediator.

8. Solving Turkey’s Kurd problem is not only essential for lasting peace in the country but also for Turkey’s membership in the European Union. (Nigar Karimova, 2001, p. 17)

9. A permanent solution for the Kurdish problem would involve the creation of a new constitution. In this respect the Kurdish conflict resolution and Prime Minister Erdogan’s political ambitions are closely linked. It is well known that Prime Minister Erdogan is eager to be elected as president giving him the ability to shape Turkish politics until 2023 which happens to be the hundredth anniversary of the Turkish Republic. On the other hand, the political power of the Turkey’s president is limited. Erdogan wants to change the constitution and switch the political system from parliamentary to a presidential system. Using the Kurdish situation to his advantage he may change the constitution to consolidate his political power and also solve the Kurdish Issue.

10. Another very important reason to end the ethnic conflict with PKK is the financial cost. Turkey has spent nearly half a trillion dollars over the past thirty years on counter terrorism.

Conclusion and Recommendations:

Turkey’s 2013 Kurdish initiative may help to resolve the current ethnic conflict. To reach a permanent solution both the Turkish Government and the Kurds should be well-meaning and patient. Both sides must also be able to control their own nationalists. Ethnic nationalism is the number one enemy in this issue.

The Turkish government, bureaucrats, academics, elites and the Turkish people should understand all aspects of the Kurdish issue; and, Parliament and the opposition must be a part of this process.

The Wise-men commission should be re-established with appropriately selected Kurdish and Turkish people that would work on the conflict until it is solved. Universities, NGOs and the mass media should become involved by encouraging the parties to progress with the peace process regardless of the effort, time and money.

A civilian and modern democratic constitution and consolidated democracy is sine qua non. This sine qua non includes free press, fair trial, rule of law, absolute respect for Human Rights, and the improvement of the democratic culture.

The disarmament of the PKK and the granting of general amnesty would allow the PKK to form a legal and legitimate political party, and an agreement about what kind of post conflict justice mechanisms are to be used (e.g. Truth commissions, trials, forgetting etc…).

As a result Turks and Kurds have been facing a long and bloody period of ethnic conflict with the PKK for the last three decades and Turkey’s 2013 Kurdish opening is a historical opportunity not only for both side but also for the region.

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Yalçın Diker / Bizim Anadolu / June 2013

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