Monday, 11 June 2012, 07:21 GMT
Turkish opposition in crucial step to end Kurdish insurgency

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal KılıÁdaroğlu./PRESS PHOTO

Globe Editorial
By Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel

Turkey has been waging a war against the PKK and trying to contain its Kurdish population for decades without success.

Crucial talks between the Turkish opposition party CHP and ruling AKP promises much, but without a change in ideology and outdated principles and new tangible measures, can a new political process really achieve a different end result?

While Turkey's current Kurdish policy is a far-cry from the dark days of the past, its "democratic openings" have often stumbled to a halt before they have gained any real motion. Turkey has tried to implement bold measures without a real change in ideology, in parliament, in nationalist circles or in tangible measures.

Contrary to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previous statements that there is no Kurdish problem but only a terrorist problem, the Kurdish problem rages on and if anything has gained new momentum.
With rapidly changing political realities in the Middle East, Turkey risks been left behind unless it readdresses its strategic role in the region, starting with its greatest problem, its Kurdish national question.

Turkey has been waging a war against the PKK and trying to contain its Kurdish population for decades without success. It has to finally come to terms that its real problem is not a few thousand PKK guerillas but its millions of disenfranchised and largely impoverished Kurdish citizens. Its only solution is to resolve the Kurdish issue through parliament, with new legislature and through common dialogue. Turkey cannot continue its failed ideology that PKK can be destroyed by force alone and yet expect to resolve its Kurdish dilemma. You have to address the root of the problem, before wasting energy at merely cutting the branches.

New angle to Kurdish issue

The PKK is clearly enjoying a new lease of life with support from Damascus much to the dismay of Ankara and deriding the government's belief that they will "render terrorists ineffective". These days, the Kurdish issue in Turkey is far from been confined as a domestic issue. The Kurdistan Region, with its own escalating crisis with Baghdad, is heading closer to self-sufficiency and independence through new oil infrastructure and new sway on pan-Kurdish nationalism, and more importantly a new alliance with Ankara as Turkish relations have wavered with neighboring countries.

The situation of the Syrian Kurds, with or without Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has drastically shifted and they will enjoy new leverage. The PKK is enjoying fresh support amongst the already fractured Syrian Kurds, serving to create another headache for Ankara. One way or another, the Kurdish issue is no longer a domestic issue and needs a fresh approach, and new forward thinking away from outdates ethos.

Opposition plan

Against a backdrop of the Syrian crisis, escalating PKK violence, Ankara's cooling of ties with Damascus, Tehran and Baghdad and an increasing wedge between its Kurdish citizens, Turkey cannot stay idle.

As such, the main Turkish opposition's proposed initiatives this week in tackling the Kurdish problem and ending the insurgency, the first time the opposition have instigated such measures, is a positive development.

The leader of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Kemal KılıÁdaroğlu, had a critical meeting with Erdoğan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) where he put forward a 10-point solution to the ending the vicious violence with the PKK that for decades has crippled much of the south-east and to reconcile with its Kurdish citizens.

The principle behind KılıÁdaroğlu approach is that a solution to the Kurdish problem requires a "national contract". A measure he believes that can only be achieved through a parliamentary process.

KılıÁdaroğlu attributed blame to the political process for failure to resolve its age-old dilemma, "Why could this problem not be solved over the last 25, 30 years" Why could terrorism not be ended" The only responsibility for this is with politics as an institution," he asked.

The proposed measures include the creation of an eight-member cross-party Social Consensus Commission augmented by a 12-person non-parliamentary committee selected by the four parliamentary parties.

Both the Erdogan and KılıÁdaroğlu labeled the meetings as positive which also had support of the pro-Kurdish BDP. However, the nationalist handicap, one of the reasons why Erdogan backtracked on the 2009 Kurdish Opening against a backdrop of hawkish circles and nationalist anger, will likely derail the plans for cross-party consensus.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) did not take part in the talks with party leader Devlet BahÁeli accusing the government of "legitimizing terror".

Change of direction from Opposition

Erdogan and KılıÁdaroğlu seldom meet and have often clashed over granting Kurds greater rights and thus their rapprochement is the right tonic to kick-start resolution of its Kurdish problem.

The seemingly change of heart from the opposition may not be purely due to a desire to finally come to terms with the Kurdish equation.

The CHP also sense a political chance to win-over the Kurdish vote at a time when frustration with the AKP is rife with the perceived insincerity of the government towards the unfortunate Roboski massacre and its stalled Kurdish initiative. It is an opportunity to build links in the south east where social-democrats are a scarcity and also tap into the liberal support.

It is also an opportunity for the CHP to weaken any reconciliation between the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in particular over the new constitution. AKP controversial policies such as those proposed over abortion also serve as an opportunity for CHP to secure more points.

The bottom line is that CHP can no longer stay on the side-lines of the Kurdish issue and forgo the Kurdish vote if it has any aspiration for power for the sake of its outdated ideals.

The way forward

If the killing of 34 young villages of Uludere by Turkish forces in a case of mistaken identity was a sincerity test for the government, then the government has badly failed. This further alienated the Kurds and exposed limits to the AKP reach out to the Kurds.

However, above all else, it is lack of real intent and sincerity that has crippled previous democratic openings.

It's not arriving at a political process that will resolve the Kurdish issue and put an end to the insurgency, but concrete measures and a new dose of reality in applying practical solutions.

Turkey cannot change the end result, no matter what process it ensues, with the same historical ideology.

On the one hand it reaches out to the Kurds, on the other it arrests thousands of Kurdish political figures including BDP mayors and most recently Leyla Zana under the same harsh penal code of yesteryear.

It has too often overlooked the BDP and its previous manifestations, and has been too quick to label any nationalist Kurd or Kurdish political party as a supporter of the PKK.

Ankara has also tried to end the insurgency without paying any relevance to serious dialogue with other party in the military equation, the PKK.

The PKK, in spite of a nationalist reprisal that will inevitably come, must form a direct part of this initiative. Their support base has swollen over the years, with the government playing a big part in this, and changes in Kurdish sentiment will not be wholesale overnight.

However, what is clear is that most Kurds are long-fed up of been caught between PKK violence and outdated and insincere government policies. The new initiative must give the Kurds a way out and a new vision that they can truly buy into. Pro-Kurdish should not automatically be labeled as pro-PKK.

Facing facts

Facing facts is the only way Ankara can shatter old conceptions and herald a new dawn with its Kurds. Millions of its citizens need to enjoy the same rights as anyone else in Turkey. The millions of its citizens should not be punished only because their ethnicity and heritage is not Turkish. Kurdish culture and history should be embraced as a core component of the Turkish landscape.

The Kurdish nationalist vehicle is gaining momentum and either Turkey can keep pace and try and influence events to its advantage, or it can be a passive bystander as winds of change rapidly rattle the very nucleus of the Middle East.

The initiative promises renewed hope, but is uncertain whether Turkey has the stomach for real compromise, swallowing of nationalist pride or swaying from the foundations of Kemalist ideology.