Turkey and Neighbourhood

Practical Indications of the Peace Process in Full Bloom

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The most comprehensive peace process between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) bore its first fruit this spring.


Despite the fact that there were other initiatives between the state and the PKK, the first of which was conducted by Turgut Özal, the second one by Necmettin Erbakan, and lastly by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2011 with the Habur Case and in 2012 the Oslo Negotiations, the latest effort has gone much further and raised many people’s hopes.

What makes the current peace process distinctive and separates it from the previous ones is that there has been social reconciliation. To give an example: While meeting with the relatives of veterans and martyrs in Kayseri province, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “Even if it costs me my political life, we will tackle this problem.” On the other hand, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) representative from Muş province, Sırrı Sakık, stated that “if the PKK sabotages the process, we will strangle its neck.” These unofficial statements clearly indicate that both parties have been eager to sort this problem out.

In addition to verbal examples, I think, in practical terms, the reaction of the AKP and the government towards the explosions in front of the Ministry of Justice and the attacks on the AKP headquarters with a light anti-tank weapon can be considered as the government’s commitment to this process. As you might guess, if something like this had happened in previous initiations, the process would have suddenly been halted by the authorities. Yet, it did not this time but instead even consolidated the process.

Regarding social reconciliation, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), though they have made some negative statements, have to support the process because most of their electorate also want this problem to end. Otherwise, they would have already organized meetings all over Turkey as the CHP did during the presidential election against Abdullah Gül and as the MHP did in the “No Campaign” against constitutional change.

Using government’s mistake for electoral advantage

In Turkish politics, taking advantage of the mistakes of the incumbent government is a normative action. Whatever it costs to Turkey, political parties have always used any mistakes of the government to their electoral advantage. If opposition parties do not use the peace process against the AKP in this way, the only reason can be that they are afraid of reactions from their own electorate. Based on this argument, I believe, social reconciliation will be the fundamental driving force in this process. However, it is obvious that there are minority groups that are definitely against the process and might do anything they can to prevent any further progress.

As most readers are aware, PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s statement calling on his militants to leave the borders of Turkey and announcing that the era of military struggle has ended and that it is now time for a political struggle was read by BDP deputies Pervin Buldan and Sırrı Süreyya Önder in Kurdish and Turkish, respectively, in Diyarbakır during the Nevruz festival. How the MHP and the CHP received this announcement is quite indicative in that they were verbally against and conditionally in favor of the process, respectively. They never thought about organizing a type of “No” campaign as they definitely realized that at least 50 percent of the population — either from their own electorate or from the rest of the public — demand a solution, whatever the cost. From this perspective, I think that they are looking, as always, to take advantage of the situation to satisfy their own electorate or even ensure that they don’t lose them.

Provocations that hamper the process cannot be eliminated by either the AKP or the PKK; only social reconciliation can absorb them and prevent them from cutting off the process. For instance, previous initiations by Özal, Erbakan and the AKP were stopped by single events that were adequate to end the process. This occurred because political power in and of itself does not provide sufficient support. It has to be strongly demanded by most members of society, which is what I mean when I refer to “social reconciliation.”

Apart from social reconciliation, the AKP’s and the BDP’s positions in the process are crucial and worth mentioning. The initial actor of the process, the AKP has succeeded in distinguishing the government from the state. What I mean is that the AKP, and especially Prime Minister Erdoğan, always emphasized the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) as an extension of the state and not that of the current government. He also justifies MİT’s right to negotiate with PKK leader Öcalan by giving examples of other countries’ intelligence agencies doing the same.

The AKP government has successfully made a clear separation between the state and the government in the eyes of the people of Turkey, especially in the eyes of its own electorate, almost half of the total population. Relying on this distinction, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay stated that “releasing the captives was not something we negotiated with the PKK. Yet, we are happy to receive it.” In this statement, he makes the process legitimate without direct contact with the PKK.

On the other hand, until the beginning of this process, the BDP always referred to “İmralı” as Öcalan’s and the Kurds’ true will. It was not a wise political position for a legal political party to point to another man’s will. It is not something a political party can do in political science and it can jeopardize the legitimacy of that political party. Yet, as soon as the process was announced and officially began, the BDP saw itself as one of the crucial components of the pro-Kurdish movement and gained confidence as an important actor in the process. That is why Sırrı Sakık, for the first time, made a statement against the PKK.

It should not be forgotten that the BDP is the only actor that can directly talk to the government on this issue. It might seem very offensive right now, but just imagine that Öcalan is released and starts to engage in politics. Which party do you think he would do politics in: the PKK or the BDP? The answer would absolutely be the latter. And there is no need to mention that the messages by Öcalan have been carried and announced by the BDP as it is the only legal way in which the Kurdish nationalist movement could express itself.

I believe if the process goes well, the BDP will gain more significance and make crucial contributions to the process. The PKK’s release of the captives can be considered the first practical indication of strong will towards a solution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey. I think, to the extent that this social reconciliation continues to exist, the current peace process will bear more practical, positive fruits which might end up in a final solution. It is the state’s turn to show its good intention in order to move on to the next phase.

*Rahman Dağ is the Director of Turkey Focus Program – CESRAN International.
** The article first published at Today’s Zaman.

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