The Kurdish New Year of Newroz is a traditional fuel for Kurdish nationalist fever in Turkey, often resulting in mass protests and deadly clashes with state forces. In recent years, however, it has come to represent a new democratic opening to ending the three decade old war between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Turkish government.
The peace process that started in 2012, culminating in imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan’s announcement of a cease-fire in March 2013, was a significant milestone. After years of a polarization, thousands of lives and a much stagnated local economy owed to fighting and security restrictions, there came a growing realization that neither side could ultimately triumph with the status quo.
The much anticipated Newroz address of 2015 by Ocalan, feel short of widespread expectations that he would announce the laying down of arms but was nevertheless significant as he acknowledged that the armed struggle was no longer sustainable and urged the PKK to launch a congress with view to ending the conflict.
Whilst the plight of Kurds today is a far cry from the past and a number of steps have been taken by Ankara, peace talks have proved far from plain sailing.
The bridge between what the Kurds demand and what the government is willing to concede has always been a slippery slope.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was pivotal in the launching of the peace process and the increase of Kurdish rights from his tenure as Prime Minister, summed up the frailty of sentiment when he recently insisted that Turkey does not have a Kurdish problem. What Kurdish problem?” Erdogan insisted, “There isn’t one anymore.”
Another point of contention for Erdogan concerned Ocalan’s demand of a monitoring committee to oversee the peace process. Ocalan and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have insisted on an open and transparent government commitment that is underpinned by a recognized framework.
In recent weeks, cracks have emerged between Erdogan and his AKP led government. The government has agreed to a monitoring committee whilst Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc rebuked Erdogan for his “emotional” and “personal” views.
The peace talks are against the backdrop of looming national elections in Turkey. Erdogan’s seemingly hardening stance on the peace talks could be explained by his endeavor to appease the nationalist votes. Then there is the widespread belief that Erdogan is working to secure a presidential system with extended powers.
Erdogan was also critical of the manner of recent negotiations and agreement between the government and HDP. The AKP and Erdogan still have a substantial support base amongst Kurds, and Erdogan has attempted to discredit the HDP as it tries to reach the elusive 10% threshold to enter parliament.
So far Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has a more positive view of the peace talks and the government initiative, “Let’s forever bury in the ground the hatred, the cultural of hate, violence, guns,” he declared at a recent rally.
Agreeing to peace talks is one thing, agreeing on an end goal and its implementation is proving much trickier.
Erdogan maintains that disarmament is a prerequisite to peace and not an outcome of it. But PKK has shown that they want to see action first.
The frailty of the peace talks were underscored by small clashes between the PKK and government forces in the regions close to Iraq.
Although Ocalan holds huge sway of the PKK, this is not a forgone conclusion, his actions and decisions must appease many sceptics in the PKK camp. An example is a potential backlash if Ocalan had announced disarmament without concrete steps from the Turkish government.
Cemil Bayik, a co-founder of the PKK, emphasized such feelings “for the armed struggle to end, there are certain steps the Turkish state and government must take.”
With the PKK enjoying an influential role in the Syrian Kurdish battle against the Islamic State and with increasing autonomy and recognition of the Syrian Kurds, the goalposts have greatly shifted with increasing regional PKK interests.
Clashes between Kurdish protestors and Ankara over Kobane in October have highlighted the continued sensitivity of the Kurdish question and how peace talks have at the same time assumed new angles.
Even if arms are dropped in Turkey, they are merely picked up elsewhere against the PKK’s new enemy.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc