Category Archives: Turkey

HDP’s historic triumph at the polls renews focus on peace process in Turkey

History was achieved at the polls in Turkey as the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) became the first pro-Kurdish party to enter parliament as it emphatically surpassed the traditionally elusive election threshold with 13% of the vote.

At the same time, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were the biggest losers even as they amassed the most votes.

The electoral outcome means that Turkey returns to the days of coalition governments and instability that blighted the country prior to the onset of the AKP in 2002. The elections results were also seen as a major dent in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quest to amend the constitution and for a stronger presidential system.

The manifestation of 80 seats in parliament in many ways builds a new bridge between East and West of Turkey. For too long, the Kurdish problem was reduced to a terror problem. In fact, various Kurdish parties suffered under the PKK label and were quickly shut.

However, 13% of the national vote is a strong political mandate and not a voice of terror. The people clearly strive for peace and a strong voice in parliament is the vehicle for the Kurdish card to firmly enter Turkish politics.

Importantly, the HDP were able to successfully muster non-Kurdish votes which is important in its ambition to become a progressive party of Turkey.

The peace process became a key battleground between the AKP and HDP as fierce rhetoric resonated on the issue.

The peace process has somewhat stalled ahead of the elections with the PKK not willing to giving up arms outright without certain conditions been met and the AKP not willing to alienate its nationalist voter base by succumbing to PKK demands.

HDP has worked as a key interlocutor with a measure of influence with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, but they have stressed that the power to instigate the giving up of arms is with Ocalan and not them.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş hit back at criticism of interim Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the issue of laying down of arms, as heated rhetoric continued in the aftermath of the elections, stating that only Ocalan is capable of this and “Ocalan will make the call, and he is ready in İmralı to do it.”

A HDP delegation is seemingly ready to visit Imrali where there is optimism that Ocalan could set a date for the party’s congress to convene discussions on laying down of arms. Ocalan has undoubted influence but from an isolated prison other wider PKK circles have to be appeased, and it’s not clear how far or how willing a potentially weaker new government in Turkey would be to meeting key demands.

Elusive peace has many obstacles and many foes. Deadly bombings at a HDP rally days before the elections, increasing skirmishes between the PKK and Turkish forces and most recently a number of fatalities as the leader of a charity linked to the Kurdish Islamist political party Huda Par, with traditional animosity with the PKK, was killed.

It is clear so soon after the elections that these provocations are intended to stir unrest in the south east of Turkey and derail peace. This could be from nationalists who want to undermine the success of the HDP at the polls or sideline any peace with the PKK or show that HDP has unsufficient weight to placate the Kurdish region, from Huda Par seeking to stir old tension with the PKK or even elements from the PKK who believe their armed struggle is not over.

Demirtaş lashed out at the lack of government response, “People are taking steps to push the country into a civil war, and the prime minister and president are nowhere to be seen.”

From essential non-existence to a strong role in parliament, the Kurds have a come a long way in Turkey, the implementation of the peace process is now of critical importance for a better Turkey for both Turks and Kurds.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

HDP on cusp of history in Turkey’s elections but price of failure remains high

For many years, the Kurds suffered a choice of the Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK) armed struggle and the repressive policies of successive governments. For the dozens of Kurdish political parties, allegations of been a voice of the PKK and Turkey’s harsh security laws, saw them quickly shut down.

Now ahead of historic general elections on 7th June, the Kurds latest political incarnation, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) led by Selahattin Demirtaş, not only strives to pass the elusive 10 percent election threshold that has so often blighted Kurdish parties but extend its support base to become a Turkish party that is representative of a wide range of groups and not just Kurds.

HDP’s quest to enter parliament as a party and not via the traditional independent candidate route, is seen by many as a gamble but it also demonstrates the growing confidence of the party.

Even as Kurds represent a large section of the population, the 10% threshold has been hard to breach. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have worked effectively to split the Kurdish vote in previous elections, especially from Islamist and conservative circles.

Then there are those Kurds who were greatly discouraged by voting for any Kurdish party who would ultimately fail to break the threshold and thus lose their votes and voice.

Couple with Kurdish fallout over Ankara’s stance on the struggle of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane under a fierce Islamic State (IS) onslaught, the stalling of the Kurdish peace process, HDP’s broader manifesto and the prospect that HDP will enter parliament, the Kurdish voter base has become rich pickings.

Amidst the backdrop of the campaign to become a truly Turkish party, another key HDP battle ground has been the West of Turkey. The focus has been on displaying an image of a libertarian leftist party and capitalizing on disaffected and disenfranchised voters growing uneasy with the AKP or nationalist alternatives, especially appealing to Gezi protestors.

Demirtaş 9.7% of the vote in the presidential elections is deemed as a measure that HDP influence is growing.

As a party of the voice of marginalized, HDP has an appeal and a larger electorate including that of numerous other minorities. It is an alternative to the Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) or the Right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), but the key test is whether it can must enough of these non-Kurdish votes, even if it successfully navigates the 10% threshold.

If it remains a Kurdish voice and a party of the Kurdish region, then it will struggle to escape the PKK stigma.

Such is the significance that the 10% of HDP vote may bring that the election campaign has pitted them in constant confrontation with the AKP.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has made no secret of his desire to rewrite the constitution after the elections, has traded frequent harsh rhetoric with Demirtaş. At the same time, Demirtaş has been equally clear that once in parliament he will be an obstacle to AKP goals and policies.

Then there are the bombings of HDP offices in May and in recent days a deadly double bombing at a HDP rally in Diyarbakir that killed or wounded dozens.

The bombings are a reminder of the nationalist camps in Turkey that aim stir violence and keep the south-eastern question as an armed struggle calculus, and then there are Kurds who are skeptical at the prospects of true peace and Kurdish rights through parliament.

If the HDP does breakthrough the threshold, it would empower their position as interlocutors in the peace-process. It will also give them a true platform to extend their gains.

On the flip side, if HDP fails to achieve this target, there are significant repercussions. Millions of votes would have lost their voice in parliament leading to further unrest, the Kurdish peace process may become sidelined or diluted and HDP would see their seats giving to the next largest party, most likely the AKP.

The AKP have vowed that the peace process will pursue regardless of the HDP in parliament. But whether it’s a change in constitution or peace with the PKK, without opposition in parliament, the AKP will have an unhindered path.

In either case, AKP is likely to muster a strong portion of the vote again and this will increase fractures with opposing political and ideological camps.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

US softening stance on Assad epitomizes failed foreign policy

In February, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura controversially claimed in a press that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “…is part of the solution”.

Then a short while later in March, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, caused more controversy when declaring in an interview that “we have to negotiate in the end” with Assad.

While both statements resulted in swift backtracking amidst Syrian opposition and a regional outcry, it appears that Kerry and de Mistura merely uttered a growing acknowledgement in the West and particularly Washington.

In spite of later assurances that the US line on Assad had not changed – that he had no role in Syria’s future and had lost legitimacy to rule, Kerry’s comments merely added to growing scepticism and frustration in Turkey, with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu likening shaking hands with Assad to shaking hands with Hitler.

US President Barrack Obama, once labelled groups such as the Islamic State (IS) as minor players. Yet a grand coalition, frantic responses as IS steam-rolled through large parts of Syria and Iraq and hundreds of air strikes later, the name on the lips of Washington is IS and not Assad.

Turkey which has been at increasing loggerheads with the US and become disillusioned and bitter with Obama’s foreign policy, finds itself in a difficult predicament as an “official” part of the coalition, yet finds differences with the US over Assad a bridge too far to assume a more active role. In turn, the line from Washington is that Turkey has not stepped up to the plate as a key NATO ally.

Failed US foreign policy

Regardless of the official tone, there is now increasing realisation that whilst Assad is part of the problem, he is also part of the solution.

When Assad alleged that there was indirect contact with the coalition over the operations against IS, the US quickly denied this insisting that Assad’s comments be “taken with a grain of salt.” But the situation must also be judged within the new grains of reality – Assad did not give up power when the regime was on its knees, let alone when they are relatively secure and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is rapidly splintering.

This says much about the sorry state of Western foreign policy. Four and half years into a brutal civil war that has killed over 200,000 and displaced millions under the hands of a regime that clung to power by all means possible, to be in a situation where Assad and his institution is needed to prop up a Syria under the evident threat of a Jihadist takeover, tells its own story.

Obama’s Syrian policy failed to see the bigger picture, a conflict hijacked by Jihadists that was spreading fast across the borders of Syria and that once the bushfire started the effort to contain it, let alone to put it out, would far exceed any efforts in its prevention in the first place. Syria was very much the fertile Jihadist garden which allowed the IS seeds to flourish with Assad’s blessing.

Assad continuously broke red-lines that we quickly reset into greyer lines by Washington. Finally, a largely reluctant US intervened – when yet another red-line surfaced, IS banging on the doors of Erbil and Baghdad.

Strained US-Turkey ties

The lack of intervention in the first pace and now a focus away from Assad has infuriated an Ankara adamant that tackling Assad must be part of any operation against IS. The US has insisted that its hands are full with the fight against IS in Iraq and Syria, but for Turkey, increasingly fed-up with more foot-dragging by Washington, the road to defeating IS can only run through Damascus..

The softening of the US stance towards Assad is hardly through a plethora of options on the table. Put simply, giving the choice between Assad and IS, US would choose Assad over and over again. But choosing the lesser of two “evils” hardly bodes well for American credibility.

From the long-standing assertion that the time has come for Assad to “step aside” to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent statements that the time was now for Assad to “to think about the consequences”, the tone changes are subtle but nevertheless discernible.

Kerry gave tentative support for a largely unsuccessful Russian peace initiative between Syrian opposition figures and the regime which saw large segments of the key Syrian opposition figures boycott the talks amidst distrust and skepticism. The fact it was Russia, a chief backer of Assad, leading the peace charge with US nowhere to be seen, highlighted that Washington sees prospects of a real breakthrough as slim and that Assad’s removal is not a priority.

Turkey remains reluctant to meet the Coalitions demands of using Turkish soil for air raids or for Turkey to assist directly in the fight against IS. Turkish bases are highly strategic for a successful campaign against IS, especially Mosul.

Erdogan has shown himself as a dogged, independent and at times unpredictable ally that will not be pushed around by the US or European powers. Erdogan warned months ago prior to a repair mission by US Vice President Joe Biden that the Turkish position will not change unless the US can strike real compromise. The repair mission was ironically by a man who drew the ire of Erdogan with suggestions that Ankara had encouraged the flow of Jihadists along the border.

“From the no-fly zone to the safety zone and training and equipping – all these steps have to be taken now,” insisted Erdogan previously, before reiterating a common stance “The coalition forces have not taken those steps we asked them for…” and that as a result his stance will not change.

With such a significant shared border with Syria, home to the main Syrian opposition groups and the host of millions of refugees, Turkey finds itself at the centre of the conflict one way or another. Yet its lack of an agreed policy with the US speaks volumes on the state of what was already a diminishing relationship.

Turkish annoyance at their US partners could not have been demonstrated better than over the Kurdish town of Kobane. As Erdogan continuously downplayed the significance of the Kobane, the small dusty town unknown to much of the world become a symbol of the coalition fight against IS and one which the US deemed its credibility would be judged.

Kobane was not any Syrian town. It was part of the newly declared autonomous cantons of the main Syrian Kurdish party (PYD) which Ankara accuses of been an arm of the PKK. To the anger of Turkey, the US even provided ammunition and supplies to the Syrian Kurdish rebels with signs of growing cooperation.

The bigger picture

Even if IS is defeated in Syrian, which could take years, the US needs to quickly agree on a plan to deal with the root-cause of IS – Assad.

A grand bargain with Russian and Iran may well be possible to see that regime apparatus remains in place with Assad ‘eventually’ gone. However, such terms can no longer be on the unrealistic Genève Communique of 2012.

Even the new US initiative to train thousands of so called moderate Syrian rebels in Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia starting in early spring, is fraught with difficulties. The US made clear that goal of the initiative was to empower rebels to go on the offensive against IS and set the scene for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Syria. Assad was not even mentioned.

But so fractured is the Syrian landscape that picking out the moderates and vetting individuals is a painstaking task. Indeed, many moderates have slipped into the hands of new Islamist alliances in Syria bewildered at the lack of Western support. And what about the appetite of any newly trained rebels turning their guns on IS under Western pressure whilst Assad, their ultimate priority, simply regroups and gains strengths in the background?

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if Ankara with its new independent and assertive role in the Middle East can simply wait on US policy that it remains unconvinced with, as it continues to harbor millions of refugees and an unstable border.

First Published: Daily Sabah

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

With new angles to the peace process in Turkey, where now for the PKK’s armed struggle?

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

As Biden flies in to Turkey to repair dwindling sentiment, Ankara show-cases its strong ties with the Kurdistan Region

As much as Turkey has tried to steer clear of the Syrian civil war and the battle against the Islamic State (IS), it has found itself at the centre of the conflict in one way or another. Turkey has found itself embroiled in the conflict with the flood of millions of refugees, an extensive IS oil smuggling network and flow of foreign fighters and arms across the border.

At the same, Turkish relations with the United States have deteriorated rapidly. Relations may have cooled with increasing harsh rhetoric setting the tone but Turkey remains centre stage to the battle against IS as well as the eventual quest to topple Bashar al-Assad.

This week US Vice President Joe Biden flew into Turkey with the aim of reaching a compromise and patching ties. Public smiles and upbeat tones aside, privately the talks between Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will be anything but straight forward.

After all, this is the same Biden who caused heated controversy with suggestions that Turkey helped Islamic fighters seeking to depose Assad, which fast turned into a did-he or did-he not apologise farce.

Biden and Davutolgu struck a conciliatory tone at their press conference and played down differences stressing their relations as long-time allies.

The question remains as to whether Biden can achieve real compromise. Turkey has insisted that it’s already an active part of the coalition against IS but US knows it can simply do a lot more.

Turkey has reservations about supporting Syrian Kurdish forces in Kobane, labelling them as terrorists, while conversely they have become one of the only reliable US partners in the fight against IS.

Talks with Erdogan are likely to be much tenser. Erdogan has shown that Turkish interests come first regardless of any international backlash and he has become somewhat unpredictable in nature, pursuing an independent foreign-policy.

Whilst Erdogan may work with the US it will certainly not bow to any pressure nor is he afraid of any fallout if his demands are not met.

Turkey demands are clear. The US must have a comprehensive strategy that also deals with the removal of Assad. Ironically, the IS emanated from Assad-fuelled Syrian conflict, but the US is far from willing to replace him in the tougher fashion demanded by Ankara.

US has insisted its hands are already full with focus on the removal of IS in Iraq and Syria but for Turkey this is just more foot-dragging from the US believing that the road to defeating IS runs through Damascus.

Unless there is real compromise on the part of the US, Erdogan has already warned that the Turkish position will not change. “From the no-fly zone to the safety zone and training and equipping – all these steps have to be taken now,” Erdogan said in mid-week. Before reiterating a common stance “The coalition forces have not taken those steps we asked them for. … Turkey’s position will be the same as it is now.”

Without meeting the main Turkish demands, compromise may be small and ineffective. For example, after US officials visited Turkey in recent weeks, there is already an agreement to train and equip approx. 2000 moderate Syrian fighters. Previously, Turkey allowed 150 Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga to cross into Kobane.

None of these are real game-changers when Turkey’s immense military might is at a viewing distance from the Syrian conflict.

US will continue to reach out to Turkey, in reality it has little option but to keep Ankara on-side as they remain key actors even with a growing feeling of animosity and reluctance.

No image summed up the downward spiral in relations better than that of three American sailors from the USS Ross been hooded and roughed up by an anti-American mob in Turkey.

In knowledge of the deteriorating relations with the US and the international out-cry at the perceived lack of Turkish action over Kobane and the battle against IS, Turkey has tried hard in recent days to emphasize solid relations with the Kurdistan Region and also a Baghdad who under the rule of Nouri al-Maliki saw increasingly frosty ties with Ankara.

In recent months, there has certainly been a patching-up of ties between Ankara and Baghdad with prospects this week after talks with Davutoglu and Iraqi officials of Turkey training Iraqi forces. Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi is also scheduled to visit Turkey next month to seek further normalisation in ties.

In a recent visit to Erbil, Davutoglu, under-scoring the close strategic and economic relations with the Kurdish Region, stressed “Turkey will provide support through any necessary means for the Kurdistan Region’s security”.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Emboldened by local elections, Erdogan looks to the Kurds in presidential bid

The local elections in Turkey were widely touted as a pivotal landmark and referendum on the 11 year rule of AKP and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Whilst Erdogan has been under great pressure of late and has endured much publicity, he was not only able to come out the elections fighting but emboldened to the contrary of expectations from opposition circles.

This goes to show that in democracy even if 1 million come to the streets in stern opposition, it is relative and not always a reflection of the sentiment of millions that decide not to take to the streets. His opposition cannot be taken lightly but his support is evidently greater.

In the end the Gülenists failed to demonstrate that they have the political clout to strike a real blow to Erdogan and the AKP. The resounding victory gave Erdogan renewed confidence to undermine and attack the Gülenists and Erdogan hardly hid his desire to root them out, holding them responsible for unrest in Turkey and smear campaigns against the government.

The election results provide a platform for Erdogan to pursue his long-time ambition of replacing Abdullah Gul as president at the presidential elections in August, where for the first time the president will be elected by popular vote and not by government.

The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) had a decent showing at the elections even if they failed to woe their targeted number of votes, but AKP continued to fair strongly in Kurdish districts.

There is popular consensus amongst Kurds that Erdogan, who has been the instigator of much welcome reform of Kurdish rights and gradual steering away of nationalist hysteria against the Kurds, is the key to the continuation of the peace process.

Even though the pace and scope of the peace process has disappointed and not met Kurdish expectations, Erdogan has taken political risk amidst a backdrop of nationalist opposition.

In this light, dealing a blow to Gülenists and secular nationalists alike was a common agenda of the Kurds and the AKP.

Erdogan secured 46% of the vote but must now strive to build on this especially if he is to succeed in the presidential elections. An alliance with the BDP is a seemingly logical step for both sides.

The BDP (and their sister party HDP) mustered just over 6% of the vote having won 3 metropolitan municipalities, 8 provinces and 66 districts.

Kurds represent a signifiant portion of the elctroate and between those that voted for AKP and the BDP, a coming together to support Erdogan‘s candidacy will almost certainly tip the scales favourably.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Attitude to Turkish atrocities of the past the real gauge of sentiment in the future

The Kurdish position in Turkey is a far-cry from decades of denial, persecution and second class status but has Turkey comes to terms with its past policies?

The carnival atmosphere last week in Diyarbakir with Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani side-by-side with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and famous Kurdish artists was an unprecedented event.

The theme was one of brotherhood, peace and a prosperous future of co-existence. The mere idea that a Turkish MP would utter the word “Kurdistan” was unthinkable just years ago, let alone by a Prime Minister.

The increasing conciliatory ties and a dose of reality from the Turkish state are welcome and take the Kurdish standing in Turkey to new levels. The reality of a population of over 20 million with a rich history, culture and separate ethnic identity was cynically ignored in Turkey to its detriment.

However, Turkey has a long way to go before national sentiments will truly sway. The Kurds have a bad label, a tainted image in Turkey and seen as the aggressors and overreachers. In 2013, with the Kurds as strategic actors on the Middle Eastern stage and with the Kurdistan Region long established, it speaks volumes when the word Kurdistan stills stirs such nationalist emotion.

The fact of the matter is that until Turkey comes to true terms with its past and its crimes against the Kurds, a new age and a new future based on unity and co-existence will never come to fruition. The account of the conflict is acutely one-sided with the media and state policy playing a strong hand in the psychology of the greater population against the Kurds.

The West of Turkey never had the full picture of the Kurdish issue and state atrocities. The scene of the battle always seemed like a distant, backward, lawless and secluded land, not a land that constitutes such a major part of Turkey.

Without forgiveness and understanding, brotherhood will never arrive. Turkey must at the same time look at its past with a deal of justice, repentance and regret.

Many dark chapters in Turkey’s history where concealed from the public eye. Only recently with some prosecutions and trials in the Kurdish region have of some these tales come to light. The Kurds have resorted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the past, but it is the Turkish justice system that must take ownership and responsibility. Too often perpetrators of state injustices of the best have been sheltered and defended.

Recent trials have focused on the dark days of the 1990’s when the war with the PKK was at its peak. Thousands of villages were burned and destroyed, with millions of Kurds forced to migrate and with thousands killed or disappeared. Some of the horrid accounts were revealed by soldiers themselves.

Yet the acts of the 90’s scratch the surface. Only in 2011 did Erdogan take the bold and unprecedented steps of apologising for the killing of over 13,000 Kurds in Dersim in the 1930’s.

Violent means of achieving your rights should not be condoned and no war is without casualty but the whole Kurdish population was suddenly branded with the PKK or terrorist bush. If one village supported the PKK, it was as if the whole village supported such views.

Furthermore, the state repression of the Kurds goes back decades before the onset of the PKK.

If the Turkish government has genuine intentions to build a new future of brotherhood then the unbalanced view of the Kurdish struggle must be addressed.

The greater Turkish population must understand the crimes that were committed by state forces and the suffering that was inflicted on the Kurdish population.

Whether in Iraq, Syria or Turkey, the attitude to the repressive government policies of the past is an indicator of real sentiment in the future. Has the atmosphere really changed or is just been masked with mere rhetoric and policies that strengthens short-term goals of individuals?

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Kurdish reforms in Turkey should not be weighed with grim days of the past

Just decades ago against a backdrop of assimilation policies, repression and Kurdish phobia, many of the democratic rights and freedoms that the Kurds enjoy today would have been unthinkable.

Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) assumed power in 2002, it is fair to say that the party has taken a number of bold steps to resolve the countries long-standing Kurdish problem.

The reforms packages of the past decade instigated by Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, may prove historical when placed into context but it is difficult to compare an era of improved rights to times when the existence of the Kurds was denied altogether or when even Kurdish names were banned.

Fast forward to 2013 with the PKK war reaching close to 3 decades and when the peace process and the new political climate in both Turkey and the wider Middle East has made the stage ripe to finally resolve the Kurdish conflict.

This year has been the least deadly in almost 30 years of conflict as imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan assumed a position of peacemaker. The PKK forces began to withdraw and a ceasefire was put in force. This time there was renewed hope and optimism that Ankara could finally Ankara take on its aged old Kurdish problem head-on with a dose of reality and away from an outdated nationalist ethos.

However, as the months have rolled on without concrete measures, Kurdish anxiety has steadily increased leading to disgruntled and disenchanted voices within both the PKK and the Peace and Democratic Party (BDP) and war of words between the Kurdish groups and the government.

By the time Erdogan announced his much anticipated democracy package on 30th September 2013 a new climate had already taken fold with the PKK halting their withdrawal from Turkey as retaliation for the labored nature of the peace process and the political and social scars that the highly-publicized Gezi Park protests inflicted on Erdogan’s government.

Of course, in relation to the past, the latest reforms announced are historic and a significant milestone. But this is the 21st century. Thousands across the Middle East are fighting for their rights and ever-expectant populations are not ready to settle for second-best.

The Turkish Kurds see their brethren in Iraq go from strength to strength with de-facto independence, new economic power and strategic and political clout. To the south, they see their Syrian Kurdish counterparts sowing the seeds of unprecedented power and autonomy.

Simply put, after a long wait, Erdogan’s package disappointed and is unlikely to appease long-term Kurdish aspirations or build meaningful bridges with the PKK that will see a genuine end to armed conflict.

Erdogan’s changes include allowing education in Kurdish in private schools, towns and villages now able to use their Kurdish form, abolishing the long-standing pledge of allegiance by school children, lifting of the ban on Kurdish letters not present in the Turkish alphabet and a promise to review the 10% threshold designed to hinder Kurdish footing in parliament.

Many key demands have not been met, especially in the field of judiciary. There can never be justice, social harmony or peace while anti-terror laws remain in their current form or judicial reforms are not enforced.

As long as such laws remain in place, an element of Kurdish phobia will always prevail.

Whilst the reform packages may disappoint, the timings and the implication of the announcements echoes beyond the short-term.

Erdogan came out of the summer protests bruised but not defeated. However, a backlash over the summer has placed Erdogan into a difficult predicament with elections just months away. He has to balance the secular, nationalist and minority voices in a way that almost gets him past the crucial milestone of upcoming local elections in March, presidential elections in August and parliamentary polls in 2015.

More radical reforms to appease Kurds would almost certainly have been met with a nationalist backlash. At the same time, a lack of reform would have threatened an abrupt end to the peace process and an almost instant return of violence.

The same dilemma applies to appeasing secular voices whilst at the same time not betraying the Islamist principles of his party and his millions of Islamist supporters.

Clearly there was a lack of real consultation with the various groups including the Kurds and the reforms will not please all sides but it’s a gamble and balance that Erdogan is prepared to take.

The PKK and BDP were quick to criticize the reform package but it’s not clear whether it will derail the peace process altogether or merely delay and hinder the initiative.

The latest reforms can only be labeled as a new dawn if they serve as the precursor and basis for future reforms rather than a solution in itself.

An ever expectant and resurgent Kurdish population will not settle for token democratic gestures that they should never have been deprived of in the first place.

Furthermore, minority rights have to be put in perspective. You cannot apply equal weight or the same brush to Alevi, Assyrian or Christian demands and the much deeper and fundamental Kurdish question.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Death of Kurdish protestor adds fuel to Turkish fire

In last week’s column, the sensitivity of Turkey’s Kurdish peace process and the accompanying democratic initiative was highlighted with a warning that single-bullet can unravel months or years of gains.

The highly unfortunate death of Medeni Yildirim, caught up as protests in Lice near Diyarbakir against the building of a new Turkish military outpost grew violent, is just the kind of spark that can ignite greater strife.

As the recent Arab Spring has highlighted, youths spraying anti-government graffiti, a man setting himself alight or local show of discontent, is all it takes to light the touch paper.

In a similar vein, Turkish anti-government protests have slowly snowballed. The problem with such highly-publicized protests in front of thousands of international cameras is that the government has a small window of opportunity to respond delicately and swiftly. One wrong move, the slightest overreaction or use of force and the smallest of controversial political rhetoric and the situation quickly blossoms into an unmanageable crisis where even if the protests later die down, the government never comes out unscathed.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has enjoyed a decade in power and his achievements, widely acclaimed in Turkey and beyond, are in danger of been eroded.

A year ago, the long disenchanted and marginalized Kurds would have jumped at the opportunity to pour fuel on anti-government protests, a perennial role usually reserved for them. In a twist of irony, the Kurdish south east has been quiet whilst the west of the country has been embroiled in mass protests that have served to polarize and destabilize Turkey.

The Kurdish position is owed to renewed hope and expectation that the Kurdish conflict can be peacefully resolved and that Kurds can finally move away from playing second-fiddle under Turkey’s ultra nationalist foundations.

An encouraging and welcome sign was the protests and outcry that erupted amongst Turks in Istanbul in solidarity with the Kurds over the death of Medeni Yildirim.

The governments violent response in Lice and the growing Kurdish frustration with their lack of impetus in implementing legal steps and reform as part of the peace process, adds more pressure on the government.

The Kurdish south-east has been at its most peaceful in almost 3 decades. Recently, Erdogan was quick to emphasise that the peace process will not be affected by Gezi Park protests, and the two issues have been largely separated.

Managing ever rising expectations is a tough task. Although, many AKP initiatives in resolving the age old Kurdish dilemma were unprecedented, Kurdish expectations have outpaced the piece-meal nature of Turkish concessions.

A stone-throw away lays a prosperous, flourishing and autonomous Kurdistan Region. To the south, even their Syrian brethren are finally rid of the clutches of tyranny.

Why should the long supressed Turkish Kurds measuring such a large segment of society and in a country with EU aspirations and hailed for its democratic principles, continue to settle for less than their legal entitlement?

It is even more ironic that Turks in West of Turkey in living standards, economic conditions and social infrastructure far beyond those of the Kurds complain about the increasing authoritarian nature of Erdogan’s rule and anti-democratic measures.

Imagine the stance of the Kurds who have suffered greatly since the 1920’s under systematic repression, left to endure second class status and lacked at times even the basic of rights.

Perhaps the newfound and much welcome solidarity between Turks and Kurds is a reflection of that irony.

His image may be tarnished, but not all is lost for Erdogan and the AKP, who as much as the protests and media attention would suggest otherwise, still enjoy good support in Turkey and who can still ensure a successful implementation of the peace process.

However, the message is clear, act quickly, decisively and wholeheartedly, before an unstoppable whirlwind engulfs all of Turkey.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

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The Turkish-Kurdish peace process at a critical juncture

As ever in the Middle East, the concept of destruction can take mere seconds and construction many years. It may take years, decades or even centuries to strike peace, resolve sectarian, ethnic or political rifts or reach consensus whilst a single bullet, bombing or event can quickly lead back to square one.

In the face of this, with the onset of the historic peace process launched at the turn of the year, Turkey has a unique opportunity to finally end its decades-long military conflict with the PKK and build social, political and economic bridges with its long impoverished and disenfranchised Kurdish population.

The latest peace process with the heavy involvement of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was bold, ambitious and commendable but was hardly based on a national consensus. For some Turkish nationalist and secularists who oppose Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it was even deemed the last straw.

More importantly, the peace process is fraught with a great deal of animosity and mistrust between the PKK and the AKP-led government. To make matters worse, the details of the so-called road-map is riddled with a lack of clarity, including its stages or actual steps that will be implemented.

Just what has Ankara agreed with Ocalan and the PKK in peace negotiations, what is the timetable and what concessions will the Turkish government adopt in reality?

The withdrawal of PKK militants in stages that began shortly after Ocalan’s historic Newroz announcement was a welcome move, but uneasy on the how the government will respond to their side of the bargain, the recent statements from Ocalan, BDP leaders and PKK commander Murat Karayılan have been washed with apprehension and warnings.

BDP leaders have continuously pressed the government for implementing legal reform and ‘second phase’ of the process and have hit-out against the looming deadlock. The idea of a 3 month parliamentary recess at a critical juncture in the process hardly soothed sentiments.

Ocalan himself, the real key to this process, a fact that most Turks resent, is growing weary amidst current progress and lack of perceived reciprocation from the government.

At a sensitive time in the Kurdish-Turkish reconciliation comes the heavy public pressure on Erdogan and the widely publicised Gezi park demonstrations. The heavy handed Turkish response and growing public discontent is contributing to an increasing polarisation of Turkey. The mass nature of the protests and ensuing violence was hardly the tonic for the peace-process.

Ironically, the protests and incidents in Istanbul and western Turkey is what the world has been accustomed to seeing in Turkey’s south eastern Kurdish region. However, this time the Kurds stayed largely out of the protests and the Kurdish region has been calm and in positive anticipation.

The Kurds and the Turkish government must remain commitment to the path of peace regardless of provocations. The threat of sabotage is not one-sided, there are elements on both sides that wish to derail peace.

The last six months have been the most peaceful in Turkey in almost 3 decades, yet both sides remain quick to broadcast and highlight any violations.

Ultimately, actions speak louder than words. Turkey has a unique opportunity to end military struggle that has cost billions of dollars but must match rhetoric with firm legal steps.

Each Turkish rocket, weapon or tank, cost millions of dollars yet the same millions that destroys infrastructure and future generations can help build schools, roads and hospitals.

At a sensitive conjecture in the Middle East, there must be a firm realisation in Turkey that peace and true reconciliation between Kurds and Turkey is not an option but the only solution.

Rhetoric from the AKP government has remained somewhat positive, with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay even praising the peaceful nature of the PKK withdrawal. Most elements within the Turkish government realise that there is no turning-back and peace is the only way forward.

However, wishes of a majority can be easily drowned by actions of the minority. The smallest of skirmishes or any Turkish casualties and the war may return greater than ever.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.