Two months can be a relatively long-time when it comes to politics in Turkey. Only recently there was widespread optimism and hope that Turkey was finally intent on tackling its age-old Kurdish dilemma head-on. However, hope quickly turned into despair with the contentious decision to ban the Democratic Society Party (DTP) by the Turkish Constitutional Court for its alleged links to the PKK, a claim that has long reverberated in hawkish circles.
Big Swing in Turkey
When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a historic speech, widely referenced as the “Kurdish Opening”, his vision was as courageous as his boldness to pass momentous democratic measures in Turkey against a backdrop of opposition.
The plan itself took several more weeks to be unveiled as widespread bickering, controversy and debate gripped Turkey around the ground breaking measures proposed.
Whilst the steps finally unveiled fell short of Kurdish expectations and was undoubtedly watered-down under heavy criticism and pressure from the Turkish opposition, it was nevertheless for a country that long denied even the existence of its Kurdish population an important step that was hoped would finally bring unison and stability to the south east of Turkey.
The decision to ban the DTP in many ways has been long-time coming. Almost as soon as the DTP became the first Kurdish party in the Turkish parliament for 14 years, the party found itself under pressure from many a circle intent on clipping the wings of a growingly influential party in the much disenfranchised Kurdish quarters.
Although the decision is bitterly disappointing especially in light of the great deceleration affect it has had on the Kurdish initiative, until mindsets are greatly changed in Turkey such decisions are unsurprising.
The closure of the party is the last in the line of 10 Kurdish parties to be closed down by Turkish authorities. Under the orders of the prosecution, 37 party members including DTP leader Ahmet Turk have been banned from politics for five years. The harsh penal codes when it comes to preserving the foundations of the Turkish republic has meant that even the ruling AKP party has not been immune to the viciousness of the Turkish constitutional courts.
Once sentiments had somewhat calmed, Ahmet Turk strongly indicated that the remaining politicians where the DTP held 21 seats in the 550-member parliament, would form another group and remain in parliament.
Whilst the disillusionment of the politicians is understandable, it is of paramount importance that the Kurds remain on the democratic road. Regardless, of whether another 10 pro-Kurdish parties are banned in subsequent years, it remains very clear that the only place that Kurdish issue can be solved is via parliament and not in the mountains via sheer military force.
Who represents the Kurds?
Clearly, the PKK continues to assume strong support amongst the Kurds in Turkey. Although the DTP made fundamental gains at the municipal elections earlier this year, the PKK continues to be the common denominator when it comes to any discussion around the Kurdish issue.
Whilst the DTP could have done more to take over the new mantle as the chief representation of the Kurds and distance itself emotively from the PKK, the PKK cloud continued to linger in the DTP window. The PKK trace is deep-rooted in south east, namely as the Kurds have had no parliamentary representation in successive decades and thus in reality a lack of political alternatives to dilute the PKK influence over the years.
Certainly for Turkey, the decision to ban the only legal Kurdish body will have an adverse affect on democracy in the region. Ironically, this position places the PKK closer to the fore as the bastion of Kurdish identity.
Years of bloodshed and billions of dollars of expenditure has continually highlighted that without addressing the root cause of the Kurdish struggle, gulfs will continue to widen in Turkey.
Whilst Erdogan’s guile stirred Kurdish optimism and at least theoretically placed the long-term role of the PKK in jeopardy, the decision to ban the DTP once again leaves a feeling of despondency and a lack of faith amongst the Kurds.
Furthermore, as it currently stands almost 2.5 million people have affectively lost their representation. Unless this political gap can be urgently filled, then this will stir more bitterness and disappointment.
This is not the first time, and many suspect not the last, where Turkish rhetoric around resolving its Kurdish dilemma has not been met with real intent or concrete steps.
After much promise from the Turkish government, there is a big feeling of Turkish backtracking over the historic steps. The immense pressure from nationalist circles in Turkey placed severe pressure on the government and Turkish courts not to be seen as weak or undermining the foundations of the Turkish republic, which for many has almost mystical importance.
The surrender of a small group of PKK guerrillas was designed as a test of Turkish desire and it was hoped that this would be the first of many.
However, the surrender was met with such high-profile jubilation from Kurds that it almost felt like a victory parade for the PKK and this has proved a counter-productive step by the Kurds. It yet again placed focus on the PKK as the real front of the Kurdish initiative, which for the government was embarrassing and emanated weakness in the face of their arch enemy.
The intense media coverage this received placed a devastating knock on Erdogan’s initiative. This was a fundamental chance for the DTP who were key actors in the historic surrender to firmly assume the mantle piece as the chief interlocutors of the Kurdish movement. However, in many regards the DTP failed to truly out-strip the PKK shadow as the new champion of the Kurdish movement.
Widespread riots in Kurdish cities over the prison conditions of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan followed by a number of high-profile clashes between the PKK and the Turkish army only added fuel to a raging opposition fire.
While Erdogan, who was strongly critical of the decision to ban the DTP and vowed to press on with his vision of reforms, became increasingly isolated the Turkish government realised that changing mindsets would be a much more difficult task than they imagined.
In a twist of irony, not long ago Erdogan held a number of meetings with Ahmet Turk regarding the initiative which he hailed for its positive impact and productive influence.
Pressure from EU
The decision to band the DTP was met with disappointment from the EU, which has placed the enhancement of minority rights as a keystone of Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
Whilst this saga has served a significant blow, it simply must not detract either Kurds or Turks from reality. The future of Turkey relies on the affective integration of the Kurdish population. Decades of nationalistic polices has served no side and if Turkey harbours any glimmer of aspirations to join the EU then this must come with the realisation that this can only occur if the Kurds and Turks enter the EU hand-in-hand.
The era of violence in any struggle is over. The world is exponentially smaller and much more transparent than ever before. No nation can systemically deny another lest if the world turns a blind eye. Support for the PKK remains strong but to dwindle this down Turkey must take more courageous steps and embark on a long-term opening with patience and perseverance than expect that Kurdish sentiments can be easily swayed.
Just as it is difficult to sway Turkish nationalist sentiments towards the Kurds, it will take just as long to convince Kurds that the Turkish government is sincere in finally embracing them as a fundamental cog of the Turkish landscape.
With the DTP vowing to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the ruling of the Constitutional Court, this episode may just receive the global spotlight that will put pressure on the Turkish government to reenergise its widely-highlighted goal of broadening Kurdish rights.