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.

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