As Turkish parliament stutters to a start, Kurds demand wholesale measures not piecemeal gestures
The recent national elections in Turkey were historic for the AKP as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured a landslide visctory and a third term, and many had hoped would also be historic for the future face of Turkey.
However, the ushering of a new chapter inTurkeyhardly got off to the best of starts as boycotts by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) derailed any short-lived post election euphoria.
The simultaneous boycott by the CHP underlined the broader national frustration with judicial handicaps and democratic constraints in Turkey, and strengthened the sense of injustice amongst the Kurds.
Progress on the Kurdish issue has been stop-start and inconsistent at the best of times, nevertheless, the Kurdish question has taken a new footing under Erdogan’s tenure. Some of the reforms, cultural rights and increasing reachout to the Kurds in the midst of nationalist hysteria have certainly been symbolic.
However, as we have seen with the unprecedented Arab spring that has rocked the Middle Eastern horizon and toppled many long established regimes, once expectations rise unless progress on the ground and fulfilment of demands rises exponentially with it, the enmity and determination of the people can not be contained and this leads back into a vicious cycle of tail-chasing socio-political progress.
The experiences of the Kurds in Turkey is hardly glittered with glory but as expectations have naturally grown and the people have become steadily more confident, the raft of changes proposed by the Turkish government has failed to appease Kurdish ambition.
Erdogan has promised to secure consensus for the drafting of a new constitution with a key demand of the BDP and PKK been recognition of Kurdish identity amongst the proposed amendments.
Much like the much heralded ‘Kurdish opening’, Turkey finds itself in position of promising much but delivering little against a backdrop of hawkish circles and nationalist anger. As such Kurdish hopes for comprehensive changes to the constitution are unlikely.
Erdogan’s AKP previously enjoyed strong electoral support in the Kurdish regions but the latest elections demonstrate a bewilderment and lack of faith in Erdogan fulfilling his promises.
The balance of keeping the west and east of the country happy has almost certainly shifted in the favour of appeasing the west of Turkey. Erdogan has proven he can stand-up to the traditionalist elite and rise above the might and influence ofTurkey’s military peers. But this battle has proved a difficult and contentious balancing act and as such Erdogan’s reach-out to the Kurds has quickly been followed by backtracking.
In the current Middle Eastern turmoil, the rising prominence of Kurds in Iraq and Syria and the changing strategic shape of the region, it is the east of Turkey that’s holds the real card to Turkeys growth, prosperity and stability.
In the pastTurkeycould afford to ignore their restive Kurdish population at will and worse confide them to second class status but in the present age such policies will only see a kickback forAnkara.
Without economic growth in the region, social and cultural advancement, more political freedom and a much a larger slice of state focus and investment, what reasons will the Kurds have to sway towards Ankara and reconciliation?
It is time for the Turkish government to offer the Kurdish population a real political alternative. The Kurds have often been stuck between successive repressive governments and violence and resistance of the PKK. This has had led to a vicious cycle where the people have been seemingly trapped. On the one hand the Turkish government’s overtures simply do not fulfil those expected of a modern democratic European nation and on the other hand the Turkish government has drastically undermined political representation in the region which has ubiquitously left the PKK as the representatives and interlocutors of the Kurdish nation.
Indeed this PKK shadow continues to hinder Kurds in the political arena. BDP is a reincarnation in a long line of Kurdish political parties that have been banned and reprimanded. The fact that the BDP representatives had to run as independents tells its own story with the electoral system continuing to plague Kurdish advancement.
Whilst Erdogan recorded a landslide victory, the real victors at the recent polls were the BDP with 36 votes. However, the BDP boycott of parliament as a result of the stripping of jailed deputy Hatip Dicle of his seat along with the refusal to release 5 candidates awaiting trial in prison quickly dispelled hopes of a new beginning and evoked fears of a return to the poisonous atmosphere of the past.
If this was a one off occurrence then perhaps it would be more understandable, but practically every Kurdish party in the past has been hindered and disbanded for one reason or another.
The Kurds fear that the government is already trying to clip their wings again as they potentially form a considerable voice in parliament.
Just where does this leave roadmap for the Kurdish opening? Evidently, the more disillusioned the Kurds become the more the PKK threatens to grow in influence. Kurdish political advancement is a must for Turkey to shake the cob webs of its past struggles against the PKK. In the new dawn of a new age, violence is no longer an acceptable form of political resolution and like most ordinary Turkish citizens, the Kurds do not favour violence or instability. They want jobs, opportunities, cultural and political freedoms and investment.
As bitter of a pill as it is to swallow, the PKK is now intertwined with the Kurdish opening and a solution to the Kurdish problem. Even the government behind the political chambers has realised this and have kept contact with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, but this has been concealed and played down for fear of a major government own goal.
In reality, without a resolution to the PKK dilemma, the Kurdish question can never be resolved. This is the by-product of Turkeys own mistakes. It has failed to promote political representation for Kurds and at the same time has refused to acknowledge the PKK.
Turkeymust break from tentative steps and piecemeal gestures to its Kurdish population and instead implement tangible wholesale reforms.
The Kurds are eagerly looking towards Ankar ato gauge the sincerity and appetite of the government for real change.
In the meantime, the PKK continues to lurk in the background with its own threats and demands and ongoing confrontation in the south east. Against a backdrop of nationalist fever, the government is unlikely to meet PKK demands, negotiate directly or grant any level of amnesty.
While an inflammation of armed insurrection is unlikely, the Kurdish population as they have shown in the protests leading up to the elections, can cause more unrest and political damage than any armed struggle.
As witnessed in theMiddle East, mass mobilisation of the masses is far more superior to any military might. The Kurdish population is not a small insignificant corner of Turkey but an integral part of its past, present and future.
There is no reason why Turkey could not usher a new era of true fraternity. The Kurds have much more to gain with a productive Ankara by its side but at the same time can not indefinitely accept token gestures.
Both the Kurds and Turks, both within Turkey and beyond are inseparable entities. The prosperity of both nations lies only with the advent of strong relations and new channels of dialogue and understanding.
As difficult as it may prove for the BDP, it must end its boycott and not to succumb to further weakening in parliament. While Turkey must realise that it must first solve democratic shortcomings in its own backyard before launching itself as the regional sponsor of the new reformist tidal wave in the Middle East.
First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.