Tag Archives: Democratic Opening

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

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

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.

In the new Turkey, how happy is the one who says “I am a Turk or a Kurd”

The Imrali peace process in Turkey has created an environment, support base and sense of expectancy that has never been seen before. There is great hope that the new bridge building initiative will lead to the ultimate quest of long-term peace, laying down of arms and a new chapter in the history of the Turkish republic.

Public opinion both within Turkish and Kurdish circles indicate that people are fed up with decades of war and suffering and yearn for peace. Even the staunchest Turkish nationalist has come to terms with the limits of military power. How many billions of dollars of lost expenditure and sheer resources been consumed by one of the largest armies in NATO, yet almost 3 decades on and the loss of thousands of lives of later, the cyclic battle has only served to deepen the divide and inflame tensions  in Turkey.

The open keenness of the AKP government and official support for talks with imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, long-time public enemy number one and now seemingly the key facilitator to peace, speaks volumes about changing sentiment.

The lack of a genuine desire for talks, absence of real concessions and common mistrust have in the past quickly clouded any prospects of real peace. Indeed only sincere and bold efforts will realise a new dawn.

In a second visit by a Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) delegation since the turn of the year, deputies Sırrı Süreyya Önder, Pervin Buldan and Altan Tan visited Ocalan in the island prison of Imrali to discuss and outline the next steps in the peace process.

Although, the roadmap rumoured to have been agreed between Ocalan and Hakan Fidan, the head of National Intelligence Organization (MİT), was not revealed or the specific details of the delegations meeting with Ocalan was not known, according to the three BDP members, Ocalan had referred to the new peace process as a historic step and emphasised on all sides to show “care and sensitivity.”

There were also indications from the BDP delegation’s statement that Ocalan and the PKK were ready to release captives, likely in exchange for release of KCK prisoners, as part of the initial steps.

The roadmap and next steps are likely to be publicised shortly by both sides, although the sense of caution is understandable. Current hopes and expectations have to be put into perspective.  It has taken years and much suffering to even reach this juncture, both sides will maneuverer carefully, but what is clear is that if the chance for peace is missed this time around, Turkey may regret it for many years to come.

The whole unnecessary and largely irrelevant argument over which BDP members would visit Ocalan in the latest round of talks shows the sensitivity and wariness of the Turkish government. It wants to be seen to have the upper-hand in this process and that it is calling the shots. The AKP government as ever have the difficult job of appeasing all sections of society, especially nationalists hawks, who have often put a spanner in the works.

The Turkish government must also expect some responsibility for the lack of Kurdish interlocutors on the ground. The PKK has continued to dominate the Kurdish landscape and Ocalan, in spite of his virtual isolation for 14 years, still holds the largest sway and reverence amongst the Kurds. BDP politicians are the very people voted by Turkish citizens in a legal and transparent way and who have seats in the Turkish parliament, and yet the BDP has been blighted by both the governments’ tendency to undermine their influence and PKK’s continuing dominance of Kurdish hearts and minds. The 10% parliamentary threshold has hardly helped the Kurdish political and democratic movement.

The Kurdish rebels are willing to initiate a ceasefire and withdraw beyond the Turkish borders, after all “ceasefires”, albeit unilateral ones are not new. But it is whether the rebels can be adequately appeased. Are rebels just going to simply lay down their arms after decades of battle and thousands of sacrifices? Of course, as part of any precondition, Turkey must take bold and historic steps.

There is no better place to start then the very political and social blueprint of the country, its constitution. A new constitution that recognises the Kurds and enshrines their rights, including a level of autonomy, is of paramount importance. The new Turkey must embrace a partnership between Kurds and Turks, Turkey will always comprise of two components but who live, work and prosper together hand-in-hand and side-by-side. This new Turkey must be a bi-national state based on equality and brotherhood.

Public surveys are important gauge of government performance and public opinion but any decision on the Imrali process cannot and will not satisfy all parties. Sometimes politicians must make decisions not to just appease the present constituents but to also safeguard the future wellbeing of a nation.

The will and desire of the Kurds and Turks must not be broken by minorities who will continue to insist on violent means of achieving their goals or by those who hold onto imperialistic ideals. There are many parties within Turkey and the surrounding region who seek to derail peace.

Surveys on whether Kurds and Turks can live together detract from the bigger picture, Kurds and Turks have lived together, largely peacefully, for hundreds of years.

The time for violence and armed rebellions is certainly over but so is the time for out-dated ethos and a society based on inequality. In the new Turkey, how happy is the one who says I am a Turk or a Kurd.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.

Turkish opposition in historical step to end Kurdish insurgency

Historical talks between the Turkish opposition party CHP and ruling AKP promises much, but without a change in ideology and outdated principles and new tangible measures, can a new political process really achieve a different end result?

While Turkey’s current Kurdish policy is a far-cry from the dark days of the past, its “democratic openings” have often stumbled to a halt before they have gained any real motion. Turkey has tried to implement bold measures without a real change in ideology, in parliament, in nationalist circles or in tangible measures.

Contrary to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previous statements that there is no Kurdish problem but only a terrorist problem, the Kurdish problem rages on and if anything has gained new momentum.

With rapidly changing political realities in the Middle East, Turkey risks been left behind unless it readdresses its strategic role in the region, starting with its greatest problem, its Kurdish minority

Turkey has been waging a war against the PKK and trying to contain its Kurdish population for decades without success. It has to finally come to terms that its real problem is not a few thousand PKK guerillas but its millions of disenfranchised and largely impoverished Kurdish citizens. Its only solution is to resolve the Kurdish issue through parliament, with new legislature and through common dialogue. Turkey cannot continue its failed ideology that PKK can be destroyed by force alone and yet expect to resolve its Kurdish dilemma. You have to address the root of the problem, before wasting energy at merely cutting the branches.

New angle to Kurdish issue

The PKK is clearly enjoying a new lease of life with support from Damascus much to the dismay of Ankara and deriding the government’s belief that they will “render terrorists ineffective”. These days, the Kurdish issue in Turkey is far from been confined as a domestic issue. The Kurdistan Region, with its own escalating crisis with Baghdad, is heading closer to self-sufficiency and independence through new oil infrastructure and new sway on pan-Kurdish nationalism, and more importantly a new alliance with Ankara as Turkish relations have wavered with neighboring countries.

The situation of the Syrian Kurds, with or without Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has drastically shifted and they will enjoy new leverage. The PKK is enjoying fresh support amongst the already fractured Syrian Kurds, serving to create another headache for Ankara. One way or another, the Kurdish issue is no longer a domestic issue and needs a fresh approach, and new forward thinking away from outdates ethos.

Opposition plan

Against a backdrop of the Syrian crisis, escalating PKK violence, Ankara’s cooling of ties with Damascus, Tehran and Baghdad and an increasing wedge between its Kurdish citizens, Turkey cannot stay idle.

As such, the main Turkish opposition’s proposed initiatives this week in tackling the Kurdish problem and ending the insurgency, the first time the opposition have instigated such measures, is a positive development.

The leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, had a historic meeting with Erdoğan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) where he put forward a 10-point solution to the ending the vicious violence with the PKK that for decades has crippled much of the south-east and to reconcile with its Kurdish citizens.

The principle behind Kılıçdaroğlu approach is that a solution to the Kurdish problem requires a “national contract”. A measure he believes that can only be achieved through a parliamentary process.

Kılıçdaroğlu attributed blame to the political process for failure to resolve its age-old dilemma, “Why could this problem not be solved over the last 25, 30 years? Why could terrorism not be ended? The only responsibility for this is with politics as an institution,” he asked.

The proposed measures include the creation of create an eight-member cross-party Social Consensus Commission augmented by a 12-person non-parliamentary committee selected by the four parliamentary parties.

Both the Erdogan and Kılıçdaroğlu labeled the meetings as positive which also had support of the pro-Kurdish BDP. However, the nationalist handicap, one of the reasons why Erdogan backtracked on the 2009 Kurdish Opening against a backdrop of hawkish circles and nationalist anger, will likely derail the plans for cross-party consensus.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) did not take part in the talks with party leader Devlet Bahçeli accusing the government of “legitimizing terror”.

Change of direction from Opposition

Erdogan and Kılıçdaroğlu seldom meet and have often clashed over granting Kurds greater rights and thus their rapprochement is the right tonic to kick-start resolution of its Kurdish problem.

The seemingly change of heart from the opposition may not be purely due to a desire to finally come to terms with the Kurdish equation.

The CHP also sense a political chance to win-over the Kurdish vote at a time when frustration with the AKP is rife with the perceived insincerity of the government towards the unfortunate Roboski massacre and its stalled Kurdish initiative. It is an opportunity to build links in the south east where social-democrats are a scarcity and also tap into the liberal support.

It is also an opportunity for the CHP to weaken any reconciliation between the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in particular over the new constitution. AKP controversial policies such as those proposed over abortion also serve as an opportunity for CHP to secure more points.

The bottom line is that CHP can no longer stay on the side-lines of the Kurdish issue and forgo the Kurdish vote if it has any aspiration for power for the sake of its outdated ideals.

The way forward

If the killing of 34 young villages of Uludere by Turkish forces in a case of mistaken identity was a sincerity test for the government, then the government has badly failed. This further alienated the Kurds and exposed limits to the AKP reach out to the Kurds.

However, above all else, it is lack of real intent and sincerity that has crippled previous democratic openings.

It’s not arriving at a political process that will resolve the Kurdish issue and put an end to the insurgency, but concrete measures and a new dose of reality in applying practical solutions.

Turkey cannot change the end result, no matter what process it ensues, with the same historical ideology.

On the one hand it reaches out to the Kurds, on the other it arrests thousands of Kurdish political figures including BDP mayors and most recently Leyla Zana under the same harsh penal code of yesteryear.

It has too often overlooked the BDP and its previous manifestations, and has been too quick to label any nationalist Kurd or Kurdish political party as a supporter of the PKK.

Ankara has also tried to end the insurgency without paying any relevance to serious dialogue with other party in the military equation, the PKK.

The PKK, in spite of a nationalist reprisal that will inevitably come, must form a direct part of this initiative. Their support base has swollen over the years, with the government playing a big part in this, and changes in Kurdish sentiment will not be wholesale overnight.

However, what is clear is that most Kurds are long-fed up of been caught between PKK violence and outdated and insincere government policies. The new initiative must give the Kurds a way out and a new vision that they can truly buy into. Pro-Kurdish should not automatically be labeled as pro-PKK.

Facing facts

Facing facts is the only way Ankara can shatter old conceptions and herald a new dawn with its Kurds. Millions of its citizens need to enjoy the same rights as anyone else in Turkey. The millions of its citizens should not be punished only because their ethnicity and heritage is not Turkish. Kurdish culture and history should be embraced as a core component of the Turkish landscape.

The Kurdish nationalist vehicle is gaining momentum and either Turkey can keep pace and try and influence events to its advantage, or it can be a passive bystander as winds of change rapidly rattle the very nucleus of the Middle East.

The initiative promises renewed hope, but is uncertain whether Turkey has the stomach for real compromise, swallowing of nationalist pride or swaying from the foundations of Kemalist ideology.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Dialog is the way forward for stability and prosperity

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.

A referendum on the taste for change and the historical foundations of Turkey

For a country seemingly in transition and an ideological tangle between its historical roots and the reformists intending to drag Turkey into the new millennia, the vote over constitutional amendments held extra significance.

Many had perceived the vote as a referendum on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself and the thermostat by which to gauge the ruling party AKP’s likely showing ahead of next years crucial national elections.

A hard-fought and contentious campaign was followed by a tense vote as the Turkish people voted ‘yes’ to the constitutional reform package on the table. The polarisation of Turkey could not be painted better than the fact that although 58% of the electorate voted in favour, large section of the Kurdish south east boycotted the vote or voted no. Elsewhere, large sections of Istanbul, a secularist bastion, were weary of government measures to dilute historical state principles and ideals.

The AKP, who stormed to power in 2002 with a tight-hold on the Turkish political arena, faced stiff criticism from nationalist and conservative circles, especially from the main opposition party, CHP, who accused the Islamist rooted AKP of a de-facto Islamist coup and aiming to seize control of the judiciary.

Since the AKP assumed political ascendancy, many key reforms designed to facilitate EU accession have been passed. This has included loosening laws around restrictions on freedom of speech, allowing landmark if not limited and state controlled broadcasting in Kurdish and slowly clipping the wings of the powerful Turkish army, the long-time guardians of the secularist ideology.

One of the key aims was to limit the power of the judiciary and the largely independent hand of the constitutional courts, whose status at times has afforded a free hand in upholding the now mystical secular and nationalist ethos of the state, and who were even close to banning the AKP only a couple of years ago.

The new measures provide the government greater influence over the selection of judges and also include steps to try army officers in civilian courts.

In many ways, the constitutional referendum pitted an old Turkey against an aspiring new one.

Over the past decades since foundation of the republic, certain blueprints of Turkey such as its strong secularism, nationalist ideals and the almost sacred role of the military were almost deemed untouchable.

While the AKP and Turkey has a long way to go, the sense of new if not highly contentious dialogue has been a strong development for Turkey as it tries to reshape its strategic role and identity both in the Middle East and Europe.

Admittedly, many of these reforms have been forced by EU accession demands than pure free will but the change in the air in recent years has certainly rocked the established elite.

The same ideals that engulfed Turkey in the 1920’s can not be merely applied indefinitely. The advent of globalism, a new world order and more transparent economic unions, means that Turkey must simply change with the times, or become stuck in out dated ethos that will only prove counter-productive to its advancement and standing.

Eventual entry into the EU is a major carrot and one that will ultimately see Turkey make further constitutional changes required, no matter how hard they may be to stomach in certain quarters, let alone discuss at this sensitive juncture.

As debate and a sense of anxiety in some nationalist circles continues to grip Turkey, perhaps it was fitting that the referendum was held on the day that marked exactly 30 years since a military junta took power 30 years ago and duly adopted the current constitution in 1982.

The current constitution drawn up by military influenced and ultra partisan actors with very specific objectives at the time is out-dated and simply incompatible with that of an EU aspiring country.

This common acceptance of the need for modernisation begs the question why all the fuss over the reform package? The answer is that although the reforms included only 26 amendments to the 1982 constitution, many which were widely expected and some now irrelevant, many hawks and nationalists fear that this may just be the tip of the iceberg as the AKP government manoeuvres further to imprint its ideology.

Critics will point to the way the reform package was rushed through earlier this year, and to the fact that citizens had a choice of ‘all or nothing’ over the proposed changes. While Erdogan has been heralded for spearheading economic and political advancement in Turkey, opposition camps point to his rigid style and view the Prime Minister with a degree of mistrust.

Ironically, while for some the constitutional amendments were too radical, for the impoverished Kurds struggling in the shadow of authoritarian and repressive laws and who largely abstained or voted “no”, the reforms simply do not go far enough. Many of the key laws and stipulations that continue to impinge Kurdish rights remain enshrined in legislature. For example, the key law that stipulates that any political party must attain a 10% threshold to enter parliament has continually blighted Kurdish political parties. Teaching and broadcasting in the Kurdish language are still limited and freedoms are still someway short.

Quite simply the changes simply do not quench the evident need of greater political reform in Turkey. However, particularly for the Kurds, who only decades ago were denied altogether, the gradual thawing of age-old mindsets is more significant than the limited reforms on the table at the current time.

It took many decades to usher even the notion of change and thus expectancy that the Turkish nationalist horizon will now suddenly tip upside down is optimistic at best. The democratisation of Turkey will continue, and as frustrating and tense as it has been, further changes will be painstaking, gradual and not wholesale.

For example the much anticipated ‘Kurdish opening’ ran out of steam as the government became paralysed by stiff opposition, perception of ‘succumbing’ to the PKK and also at the same time from instability and general mistrust in the south east, who argued the steps did not go far enough.

While disappointedly the iconic steps by the government to reach out to the Kurds never took any semblance of ascendancy, the channels of democratisation and dialogue are surely, if not slowly, taking root.

New democratic pages must be turned to ensure modernisation of Turkey’s south east and a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish question.

The EU must shoulder a lions-share of responsibility in carrying and pushing Turkey towards accession and prosperity, by loosening the nationalistic constitution further and particularly ensuring that Kurdish rights are advanced further. After all if Turkey joins the EU, it will be bringing its millions of Kurds with it.

While US President Barack Obama’s belief of “vibrancy” in Turkey’s democracy is exaggerated, in Erdogan own words, Turkey has at least “crossed a historic threshold”.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

As its National Pride is Wounded, Turkey Invariably Points the Finger at the Iraqi Kurds

Turkish military and political leaders squarely accused the Iraqi Kurds of having an indirect hand in the latest deadly showdown between PKK rebels, reportedly resulting in the death of 15 Turkish soldiers and 23 Kurdish rebels, and countless wounded.

Perhaps, it was the daring nature of the daytime attack near the border that shocked the Turkish hierarchy, pressing them into a customary strong-worded rhetoric. The strong and respected Turkish army, as the protectorate of the republic and the symbol of Turkish nationalism, have since the inception of Kemalist-ideology, posed an almost mystical identity. The idea of such a flagrant attack by the much-loathed rebels was bound to rattle sentiments across Turkey.

However, as much as Turkey would hate to believe, let alone acknowledge, even the mystical might of the Turkish army has simply not been enough to counter an equally vibrant nationalist movement. The analogy is of a ferocious lion been bitten in broad daylight, by a much smaller-cat, who in the knowledge of been unable to ever directly counter such a beast, will nevertheless aim to strike psychological ‘bites’ to the proud animal rather than ever serve it any great physical damage.

This attack, along with those of the past has done just that. They have hurt Turkish pride and stoked national sentiments, forcing Turkey to take decisive action as in the mass-invasion of this year, designed to send unwavering intent that the lion will fight back to uphold its honour and eminence, than belief they can kill the nemesis cat in the midst of a torrential landscape.

As mass funerals and patriotic outcries highlight the death of every Turkish soldier, thousands of Kurdish deaths, the ‘debris’ of the greater nationalist-project, are ignored. Insurgent and violent means of gaining goals, least of all terrorist acts, belong in the bygone era and are ultimately counter-productive and a prelude to tarnishing what may essentially be a justifiable cause. However, let’s not forget that there is a mourning mother on each side.

While, it is simply untrue to allege such direct Iraqi Kurdish support such as to provide weapons, roads and hospitals, undeniably as the crisis grows and Turkey takes more abrasive action, it is slowly submerging Iraqi Kurdish sentiments into the conflict. The Iraqi Kurds rely heavily on Turkey, and in the modern era maintaining strong relationship with a monumental European neighbour has been much more important than aiding and abetting their ethnic-brethren in a violent battle that the Iraqi Kurds would do well to avoid.

It is true the Iraqi Kurds could do more. But in the eyes of Turkey, this ‘more’ is a deadly inconclusive inter-ethnic confrontation with the PKK, resulting in mass-suffering for the local population and destabilisation of the region. And for what? In order that Turkey will continue to treat the Kurdistan Regional Government with disrespect and utter discontent, let alone the simple virtue of acknowledgment and direct dialogue?

The time for realism has never been greater in the back of this latest shockwave across the region. On the eve of Turkish parliamentary vote to extend the 1-year authorisation for cross-border attacks, this attack was clearly designed to ensure that Turkey will not only authorise another extension but take graver disproportionate measures against their foes.

And this is exactly the focus and attention that not only the PKK craves, but it decisively needs to survive as a movement. As Turkey will feel forced to take more abrasive measures, this will eventually evoke a broader regional conflict that will serve no sides, but the sides of violence and bloodshed.

Turkey must act at the root of problems. Rather than addressing how to shoot down rebels in mountains, Turkey could seek ways of seeing them come down at their own will.

Promises of greater south-eastern development and more encompassing reforms, may have been more than encouraging compared to past records, but in the context of today have been beset without any significant action.

Now is the time to stop further blood-shed and promote a feeling of brother-hood in Turkey. Lets not let forgot there are millions of disgruntled Kurds in Turkey, and only a minority in arms. Not all Kurds believe in confrontation, not all Kurds rejoice at Turkish deaths. The people want jobs, peace and prosperity – they have long-chosen Turkey and the prospects of the EU over unrealistic daydreams.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Peyamner, Various Misc.