Wednesday, 16 January 2013

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

The reactions to the resumed talks between the Turkish government and Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), are generally cautious among the Turkish commentators. What is especially notable is that several of those Turkish commentators who have earned a name as experts on the Kurdish issue are particularly circumspect, expressing severe doubts about the prospects of the resumed peace process; notably, they question the motives of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and point out that the Turkish government isn’t offering any comprehensive solution to the Kurdish question, only talking about disarming the PKK. Although that secures the consent of the Turkish majority to having talks with Öcalan, an agreement that disregards the Kurds’ demands will not be viable, they warn.


İhsan Dağı in Zaman writes that public opinion has come to appreciate that the Kurdish problem is not going to be solved with armed measures. For that reason, holding negotiations and the notion of arriving at a political agreement do not provoke as much negative reactions as was the case in the past. But there is a nevertheless a problem: public opinion is very much nationalistically emotional, a result of the fact that such feelings have been catered to too much. This is also something for which the government bears responsibility; nationalism has been stoked by talk of hanging Öcalan and by a discourse claiming that the “Kurdish problem is over”. The risk is that the government will become hostage to a public opinion that it has itself created. To underline that the aim of the talks with Öcalan is to ensure that the PKK lays down its arms does make sense as a way of securing the support of the Turkish public opinion. There is nothing in what the prime minister has said concerning the road map to be followed – cease fire, PKK withdrawing to Iraqi Kurdistan upon which it disarms – that suggests that a political solution is envisaged, not to speak of more practical things as a change of Öcalan’s status and an amnesty; indeed Erdoğan’s statement that none of those two things are going to occur during the tenure of the AKP has created more confusion. What is going to persuade the PKK to lay down its arms? What are we going to offer them in return for asking them to hand over their arms? Is the government’s real ambition to solve the Kurdish problem? Or is it to neutralize the PKK before the election year of 2014? I don’t think that any headway is going to be made in the process without providing answers to those questions that satisfies the Kurdish political movement and builds confidence with them.

Cengiz Çandar in Radikal writes that there is a suspicion in the minds of a lot of people that the government (read Tayyip Erdoğan) is not ready at this juncture to take the steps that are necessary for bringing about a solution to the Kurdish question; they suspect that what is being attempted does not so much aim at solving the problem as to manage it, with an eye to the upcoming, municipal and presidential elections in 2014. What the government is aiming at by giving the impression that it is negotiating with Öcalan is ultimately to weaken and neutralize the PKK by demonstrating that the PKK and BDP in fact don’t follow the instructions of Öcalan; and by which Öcalan himself would end up being neutralized. Those who harbor such suspicions ask if there is any other way to understand a process that is presented exclusively as being about “combating terrorism” and disarming the PKK. Is there any ground for such a concern? I hope not. But I cannot say that is a groundless concern.

Kadri Gürsel in Milliyet writes that the government thinks that reaching an agreement with Öcalan is enough for having Kandil (the headquarters of the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan) surrender its weapons. We can conclude that they are hoping to be able to impose the parameters of the negotiations that they have determined together with Öcalan on Kandil. This approach speaks of a bazaar mentality that is very far from grasping the true nature of the Kurdish question. The simple fact is that the parameters of peace negotiations cannot be determined without somehow including the armed wing of the PKK in the ongoing İmralı talks. To “finish off” the matter with Öcalan may result in some PKK militants descending from the mountains, but others will stay on and the violence will thus continue. Furthermore, it is a serious mistake to assume that the PKK is ready to surrender its arms. In the wake of the withdrawal of the U.S. from the region and the situation in Syria, the PKK has become a “regional actor” within the Damascus-Baghdad-Tehran-Moscow axis. The PKK has acquired a base in all of the four countries that count a Kurdish population; all of these factors offer Kandil a strategic depth that it lacked during 2009-2011, (when negotiations were being conducted between the Turkish state and the PKK in Oslo, Norway.)

Oral Çalışlar in Radikal points out that if the Kurdish question is solved, it will occasion changes of a depth and breadth that go far beyond the Kurdish issue, with a solution paving the way for a comprehensive overhaul of the society and state of Turkey in its entirety. The negotiation process has the potential of ultimately bringing about a change of the participating parties in every conceivable aspect, overturning accustomed paradigms among Turks as well as Kurds. A mentality that evolves toward conceding the legitimate rights of the Kurds augurs an overhaul of Turkey’s political, cultural, judicial, constitutional character, the redefinition of human relations and societal ties. The constitution is going to change, the principles guiding education are going to be substituted, the nation will be redefined, centralism will give way to a decentralized order, the criminal code, the laws regulating the political parties and elections revised. All of this may seem like fantasies to you, but if the process is properly managed and if care is taken to raise a construction on sound foundations, new possibilities will present themselves for Turkey. But of course, after such vast changes we could also be confronting new problems, new identities, new fault lines that are difficult to predict today.

Etyen Mahçupyan in Zaman cites the results of a recent opinion survey that was undertaken by TESEV and KONDA; according to the survey, the five most important political identities in Turkey are Kemalists (26, 5 percent), Islamists (17, 8 percent), conservatives (14, 6 percent), nationalists (14, 2 percent) and democrats (6, 7 percent). This is how the respondents identify themselves. When it comes to making choice between a strong state, stable economy and a humanist society there is almost no difference between conservatives and nationalists; however, the Islamists differ significantly from them. Those who are self-described Islamists prefer a strong state and stable economy much less than the self-described nationalists and conservatives do, attaching the greatest value to a humanist society. Even more interestingly, the percentage of Islamists who do so (46 percent) is almost the same as among the self-described democrats (48 percent). The Kemalists are in the middle, between on the one hand nationalists/conservatives and Islamists/democrats. When it comes to how much value is attached to freedom, there is once again a clear division; the Kemalists, Islamists and democrats value freedom relatively more. Considering that the crucial reforms that Turkey needs to undertake all relate to freedom, it inspires hope that Islamists and Kemalists converge. It could be argued that Islamists and Kemalists in practice seek different kinds of freedom, yet we can nonetheless expect that a reciprocal respect for each others’ spheres of freedom will naturally grow in an environment where similar norms have gained acceptance.

Read 7485 times Last modified on Tuesday, 11 June 2013

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The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.


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