[lg policy] Turkey: Time Up for a Kurdish Compromise?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 9 14:20:37 UTC 2011

Turkey: Time Up for a Kurdish Compromise?
June 16, 2011 - 12:08pm, by Dorian Jones

Election officials closely monitor as a voter drops her ballot into a
clear box at a polling station in Turkey’s Hatay province, which
borders Syria. The pro-Kurdish movement increased its seats from 20 to
36 in the country’s 550-member parliament during the country’s latest
elections. (Photo: Jonathan Lewis)

Turkey’s June 12 general election saw the pro-Kurdish movement score
its biggest-ever parliamentary victory, with an increase from 20 to 36
seats in the country’s 550-member parliament. Ironically, though, the
triumph comes as hopes for a peaceful solution to meeting Kurdish
demands are fading.

The victory by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which
primarily backed independent candidates, came at the expense of the
ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). In two of Turkey 's
predominantly Kurdish provinces, the BDP secured 90 percent of the

One leading political columnist argues that the scale of that victory
is an indication of Kurds’ despondency over the AKP. "The Kurdish
demands kept being postponed and delayed," said the daily Milliyet’s
Nuray Mert. "The Kurds and Kurdish politicians believe they have been
cheated by the government. I am really concerned that a tough
confrontation can now happen. Some say it is already inevitable.”

Kurdish frustration is born of a string of failed AKP promises. In the
2007 general election, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan campaigned
on a platform of addressing Kurdish demands for greater cultural
freedoms. But other than opening a state Kurdish TV station and
introducing some university classes in Kurdish, little else was
delivered. Erdoğan's major effort to end the conflict with the rebel
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), known as the “Kurdish opening,” ended
in failure two years ago.

Post-election, little sign exists that the prime minister will give
that dialogue a second chance. Declaring there is "no longer a Kurdish
problem," Erdoğan campaigned on a Turkish nationalist platform, and
dismissed key Kurdish demands for political autonomy and
Kurdish-language schools.

Those dashed hopes may lead to renewed confrontation, warned
Bahçeşehir University political scientist Cengiz Aktar. "Until now,
Turkish politicians have put a condition to negotiate: Stop the armed
struggle. Kurds did and nothing happened, with the exception of the
short-lived ‘Kurdish opening,” Aktar said. “ As long as there is no
political process, the armed struggle will probably continue."

The PKK's imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, threatened a return to
full hostilities with the Turkish government if negotiations do not
start by June 15. As yet, no armed conflicts have occurred; in the
last month, the Turkish military killed more than two-dozen suspected
PKK fighters.

But coupled with the threat of a full-scale armed conflict, comes the
new threat of widespread civil disobedience and protests. Preparations
are also believed to be underway for creating their own institutions,
independent from the Turkish state, including in education and law.

Newly elected BDP parliamentarian Altan Tan elaborates, using a
shorthand expression – “mountains” -- for Kurdish rebels. "We say we
want autonomy. He [Prime Minister Erdoğan] says ‘No.’ We say we want
education in our mother tongue. He says ‘No.’ So he does not except
the criteria of the European Union. He accepts the criteria of the
Turkish street,” Tan said. “So, we say ‘If you accept the criteria of
the street, we will accept the criteria of the mountains."

The depth of that chasm of understanding between Turkish and Kurdish
politicians makes avoiding confrontation difficult, argues political
scientist Mert. "Unfortunately, neither the governing parties nor
parties in opposition take the situation seriously, and they think if
they recognize the seriousness of the problem, it will be a surrender
to Kurdish demands."

The writing of a new constitution is seen as the only vehicle for
addressing the key Kurdish demands of education in their mother tongue
and local autonomy. In his June 12 victory speech to AKP supporters,
the prime minister promised the drafting of the document would be an
inclusive process.

If that proves to be the case, an opportunity still exists for
dialogue with Kurdish politicians, according to Sinan Ülgen, an
executive board member of Istanbul’s Centre for Economics and Foreign
Policy Studies (Edam).

"On the positive side, they [the BDP] have also included some
representatives which have not been associated with the more radical
line of the Kurdish movement,” Ülgen said. “That might allow them to
play a more constructive role on the Kurdish issue."

The main opposition People's Republican Party, CHP, has also taken “a
more liberal approach” on the topic of Kurdish rights, and could act
as “a much more constructive counterpart in the Turkish parliament in
order to enact needed constitutional amendments,” he continued.

Overtures to the BDP, however, would put the prime minister in a
difficult spot  "After asking for nationalistic votes so much, how can
the party change its attitude? It is very difficult,” said political
columnist Mert. "Even if they try, there will be great pressure coming
from their electorate."

But political expediency may be a small price to pay with the stakes
so high for Turkey  "As long as the country can’t solve its Kurdish
conflict, anything can happen. All stakes are open and there will be
big, big question marks for Turkey. This is the price to pay," warned
Bahçeşehir University political scientist Aktar.


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