By Zafer Yörük
The Kurdish Globe
June 6, 2009
News of a PKK land mine blast on 28 May, killing 6 soldiers in Hakkari, has shocked many in Turkey, whose optimism had been gaining momentum since President Gül’s call for a “realistic and rational solution to the Kurdish question”.
One anti-Kurdish “expert” after the other began to populate the TV screens appealing to the government to put this “ridiculous” peace discourse to an end, which, they claimed, only butter the terrorists’ bread. We also learnt that the Turkish bomber jets subsequently took off to hit PKK targets inside the KRG region. So, that was it? This was the end of story? Peoples of this country had obviously been condemned to remain in the Guinness Book of Records for having the shortest lasting peace conversations in the world. So the “war lobby”, although many of its top members are in jail for charges of conspiring to overthrow the government, a.k.a. Ergenekon Trial, was still alive and kicking harder than ever?
Fortunately, the peace lobby’s depression would not sustain for long, thanks to the DTP leader Ahmet Türk’s historic statement: “Those who want a democratic solution and a solution free of violence must take their fingers off the trigger”. With this appeal, Türk managed to hit the headlines of the Turkish press for the first time without a negative connotation, which undoubtedly helped to calm the nationalist sentiments. The funerals of the fallen soldiers did not trigger a nationwide anti-Kurdish hysteria, which we had witnessed previously in so many occasions.
The reasonable behavior of the Turkish media and the public occurred in defiance of persistent war cries from the ultra-nationalist right. The leader of the MHP, Devlet Bahçeli, condemned Gül’s peace announcement as “treason”, while his deputy Oktay Vural said: “this is not a plan for the solution of the Southeast problem but a game aiming the dissolution of Turkey”. However, the concerns regarding a peaceful solution are not limited with MHP’s behaviour. AKP Government’s ambivalence, which had found its expression in Prime Minister Erdoğan’s accusation that their March 2009 electoral defeat in Diyarbakır was a result of DTP functionaries’ bullying the Kurdish electorate, also continued with a new wave of detentions of dozens of Public Workers Union officials, for the allegations of taking orders from the PKK to undermine the AKP’s electoral campaign in Diyarbakır.
AKP’s ambivalence will obviously continue until a “road map” is decided upon for the peaceful solution. As many commentators note, Gül’s announcement could so far be interpreted as a mere statement of goodwill at its best, lacking the structure of a concrete proposal. Avni Özgürel of daily Radikal writes that Gül’s announcement is based on a report by Emre Taner, the Director of the Turkish Intelligence Service (MIT), which proposes an administrative reform for partial devolution of power to the regional/local authorities, finding an appropriate way of accommodating the guerrillas coming down from the mountains, a formula for the PKK leadership’s accommodation and an amendment in the conditions of imprisonment of Abdullah Öcalan. This proposal, Özgürel asserts, has been agreed upon in principle by all the participants of the National Security Council (MGK), including, most remarkably, the military’s high command. Other commentators note that Deniz Baykal, the leader of the CHP, renowned with his hard-line on Kurdish question, has not only kept remarkably calm, but he even began talking about an amnesty for Kurdish prisoners. The news of a possible extension of PKK’s unilateral ceasefire until September and the recent commencement of the flow of KRG oil to Turkish refineries have also boosted hopes of regional peace and moderation. These signs of peace however are undoubtedly fragile and will remain so until concrete proposals, or “road maps”, become the subject of a public debate.
The Journey and the Destination
In parallel to the commencement of the talk of peace, a wave of contemplations on the possible ultimate solutions of the Kurdish question has inevitably taken off in parallel. Geographical separation, autonomy and the unification of Turkey’s Kurdish provinces with the Kurdistan region of Iraq are the scary scenarios with highest circulation so far. Anti-Kurdish commentators quote one or the other of these ultimate destinations before proposing the “Peru Model” or even worse the “Sri Lanka Model” as the only solution without concessions. Radikal columnist Erdal Güven insinuates in his narration of the suppression of the Shining Path in Peru a comparison with the Kurdish question. Güven emphasizes the Peruvian President’s “determination” which led him to sustain the Constitution in order to suppress the guerrilla revolt. Similarly, Mehmet Ali Kislali narrates the recent defeat of Tamil Tigers, emphasizing the difference between the Sri Lankan President’s “determination” and Gül’s “concessionary approach”. He says although the methods of suppression were ruthless, it was necessary to finish off terror in Sri Lanka. It is thanks to this determination, he writes, that the Sri Lankan state managed to solve the Tamil problem by exclusively military means. Proposals are certainly not limited to “military solution”. PKK commander Murat Karayılan proposed the Scottish model of regional parliament in a recent interview with the Times.
The problem with these proposals is that they are exclusively concerned with the ultimate end rather than the process itself. The Turkish columnists above are obviously obsessed with the ultimate nationalist desire to eliminate the Kurdish movement, which they prounce as “ending the PKK terror”. Karayılan’s position is not so dissimilar although it is pronounced from the other side of the conflict, since his proposal of the Scottish model is also exclusively concerned with the destination. Peace process, on the other hand, consists of a process of negotiations between the sides of a conflict, the end results of which are usually impossible to predict at the outset. The participants negotiate not speculations but concrete reciprocal demands. As in many journeys, what is important is not the destination but the journey itself. For those, whose obsession with destination cannot be healed, we can always argue that ending the bloodbath is an ultimate end in its own right.
“Waiting for Godot”?
The Kurdish Globe political editor, Azad Aslan, in his editorial column correctly points out the structural differences between the British and Turkish political systems, stating that any analogy between the two cases would fail short of presenting “any meaningful solution”. However, instead of expecting an analagous solution, an analysis of the experience of the peace process may lead to helpful conclusions. Aslan also criticises the expectation of a solution of the Kurdish question within the framework of democratization of Turkey. Waiting for the Turkish system to democratize itself as the precondition of the solution of the Kurdish question would certainly be naive, very likely to be comparable to ‘Waiting for Godot’. However, if Marx’s famous motto, “a people that oppresses another cannot be free”, does not sound so naive, then seeing the solution of the Kurdish question as a precondition of democratization in Turkey cannot be labelled as a pipedream. Turkey has changed in many ways, particularly the popular mentality on democracy, from bad to worse throughout the 25 years of violent conflict with the Kurdish movement. It may now be possible to reverse the direction of change through involvement in a peace process. A process for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question has the potential to lead to a process of democratization of the Turkish political entity.
Although an analogy with the British case would be naive, it would still be safe to note that if it took only a few decades for “the Empire on which the sun never sets” to turn into “the country on which the sun never rises”, then it may not take long for Turkey to go through a substantial democratic transformation, the first casualty of which has to be its official ideology.
Problems of Peace Process and Democratization in Turkey
By Zafer Yörük