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 road-map 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 road-map 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 sideby-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.
Supporters raise photos of the detained PKK leader Abdulla Ocalan and the PKK flag during a demonstation on the occassion of the assasination of three female Kurdish activists in Paris, France early last month.