Turkey’s peace initiative – ensuring that once rebels drop weapons, they are not picked up again
The turn of the year has created a unique environment and momentum in Turkey for solving the age-old Kurdish question, better than any time in the history of the Turkish republic, culminating in Abdullah Ocalan’s Newroz ceasefire declaration and an on-going peace process.
While the current progress and general rhetoric is certainly positive, many obstacles lie head and the initiative can be easily derailed.
It has taken bold steps from both sides to get this far and settling a three decade armed struggle cannot be achieved without courageous steps, determination and real compromise and desire. While many in Turkey continue to believe there is no Kurdish question and what remains to be resolved is a “terrorist” problem, true resolution and reconciliation will only come with the acknowledgement that the Kurdish question and the PKK problem are one and the same.
The details of peace talks and agreements, other than through leaked press reports, have been generally concealed. The government needs to be clear and transparent in the negotiations and with practical steps it is willing to take.
These steps must mean wholesale gestures to the Kurds through parliamentary measures and not via a piecemeal carrot and stick approach.
The current debate about the withdrawal of PKK rebels within Turkey highlights the current sensitivity that continues to plague Turkey. The AKP government has refused demands to enshrine the disarmament and withdrawal of PKK rebels into legislation. It remains conscious of nationalist reservations or giving the PKK nemesis credibility or acclaim through any “public” withdrawal.
In the grander scheme of things, dropping of guns will not be an issue and it is likely that in Ocalan's latest letter to be announced that he will push the rebels to disarm before withdrawing. It is ensuring that these guns are not picked up gain that is the issue.
If Turkish government concessions fail to materialise or appease the greater portion of Kurdish society, the process can easily unravel. Furthermore, without long-term peace and democratic measures, reflected in a constitution that deliver true rights for the Kurds and a level of regional autonomy enveloped with economy growth and investment in the south east, another armed group may simply fly the flag.
With new democratic channels, a constitution that protects Kurdish identity and new jobs, much needed pub- lic services and an improved standard of living, a new natural political climate can take hold in the Kurdish regions of Turkey.
Indeed the onset of a new Turkey is a win-win for Turks and Kurds, but for the PKK it has to realise that an end of violence is also win-win for all parts of Kurdistan. The new Kurdistan Region of Syria was hampered by its association with the PKK and a harsh line of Turkey. Peace in Turkey will also result in constructive steps by Ankara with Qamishli.
The anti-Assad stance of the Turkish government led to a somewhat predictable reinvigoration of Damascus ties with the PKK serving to “punish” and destabilise Turkey. The influence of PKK peace negotiations on the PYD can arguably already be seen with escalating tensions between YPG Kurdish forces and regime forces.
Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who for many is staking his political career in the rapprochement with Ocalan, is seeking to make a number of gains in one move.
It cannot ignore the onset of Syrian Kurdish autonomy which raises the nationalist stake for all Kurds and in the fast changing Middle East and surrounded by all four parts of Kurdistan, it can risk animosity with the Kurds at its peril.
Last but not least, peace with the PKK removes one remaining thorn in the already strong and prosperous relations between the Kurdistan Region and Ankara. With expanding energy ties with Erbil and unprecedented trade volumes not to mention the importance of strategic and political alliances with the Kurdistan Regional Government, Ankara can ill-afford to let out-dated nationalist principles mark the growing reality of a new middle Eastern order and with it the rise of the Kurds. Ankara can either ignore the Kurdish nationalist reality to its detriment or harness it for the betterment of Turkey’s regional and strategic goals.
An image of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is held by a participant of the celebration of Newroz in Diyarbakir on Thursday (March 21st).