Kur­dish re­forms in Tur­key should not be weighed with grim days of the past

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

Just decades ago against a back­drop of as­sim­i­la­tion poli­cies, re­pres­sion and Kur­dish pho­bia, many of the demo­cratic rights and free­doms that the Kurds en­joy to­day would have been un­think­able.

Since the Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AKP) as­sumed power in 2002, it is fair to say that the party has taken a num­ber of bold steps to re­solve the coun­tries long-stand­ing Kur­dish prob­lem.

The re­forms pack­ages of the past decade in­sti­gated by Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter, Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, may prove his­tor­i­cal when placed into con­text but it is dif­fi­cult to com­pare an era of im­proved rights to times when the ex­is­tence of the Kurds was de­nied al­to­gether or when even Kur­dish names were banned.

Fast for­ward to 2013 with the PKK war reach­ing close to 3 decades and when the peace process and the new po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in both Tur­key and the wider Mid­dle East has made the stage ripe to fi­nally re­solve the Kur­dish con­flict.

This year has been the least deadly in al­most 30 years of con­flict as im­pris­oned PKK leader Ab­dul­lah Ocalan as­sumed a po­si­tion of peace­maker. The PKK forces be­gan to with­draw and a cease­fire was put in force. This time there was re­newed hope and op­ti­mism that Ankara could fi­nally Ankara take on its aged old Kur­dish prob­lem head-on with a dose of re­al­ity and away from an out­dated na­tion­al­ist ethos.

How­ever, as the months have rolled on with­out con­crete mea­sures, Kur­dish anx­i­ety has steadily in­creased lead­ing to dis­grun­tled and disen­chanted voices within both the PKK and the Peace and Demo­cratic Party (BDP) and war of words be­tween the Kur­dish groups and the gov­ern­ment.

By the time Er­do­gan an­nounced his much an­tic­i­pated democ­racy pack­age on 30th Septem­ber 2013 a new cli­mate had al­ready taken fold with the PKK halt­ing their with­drawal from Tur­key as re­tal­i­a­tion for the la­bored na­ture of the peace process and the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial scars that the highly-pub­li­cized Gezi Park protests in­flicted on Er­do­gan’s gov­ern­ment.

Of course, in re­la­tion to the past, the lat­est re­forms an­nounced are his­toric and a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone. But this is the 21st cen­tury. Thou­sands across the Mid­dle East are fight­ing for their rights and ever-ex­pec­tant pop­u­la­tions are not ready to set­tle for sec­ond-best.

The Turk­ish Kurds see their brethren in Iraq go from strength to strength with de-facto in­de­pen­dence, new eco­nomic power and strate­gic and po­lit­i­cal clout. To the south, they see their Syr­ian Kur­dish coun­ter­parts sow­ing the seeds of un­prece­dented power and au­ton­omy.

Sim­ply put, af­ter a long wait, Er­do­gan’s pack­age dis­ap­pointed and is un­likely to ap- pease long-term Kur­dish as­pi­ra­tions or build mean­ing­ful bridges with the PKK that will see a gen­uine end to armed con­flict.

Er­do­gan’s changes in­clude al­low­ing ed­u­ca­tion in Kur­dish in pri­vate schools, towns and vil­lages now able to use their Kur­dish form, abol­ish­ing the long-stand­ing pledge of al­le­giance by school chil­dren, lift­ing of the ban on Kur­dish let­ters not present in the Turk­ish al­pha­bet and a prom­ise to re­view the 10% thresh­old de­signed to hin­der Kur­dish foot­ing in par­lia­ment.

Many key de­mands have not been met, es­pe­cially in the field of ju­di­ciary. There can never be jus­tice, so­cial har­mony or peace while an­titer­ror laws re­main in their cur­rent form or ju­di­cial re­forms are not en­forced.

As long as such laws re­main in place, an el­e­ment of Kur­dish pho­bia will al­ways pre­vail.

Whilst the re­form pack­ages may dis­ap­point, the timings and the im­pli­ca­tion of the an­nounce­ments echoes be­yond the short-term.

Er­do­gan came out of the sum­mer protests bruised but not de­feated. How­ever, a back­lash over the sum­mer has placed Er­do­gan into a dif­fi­cult predica­ment with elec­tions just months away. He has to bal­ance the sec­u­lar, na­tion­al­ist and mi­nor­ity voices in a way that al­most gets him past the cru­cial mile­stone of up­com­ing lo­cal elec­tions in March, pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Au­gust and par­lia­men­tary polls in 2015.

More rad­i­cal re­forms to ap­pease Kurds would al­most cer­tainly have been met with a na­tion­al­ist back­lash. At the same time, a lack of re­form would have threat­ened an abrupt end to the peace process and an al­most in­stant re­turn of vi­o­lence.

The same dilemma ap­plies to ap­peas­ing sec­u­lar voices whilst at the same time not be­tray­ing the Is­lamist prin­ci­ples of his party and his mil­lions of Is­lamist sup­port­ers.

Clearly there was a lack of real con­sul­ta­tion with the var­i­ous groups in­clud­ing the Kurds and the re­forms will not please all sides but it’s a gam­ble and bal­ance that Er­do­gan is pre­pared to take.

The PKK and BDP were quick to crit­i­cize the re­form pack­age but it’s not clear whether it will de­rail the peace process al­to­gether or merely de­lay and hin­der the ini­tia­tive.

The lat­est re­forms can only be la­beled as a new dawn if they serve as the pre­cur­sor and ba­sis for fu­ture re­forms rather than a so­lu­tion in it­self.

An ever ex­pec­tant and resur­gent Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion will not set­tle for to­ken demo­cratic ges­tures that they should never have been de­prived of in the first place.

Fur­ther­more, mi­nor­ity rights have to be put in per­spec­tive. You can­not ap­ply equal weight or the same brush to Alevi, Assyr­ian or Chris­tian de­mands and the much deeper and fun­da­men­tal Kur­dish ques­tion.

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