The government finally took a major step and started talks with the PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan. This time everybody is very cautious, after the 2009 “Kurdish Opening” turned out to be a great failure. There is much less cheer now, yet it is a big relief after the government has totally ignored the politics of peace for a long time.
We all know that the government party has had good reason to shift to politics of dialogue. First of all, the AKP started to be alarmed by the fact that it was alienating the conservative Kurds. It was regarded as blasphemy when the head of the AKP Diyarbakır
branch stated that conservative Kurds are more and more disenchanted with the AKP, but nonetheless it turned out to be a common truth. Besides, in general, the Kurdish issue has become a major problem and is being perceived as a big obstacle for the government, more than any other time. Moreover, the Kurdish issue is gaining more prominence every day regarding Turkey’s regional politics. Finally, Turkey’s democratic deficit and Kurdish conflict is becoming more of an issue internationally and the image of Turkey is turning out to be more of a “problem zone” than a “model country.” A policy shift concerning the Kurdish issue promises at least a temporary shift of image for the government domestically as well as internationally.
Nevertheless, whether the policy shift promises a real chance for peace is another matter. So far there are good reasons to be skeptical, not only in terms of sincerity but also in terms of the ability of the government to manage a very delicate negotiation process. So far, the government party does not exhibit any willingness to change its political discourse. It is still thought to employ a dual strategy of a war on terror on one side and political dialogue on the other, despite the fact that it is impossible to make clear distinctions. Even if this discourse is being used to avoid possible reactions in the Turkish public, it fosters the already existing trust problem concerning Kurdish political actors and the public. In the same manner, while the government’s policy of presenting the negotiation process as a one-sided tool to “disarm the PKK” – with the call of Öcalan – can convince the Turkish public, it damages the logic of the negotiations from the beginning. Finally, the test of time is more strained now after all the previous disappointments on behalf of the Kurds.
Still, is it a new chance for a democratic and peaceful solution? I think it is. But only if we (those of us who believe in a democratic and peaceful solution) actively contribute to the process this time. The “democrats of Turkey” and even political Kurds themselves considered the efforts of “contributing to peace” as one of “accommodating” themselves to governmental policies in 2009. The politics of the government were thought to be regarded as beyond criticism since any criticism could hinder the opening process. This time, it must be otherwise, those who believe in a democratic and peaceful solution should be more concerned (and critical if necessary) with pushing the government in this direction. Otherwise, not only the disappointment but also the responsibility of failure will be greater than we can afford.