SEMİH İDİZ > Erdoğan can’t afford failure this time

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If Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can pull it off and end a terrorism campaign by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has lasted over 25 years through a negotiated settlement, he will most certainly enter the history books. Ultranationalists are trying to denigrate his efforts of course, accusing him of “treachery” for going down this path, as it allegedly feeds into Kurdish separatism and risks the unity of the republic.

Erdoğan has, nevertheless, said he is willing to down a chalice of poison hemlock if this means it will bring peace. It is unlikely that he will have to resort to hemlock, though. Opinion polls conducted by the government show he has support from a large portion of the general public. One has to trust these polls because this is not a subject the government can afford to manipulate.

In addition to this, Erdoğan also has a strong mandate, having come out of the June 2011 general elections with one out of every two votes cast. The significance of that landslide victory was that it came after the Erdoğan government’s first attempt, in 2009, at a negotiated settlement to the PKK problem.

That effort, known popularly as the “Kurdish opening” was botched because it was ill-prepared and mismanaged. Although that had given nationalists a field day against Erdoğan, it had little bearing on the outcome of the 2011 elections in the end.

Of course, Erdoğan did appear to swing the other way after the botched attempt of 2009 and started playing to the nationalist gallery himself, alienating the Kurds this time who had voted for his party in the past. But he and his ministers continued to insist they had not given up on the “Kurdish opening.”

Meanwhile, PKK attacks not only continued but peaked after that attempt – having also been energized by the “Arab Spring” – thus providing further fodder for those opposed to the idea of negotiating with terrorists.

Erdoğan has swung back now, even boasting of “trampling nationalism underfoot,” and signaling a determination to go all the way for the sake of peace. But the risk for Turkey this time is not that he may succeed. The risk is that he fails. It is unlikely that the country can survive another debacle like the one in 2009.

Failure will mean that the PKK returns to its bloody campaign and Turkey will have little choice but to respond militarily, thus deepening the ethnic divide as Turkish and Kurdish blood continues to flow seemingly endlessly.

Speaking in absolute terms, the idea of “talking to terrorists” is abhorrent by its very nature, of course. The PKK has caused much bloodshed among Turks and Kurds while costing the country billions of valuable dollars that could have developed the predominantly Kurdish southeast.

But this group did not emerge in a vacuum. Neither was it purely “a foreign invention designed to destabilize Turkey,” as is often portrayed by nationalists, even if foreign governments and elements have used it against Turkey.

The fact that Öcalan lived freely in Syria throughout the 1990s, while senior PKK figures have enjoyed the safe havens of European capitals, attests to this. The murders in Paris in January of Sakine Cansız, a co-founder of the group, and two other PKK female activists are cases in point.

But it is not possible to disregard the mistakes by the state and the injustices perpetrated against the Kurds either. Even high-ranking officers who were involved in the war against the PKK at the time admit to these mistakes today.

Neither is Turkey going down a unique path here. Ireland and Great Britain have traveled this road with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and many in South Africa had to swallow some bitter pills over the African National Congress (ANC) for the sake of peace.

So, if one is to repeat it, if Erdoğan pulls it off this time, he will enter the history books.

He seems to have little choice but to succeed, given that the price of failure will be high for Turkey, whatever the political cost for him may be personally.


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Notice on comments

Faruk Timuroglu

3/1/2013 12:03:29 AM

How many times RTE switched from one idea to the opposite. How many times he came up with a grandiose project and failed and people paid for his failure. It is incomprehensible though each time he was able to create big expectations. RTE will enter history books anyway, however, not very likely as a peacemaker. If he can pull the sultan-presidency off, and end the existence of Republic of Turkey, he will certainly have a big place in the history!

Guney Levent

2/28/2013 11:40:02 PM

@Hakan As a 'real' defenders of the Turks and you must be proud of yourself. I and many others want to be more realistic, we cannot ignore anymore 20% of the population. I rather live in country where new roads are made instead of new military camps.


2/28/2013 7:03:34 PM

You can also rest assured, many elements in PKK are hell bent NOT resolving this issue. They will do their best to sabotage the effort. Their "dear leader" porbably has a lot less control over this smuggling and extortion cartel than portrayed. That will be the challenge for AKP and the military. Stakes are huge though. Failure this time will have very long term consequences and will be very very expensive for all involved.

Turk Uzan

2/28/2013 4:07:52 PM

The AKP's Kurdish voters are rapidly declining, they are cannibalizing from other mainstream parties like the CHP and MHP, while the BDP's "independents" are getting increasingly more support. This article is bogus, you don't have to be an ultra nationalist to see what's going on or to believe Erdogan is legitimizing and (willingly or not) helping separatists

Hakan Salci

2/28/2013 3:23:58 PM

@Dogan, I for 1, and 1out of 2 Turkish citizens for that matter, was never begging to end up with the AKP. Your right in one respect though, the party is hell bent on solving the 30 year old Kurdish issue by any means necessary and at whatever cost, even if it means separation of the country; the reward? BDP backing, i.e. terrorist backing, for the new Constitution. You and other AKP supporters must be very proud but then again I'm not surprised, its in your nature; thank God it's not in ours.

dogan kemal ileri

2/28/2013 9:33:29 AM

Necessity is the mother of invention the saying goes. And boy Turkiye was begging to end up with the AKP party and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in particular because he and his party are uniquely placed to solve this 30 year old Kurdish issue. The AKP's idealogy is a perfect fit for inclusion of the majority of the electorate in Turkiye whether they be Turk or Kurd and this is also their unique selling point. No opponent can deny the phenomenal progress Turkiye has made under this government. Selamlar!
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