Shaping peace processes: A comparison between Turkey and Colombia
Despite having different trajectories and internal dynamics, the Colombia/FARC and the Turkey/PKK cases offer an interesting comparative lens through which to analyze the critical factors of any successful peace process. While the Colombian government and its largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) reached a groundbreaking peace agreement in 2016, terminating the country’s 52-year internal conflict, the peace process between the Turkish state and the PKK collapsed in 2015, initiating a new cycle in the long-running conflict. There are three critical factors which have spelled success for Colombia: favorable regional dynamics, a weakened terrorist organization, and a well-structured agenda for negotiation. In contrast, complicated regional dynamics, a strengthened terrorist organization, and a lack of a fixed agenda in negotiations have ultimately stymied Turkey/PKK peace efforts.
The Colombian peace process has not been without difficulties; however, there are some valuable lessons that can be drawn for Turkey. First, Colombia’s well-structured peace negotiation process contributed significantly to reaching an agreement. In Colombia, both the FARC and the government were transparent about the main issues that they would be discussing and the negotiators agreed to a fixed agenda before formally beginning the negotiations. The peace talks followed an agenda comprised of six points, which addressed both the root causes and the effects of the conflict. After reaching a consensus on each points in the negotiation, the Colombian government made the agreement public, which introduced an important participatory quality to the negotiations. The FARC leadership also followed the government’s lead and began publishing documents on partial agreements.
The militarily weakened FARC was another important factor for the success of the Colombian peace process. It is unlikely that the FARC would have been induced to come to the negotiation table had Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian president between 2002 and 2010, not defeated and weakened the group militarily.
In the peace talks in Turkey, there has always been a lack of mutual confidence as well as suspicion between the sides. The PKK has utilized the negotiation periods as a way to re-group and re-organize itself. As the PKK has acted reluctantly in disarming its militias, the Turkish government has lost its confidence in the process. It must also be noted here that before the peace process started in 2012, the PKK had not been defeated militarily. In fact, regional developments during the peace process have strengthened the PKK militarily. Gains made by the PYD in northern Syria have in turn boosted the PKK’s regional status and confidence. The international fight against ISIS has placed Kurdish forces at the epicenter of international attention and support, especially from the US. As a result, a politically and militarily strengthened PKK has shown less interest in the peace process, perhaps with the hope of gaining more in any other negotiations in future.
The peace process started with the good intentions of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan and his party to find a permanent solution to the decades old Kurdish issue in Turkey. However, as this possibility receded, Erdoğan decided to combat PKK forces more decisively both in Turkey and outside since 2016. It appears that the Turkish government is following a similar policy to that of Alvaro Uribe in Colombia between 2002 and 2010, with an intention to defeat and/or weaken the PKK first, and then to pursue negotiations in the future.
In any peace process, there are always issues to spoil the process and it is always open to manipulation by day-to-day political developments. The success of Colombian case is largely due to the fact that both sides succeeded in isolating the peace process from political diversions. This element has been absent in the Turkey/PKK case, which may have a direct impact on the destiny of negotiations.
* Dr. Mehmet Özkan is an Associate Professor at the Turkish National Police Academy in Ankara, Turkey and the Director for Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA), Colombia and a Lecturer at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia. This is an abridged version of the original published in Turkish Policy Quarterly’s (TPQ) Winter 2018 issue.