A day not to forget
It is not clear whether the Turkish government intended such timing, but the critical talk between three Parliament members of the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) with Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in the İmralı island prison south of Istanbul where he is being held, took place on the same day – that is, March 18 – as Martyrs’ Day. It is the anniversary of the naval victory of the Turkish military toward the end of the Ottoman dynasty in 1915 against the invading British and French forces in the Dardanelles Strait, generally known by the name of Gallipoli.
So as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan was delivering his speech about Turks and Kurds and all other ethnicities of the land fighting under the same Turkish flag against the invaders for one common cause, BDP deputies only a few hundred kilometers away were talking to Öcalan, having his messages be delivered to the PKK in Europe and the Iraqi mountains once again. Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the BDP, came out of the meeting with a smiling face, conveyed Öcalan’s call to Parliament to help end the 30-year-old inner conflict that has cost 40,000 lives so far, and signaled that he might deliver a message on Nevruz day, March 21, in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakır, possibly including a call for armed PKK militants to leave the country in a strong step toward peace.
There were other faces in Turkey the same day who were not smiling at all. As the BDP delegation was talking to Öcalan and as Erdoğan was delivering his speech to an audience including General Necdet Özel, the Chief of General Staff, prosecutor Mehmet Ali Pekgüzel asked for the life imprisonment of İlker Başbuğ, a former Chief of Staff who had worked under Erdoğan, for plotting to overthrow the government. The indictment sought life imprisonment for two elected deputies from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) list, journalist Mustafa Balbay and surgeon Mehmet Ali Haberal; Turkey’s former head of the Higher Education Board, Kemal Gürüz, a right wing professor; a socialist, radical academic and writer, Yalçın Küçük; and dozens of politicians of different backgrounds, former military officers, academics and ordinary criminals. The indictment asked for the life imprisonment of another CHP Deputy, Sinan Aygün, who is actually not in jail but serving in Parliament under immunity. The indictment is likely to spark new debates and create new cracks in Turkish politics.
Again, on the same day, Bartholomew I, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Ecumenic to the believers, flew from Istanbul to Rome in order to attend the inauguration ceremony of the new pope, Francis I. This is truly a historic moment, as since 1054 (yes, 959 years, almost a millennium) no Greek Orthodox Patriarch as a representative of the Eastern Churches – acting Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Aram Ateşyan is accompanying him – have visited a Pope in the Vatican, the representative of the Western churches.
Under such circumstances, Turkey is getting ready for Nevruz, the thousand-year-old New Day on March 21. In order to try for a new start, some old baggage needs to be gotten rid of, too.