Why is Davutoğlu in Diyarbakır?
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has spent his Thursday and Friday night in Diyarbakır, the heartland of Turkey’s mostly Kurdish populated southeast. Escorted by Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker, who is actually from Diyarbakır, Davutoğlu made social contacts in the framework of the government’s initiative to find a political solution to Turkey’s chronic Kurdish problem. He visited Osman Baydemir, Diyarbakır’s mayor from the Kurdish problem focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which shares the same grassroots as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and posed smiling with him to cameras covering the visit. They also issued statements underlining the thousand years of “brotherhood” between Turks and Kurds in this geography.
This is all good. But there is a question worth asking, in order to understand the bigger picture in which the ongoing “dialogue process” is taking place: Why is it Foreign Minister Davutoğlu visiting Diyarbakır at such a critical juncture of the process, and not another minister who appears to be more involved in the process like Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, or Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, or Interior Minister Muammer Güler?
Well, the answer is partly in the question actually. Not only the dialogue process, but the country itself is on the cusp of a critical momentum, in which internal affairs very much merge into foreign affairs.
With the bitter experience of the last 30 years, Ankara has realized the naked truth that the Kurdish issue has a significant cross-border dimension; not only in the security field (PKK attacks from and army operations into Iraq), but also in the social, economic and of course political fields. (Plus, it is also comes on the eve of a critical visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Israel.)
Davutoğlu is among a handful of people around Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s inner Cabinet when it comes to the ongoing Kurdish process, as Erdoğan considers the activities of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) – rightly – to be an extension of Turkey’s foreign policy, with the emphasis on security.
It is no coincidence that Davutoğlu had an exclusive meeting with local opinion leaders in Diyarbakır on March 14, Thursday night, and asked for their support for a “Nevruz in peace.” Nevruz marks the equinox on March 21 and is the ancient new year of many eastern traditions, including the Kurds, which has been turned into a symbol of nationalist identity by the PKK over recent years. The BDP has made a call for a one million person rally in Diyarbakır on March 21 to welcome both Nevruz, or the spring, and the possibility of a road toward Turkey’s inner peace. The government expects at least a cease-fire by the PKK to be declared before Nevruz and – coincidentally - on the day that Davutoğlu was delivering his messages in Diyarbakır, Murat Karayılan, the acting chief of the PKK based in the Kandil Mountains in Iraq delivered a message that circumstances were suitable to take “tactical steps” for further developments. The statement came after the PKK’s release of eight public servants kidnapped more than a year ago and held as hostages in their military camps in Iraq, as the first fruit of the process.
A third BDP delegation over the weekend is expected to deliver the answers of the Iraqi and European branches of the PKK to a letter by Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader being held in İmralı island prison.
Davutoğlu, who signaled the participation in Nevruz in Diyarbakır at Cabinet level, also said that if Turkey succeeded in securing Kurdish peace it could serve as an example for other conflicts in the Middle East. That is important with the civil war in Syria entering its third year and Iraq at a critical juncture with a catalogue of oil and gas problems between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Arbil, near the Turkish border. Both Iraq and Syria are Turkey’s neighbors with significant Kurdish populations. This also involves Iran, which too has a considerable Kurdish population, and naturally it also involves the United States.