Erdoğan should not forget this
History will tell if the “historic day,” as it is being called, in Dıyarbakir this weekend was indeed a historic one. But it would be wrong to underestimate or bad mouth the events over the weekend in this predominantly Kurdish city. We have to admit that some of the scenes we witnessed would be unthinkable a decade ago.
Of course there are those within the opposition, including the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), who were vehemently opposed to the meeting that took place between Prime Minister Erdoğan and Massoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) that took place in Diyarbakir.
One has to accept such opposition as long as it remains within democratic bounds. It is also true that the meeting in Dıyarbakir, and all the fanfare that surrounded it, was an investment made by Erdoğan for next year’s local elections and the general elections in 2015.
Despite this, the meeting between Erdoğan and Barzani, and the various ceremonies they attended together while in Dıyarbakir, were not divisive in term of Turkey’s long-standing Kurdish problem, but unifying.
One cannot help thinking what would have happened if these taboos had been overcome 15 years ago. Had that happened many deaths and serious human rights violations would have been avoided. Seeing as oppression begets terrorism, a fact proved time and again sociologically and historically, the PKK would not have made such headway too.
For some reason Turks have a habit of coming around to realizing some things belatedly. Winston Churchill is reputed to have said of the Americans that they always get it right, but only after having exhausted all other options. This could apply to Turks also.
If the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has managed to breakdown age-old taboos without a major reaction from the public, there is much that those who cling to these taboos, and cannot digest the scenes we witness in Diyarbakir, have to re-evaluate.
We are, however, very much at the beginning of efforts directed toward solving the Kurdish issue, and there is much to do yet that will also require bold and determined leadership. It is also Prime Minister Erdoğan who has raised the stakes in this respect.
During his Dıyarbakir address, Erdoğan reached out to his “Kurdish, Turkish, Zaza and Arab brothers” and said “this republic is also yours. This state is yours also” and continued thus:
“From now on no one can look down on another person. No one can treat someone else as a second-class citizen. No culture and identity can be denied. There can be no discrimination, vilification, denial and assimilation in the new Turkey, and there will not be.”
These remarks deserve applause. But many are wondering if these promises will remain only in word, as was the case with much of what Erdoğan said during the victory speeches that he delivered after successive general elections. This is also another dimension to the matter.
This republic is of course all of ours. But when we say “all of ours” it is not sufficient to just refer to citizens of Kurdish, Turkish or Arab origin. The republic also belongs to those who think and believe differently, who do not want interference in their lifestyles, in other words those who had opposed discrimination, vilification and attempted to assimilate based on a religious understanding of morality.
The Kurdish problem may be Turkey’s bleeding wound, but we see on a daily bases that this is not the only issue that is disrupting social peace and stability in this country.
This being the case will Erdoğan also manage to extend the hand of friendship to secular segments of society he that has made apparent he has no love lost on? Will he be able to respect the “sine qua non” preconditions of the “advanced democracy” he always talks about?
If he cannot do this all the promises he made in Dıyarbakir will remain suspended in the air. If he is honest about “building the new Turkey,” as he puts it, then he must not forget this.