Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa

Turkey’s “annus horribilis” must be over. All around us we see people in deep sorrow and desperation. We have become a nation that could not solve our own problems, let alone be a cure for our neighbors and all others that suffer. A new approach, a clean slate and a radically different perspective is needed.

Southeastern Diyarbakir province’s Sur district is in ruins. Muharrem Sarıkaya, the seasoned columnist of daily Habertürk who visited Sur during clashes without the escort of police or armed guard, told me this on CNN Türk. 

“People who were living there had migrated in the 1990s from villages and hamlets. These clashes are a second blow to them. The newborns of the 1990s are fighting in the neighborhood. Think about it. What is going to happen to the toddlers of today, if we do not solve the problem?” he asked.

Security officials, former soldiers and intelligence experts all recall a single name: Gaffar Okkan, the late police chief of Diyarbakır in the late 1990s. He became a hero among the Kurds by way of his care and compassion. Okkan would walk in the streets of Bağlar or Sur without carrying a gun. He would sit and play backgammon with the elderly, or football with the youth. He had a cure for the disease. Then, someone killed him. We still do not know who.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) changed the rules of the game during halftime. Last weekend there was an opportunity to come back and reset. Yet the Democratic Society Congress’ (DTK) and Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) top brass decided to endorse the “trench campaign” and ignore the calls for a new round of peace talks. Did they really have to do this? HDP deputy Mithat Sancar talked to Radikal’s Ezgi Başaran and mentioned “timing fatigue” in the Kurdish towns about the west’s expectancies. 

“Kurds who deal with politics are tired of worrying about the timing and the way of telling their demands to the rest of the country,” said Sancar. “Our sole concern as the HDP is to pull the issue away from a security and military perspective and into the civilian dialogue. But we are all surrounded by force.”

As the song goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Ironically, when looking into the archives for a year-ender I came across some incredible surprises. Daily Milliyet’s headline on Dec. 30, 2010, (five years ago that is) had the same approach to autonomy. The HDP had declared self-governance and the Security Council had responded sharply. Daily Hürriyet’s headline on the last day of 2010 had Abdullah Gül visiting Diyarbakır and its then-mayor, Osman Baydemir. Despite the harsh rhetoric, the state had the ways and means to keep the doors open five years ago. 

History tells us that when you change the actors in a game, you may be changing the whole game as well. The President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan/Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu duo’s animosity towards HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş has buried the peace initiative in the trenches. Demirtaş’s harsh rhetoric created big question marks in his followers in the western towns of Turkey. So instead of hitting the same wall every day, maybe there should be new actors in the game.

Sarıkaya expressed hope during our talks about Sur. “They are all looking at Erdoğan,” he said. “Kurds know that he can do it if he wants to. But time is running out and now even the pious elderly Kurds are losing hope. It is time to start as soon as possible.”

Maybe all this snow will clean the air and remind us of the better days we had before.