Peace without democracy?: Turkey’s Kurdish movement needs Gezi rapprochement

Peace without democracy?: Turkey’s Kurdish movement needs Gezi rapprochement

Amid the widespread criticism and questioning over their reluctant and idle role in the popular anti-government protests against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) across Turkey, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has announced it will launch a wave of protests starting this weekend to force Ankara to take further steps in the recent peace bid to solve the three-decade-long conflict.

The BDP’s “too late too little” call for marches for peace comes at a time when the peace process between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants and the Turkish government hit an obvious snag due to the latter’s unwillingness to respond to key Kurdish demands for a settlement, such as the right to education in one’s mother tongue and unwillingness to decrease the 10 percent election threshold.

The pro-Kurdish party’s rally calls on the Turkish government to fulfill its vows in the peace deal with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, and has also come after it faced criticism over its inactive position in the ongoing popular Occupy Gezi Park fury against the government. Since the first days of the unrest against the government and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over their attempts to curb freedoms and to introduce a more conservative lifestyle to the country, the BDP remained distant, if not cool, to the demonstrations. This is despite years of taking a vigorous posture in favor of any popular action for more democracy.

Nobody expected the party to make an official call on its supporters to join the protests, despite one of its member’s, MP Sırrı Süreya Önder, braving the heavy duty vehicles trying to demolish trees in Gezi Park, owing to its key role in the peace talks with Öcalan. (Önder has reportedly been at odds with the party for his support for the Occupy protesters. Last week, he openly criticized the BDP-led political umbrella group for falling short in support to the Occupy movement. Later, some reports claimed that he had been sidelined in the peace talks.)

However, the party’s almost silent stance on the growing politicized discontent over Gezi Park - which has become merely symbolic as the protesters’ demands not only include calls for a halt to the demolition of the park, but also for a halt to freedom-curbing attempts - has raised eyebrows. There is a lingering question that the party has started to lose its direction and mission after its deal with the government.

However, even in the breakthrough message by jailed PKK leader Öcalan that heralded the peace process in March, not only the BDP but also the entire Kurdish movement, including the outlawed militants, were assigned the task of democratizing the country through political tools, rather than arms. The Occupy protests across Turkey were a chance for the BDP, since those who hit the streets, no matter what their ethnic identities, braved police violence, harsh crackdowns and detentions for a more democratic Turkey. It was not only the BDP that missed that chance, but the whole of Turkey, since the Occupy rallies failed to get a significant boost from the Kurdish movement. This is because the pro-Kurdish party perceived the anti-government rallies as a potential hurdle possibly jeopardizing the already fragile peace talks.

As the leading go-between in the peace process, the BDP’s stance was not entirely unfair, considering its mission in the talks aimed at ending a bloody, long-standing conflict. Nevertheless, becoming nearly deaf to the popular anger on the streets risked having backlash for the party. If the party today feels that the government is dragging its feet in bringing the peace negotiations to the “second level,” which requires Ankara to do more for the sake of accomplishing the process, this is because of its reluctance and timid approach to the Occupy rallies, in addition to the complexity of the whole deal.

At the moment, it is not clear to what extent the Occupy rallies have influenced the BDP in calling for marches aimed at pressuring the government for peace. If the party fails to really embrace the demands of the Occupy movement and if it leaves its vows calling for support to the Gezi demonstrations simply in its statement for weekend rallies, it would further lose its ground in the still hardly-built path to a settlement on the Kurdish question.