A draft bill on ‘you-know-what’

A draft bill on ‘you-know-what’

Can you solve a problem by not naming it? That is how the Kurdish reconciliation process has been managed so far. Now, a new draft law on the issue was sent to the Turkish Parliament last week. The name of the draft law is rather telling of how the Kurdish reconciliation process has been managed so far. It is called the “Draft Bill for Ending Terror and Strengthening Social Cohesion.” You might hear an Orwellian bit to this, but it mostly reminds me of something out of the Harry Potter books. Remember Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort, who was referred as “He-who-must-not-be-named?” Or my personal favorite, “You-know-who.” Here in Turkey, we now have our own draft bill on “you-know-what.” The bill authorizes the government to do its utmost in dealing with “you-know-whos” and talking extensively to the “ones-who-should-not-be-named” to bring an end to the “you-know-what.” The latter involves bringing amnesties to “you-know-whos” and absolves government officials who are talking to them of all responsibility.

Turkey needs a little more courage to come to terms with its geography and its past. With chaos brewing on our southern border, Ankara no longer has the space to dither on the Kurdish issue. The Kurdish reconciliation process needs to be addressed head on. Unfortunately, the upcoming two elections in a timeframe of less than a year make it hard for the government to take a firmer stance. Bad timing.

Developments in the region now demand domestic reconciliation; not only with the Kurds, but also with the Alevis and other minorities. Why? I see two reasons, both closely related to the civil wars at our southern borders. With the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) recent military advances into Iraq, Turkey’s land route to the Gulf is now effectively cut off. Iraqi imports were worth around $30 billion last year, a third of which came from Turkey. Trade with Iraq allowed the southeastern provinces of Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Mardin, Şırnak, and the others to flourish. So trade with Iraq has been an effective regional developmental strategy so far. Are those relations in jeopardy now? Not really. Most of the trade was with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is still standing.

So let me paraphrase: Trade with Kurdistan started to transform Turkey’s “you-know-where” region, that is, the southeastern provinces. So, Iraqi Kurdistan is important for Turkey. Further acceleration of ISIL-based activity is bad for southeastern Turkey, as well as northern Iraq. The two sides of the border are strongly linked. Add Kurdish gas to the picture and you will see the importance of the reconciliation process to Turkey. Yet we are still calling it the “you-know-what.”

Secondly, with sectarian war looming in our region, Turkey remains the only model for bringing diversity together. Democratic secularism is about not merely tolerating, but wholeheartedly accepting social diversity. Despite every recent development to the contrary, Turkey still has the potential to be that beacon of diversity in the region. Why? Out of necessity. The Shia cannot look at Turkey for support.

They have their own beacon in Tehran. The Sunnis have Cairo as al-Azhar, the beacon of Sunni orthodoxy. The only way for Turkey to compete in this regional division of labor is to set up shop as the beacon of secular democracy. What does Turkey need to do to assume that role in the region? It has to come to terms with its past and design a future where Turks and Kurds, Alevis and Sunnis live side by side. It is all about embracing diversity. That is my second point: We need to go beyond the one-size-fits-all policies of the past. That is what ISIL’s advances in the south must remind Turkey of.

This is why a draft bill on “you-know-what” is not a good idea. In the Harry Potter books, the hero has the courage to pronounce the name of his nemesis. Turkey’s leaders must do the same if they are to rid the country of this festering problem. There is no time for half-measures.