A new Turkish constitution is good for peace in Syria
Turkey’s insistence on the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) not getting an invitation to participate in the Geneva peace talks has made an already messy situation even messier. Yet it is understandable. The PYD was a small Syrian Kurdish organization established by Abdullah Öcalan, the now-jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), during his exile to Damascus in the 1980s. The group has now become the major force in Syrian Kurdistan, getting direct military support from the West. This means that Turkey’s allies are giving a sister organization of the PKK - a separatist outfit they recognize as a terrorist organiztion - direct military support. This has changed the scales of Turkey’s reconciliation process.
The Syrian civil war complicated Turkey’s reconciliation process with the Kurds. The PKK is now, in effect, fighting the internationally recognized scourge of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). That makes it more powerful in the minds of its supporters, its foreign backers, and through the support that provides, more powerful in the field. The urban fighting pitting the Turkish Armed Forces against the PKK that ensued as a result of this new dynamic is therefore essentially an extension of the Syrian civil war. So the war in Syria spilled over and disrupted a national process in Turkey. That’s where I tend to think that a new Turkish constitution is also good for any Syrian peace initiative.
There is now a new parliamentary reconciliation commission for a new constitution in Turkey. Last week, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), after an intense deliberation process, decided to participate in the commission. This is important. We are perhaps at a low point in the Kurdish issue, and yet there is a four-party reconciliation commission with an equal number of participants from each party. In the 1990s, parliament simply kicked Kurdish MPs out. In 2016, parliament offers Kurdish MPs an equal status in the Turkish reconstruction process.
This shows two things, if you ask me. Firstly, the fact that we have a representative commission despite inner city clashes shows that Turkey’s political institutions have matured over the past 25 years. Yes, the rhetoric might be more inflammatory, and the pictures in the news more dire, but the conditions for conducting politics are markedly improved. In the past, we couldn’t fight and talk at the same time. Now we can. Second, the process now depends heavily on politicians on all sides. If they do their jobs well, a peaceful solution inside Turkey is possible.
Officers of the Ottoman army like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had a solid understanding of the tectonic lines of this region, and they balanced counteracting interests with great skill. Atatürk’s motto was peace at home, peace in the world. If there is peace in Turkey, it will have positive repercussions in the whole region, most importantly in Syria. That is why a lively debate on a new Turkish constitution is a useful place to start for peace in Syria.