The peace process is still alive in Turkey

The peace process is still alive in Turkey

Turkey has started air campaigns against both ISIL and the PKK. ISIL is the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the new bastion of the age-old militant Salafi menace in our region. The PKK, on the other hand, is the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a Marxist-Leninist outfit indigenous to Turkish Kurdistan. Both organizations use terrorism as a method, meaning that they conduct asymmetric warfare and choose their targets - civilian, military or police - to instill fear and spread division among their enemies. But despite what our politicians say, we do not treat them the same. While ISIL is hell bent on killing and enslaving us, the PKK is part of a political movement that we can and are negotiating with.

This is not our first attempt to find common ground, but the seventh. You could trace the story back to the Sheikh Said rebellions of 1925, but essentially we have had no fewer than six failed reconciliation attempts with Kurds. The last one failed in 1992. The seventh reached its climax with the 2013 Nevruz celebrations in southeastern Diyarbakır. At the time, the message of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was read to a cheering sea of supporters. Hope broke through the layers of pessimism which had accumulated over more than three decades.

So what is happening now? Despite the sound of bombers in the east, the reconciliation process has so far been successful this seventh time. That is because it yielded the single most important item on the agenda: a political movement embodying the direct demands of Kurds. That is what this whole thing has been about since 2013. The Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) presence in parliament is the crowning achievement of the reconciliation process. A recent Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) poll shows that 54 percent of Kurds in Turkey believe the PKK represents them, but 85 percent feel that the HDP also represents them. That is the condition for transitioning a nine-decade conflict from the realm of violence, to that of words. 

That in itself, no matter how precarious, would be a form of peace. I say “would,” because we are not quite there yet. The peace process has added the ingredient we need for that to happen, but it has yet to subtract the one standing in the way: the PKK. There is no longer room for armed guerillas inside the country. If they had a purpose in the grand historical narrative of Turkey’s democratization, it has ended with the creation of the HDP. Turkey now has a stable representative of Kurdish nationalism, imbued with the powers of parliamentary representation. If this movement plays by the rules, it will in time earn power in the hallways of Ankara. It will share control of Turkey’s armed forces rather than heed the dictates of guerillas.

But men with guns can be stubborn. Every nation has the experience of betrayal, a ground zero moment when the only thing between annihilation and freedom was its armed forces. For Turkey, that was the Treaty of Sevres, when Europeans carved up the country after the Ottoman’s defeat in World War I. That is why we Turks put our military in charge for so long. Elected politicians couldn’t be trusted in a world where violence was never far from the door. It took the better part of a century, but we eventually got our military under the control of the law. 

Of course violence has only been gaining ground in Kurdish politics. When the reconciliation process started, the motto was simple: A good Kurd is an unarmed Kurd. Since the war against ISIL heated up however, a good Kurd is once again an armed Kurd. The Democratic Union Party (PYD), as the PKK’s sister organization, has become the spearhead of civilization’s fight against ISIL. That is simple and powerful, and nobody can blame them for that.

But if the Kurdish political movement is serious about being part of Turkey rather than splitting it up, it has to draw a line between its organizations there and those in Syria and Iraq. That is key for the peace process in Turkey to move forward. The HDP cannot tell its men with guns to disappear, but it should tell them to move out of the political equation in Turkey. That would mean no more attacks on police and military units in the eastern provinces, and certainly no tax collection or local courts. If the Kurdish movement is to earn its place in Ankara, it needs to show everyone that it respects the sovereignty of the state. 

And the HDP is already an inseparable part of the Turkish political system. It is just as legitimate as the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). For me, this was most evident in the near-universal condemnation of MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli when he said HDP voters were “dishonorable.” People were shocked to hear a party leader curse at voters. You may say a lot about this country’s dysfunction, but people care very deeply about the ballot box. They understand that questioning the legitimacy of the HDP is questioning the legitimacy of the Turkish parliament as a whole. The HDP should take heart in that and step into the limelight.