Will the Kurdish song end here?

Will the Kurdish song end here?

Is this the end of the Kurdish reconciliation process? Do the aggressive operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeast of the country mean that Turkey is going back to the 1990s? I don’t think so. Why? It’s simple: Because Turkey in 2016 is different from Turkey in the 1990s in very significant ways. It is so different that we will see a new dynamic unfolding this time. Let me explain.

First, some economics. In 1990, Turkey’s nominal GDP per capita was around $2,790. Today, it is $10,000, which puts us right on the threshold of being a rich country. That means that today’s Turkey has a lot more to lose. We cannot afford those Aleppo-like scenes in southeastern Diyarbakır province. Cross-country studies show that civil conflict, a lack of social cohesion and weak institutions reduce growth. And is not growth what we are all after? Sluggish growth is not good for anyone, least of all politicians who want to get reelected. And this government is very sensitive about getting reelected.

Second, the Kurdish political movement of today is not that of the 1990s. The reconciliation process led by the president had the prime objective of creating a civilian political representative of the Kurdish political movement. This is what conflict resolution experts advise. Only with a civilian political representative can you negotiate directly to end the conflict. In that sense, the process was a success because it yielded the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), now solidly represented in parliament.  

There is a subtle dynamic at play here. “Bu şarkı burada bitmez,” meaning “this song will not end here,” was the line that took the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to power, kind of summarizing the political acumen of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He actually put out an album of that name, featuring his recitations of poetry. He was mayor of Istanbul then, and about to go to prison for reciting poetry offensive to the secular elite. His show really got going once he got out and ran for national office. I think that’s what will happen with the Kurdish reconciliation process too. It will bounce back with renewed vigor, because the conditions are ripe.

Third, Turkey now has a new reconciliation commission for the new constitution with an equal number of participants from each political party. In 2012, we had a very illuminating public discussion with democratic town hall meetings across the country on this issue. Now, all four parties in parliament, including the pro-Kurdish HDP, will again be there with each having three MPs, plus the parliament speaker. This and the HDP general assembly in February carry the potential to create an environment totally different from the 1990s, when Kurdish MPs were kicked out of parliament. There is a national reconstruction process going on, and the Kurds are at the table. 

External conditions, too, are different today compared to the 1990s. Let me give you results from a Kadir Has University survey. The “Khas2015” survey asked participants whether they supported the Democratic Society Congress’ (DTK) self-government proposal (the DTK had announced a plan including elections to local government bodies in Turkey). In total, 64 percent of Kurds and 58 percent of Turks said they wanted self-governance. This is a good starting point for new peace negotiations, if you ask me. That is why whenever someone asks me whether we are seeing the demise of the Kurdish reconciliation process, I say “bu şarkı burada bitmez” a la Erdoğan.