Kurdish peace efforts a tribute to Yaşar Kemal

Kurdish peace efforts a tribute to Yaşar Kemal

Yaşar Kemal, a landmark name of Turkish literature, passed away on the afternoon of Feb. 28, ending weeks-long suffering in hospital due to multiple organ failure.

Born in 1923, the same year that the Turkish Republic was founded, Yaşar Kemal was the first internationally-known name in literature from Turkey, at a time when the business of public relations was not yet known or popular. All of his novels have been translated into multiple languages, and many films have been produced based on his novels and stories. A laureate of numerous awards, the Turkish people proudly say that Yaşar Kemal won the “Nobel of our hearts.”

Reading “İnce Memed,” (“Memed the Slim” or “Memed, my Hawk,” as it was translated), is a must for schoolchildren who show interest in literature. It was actually his first novel published in 1955, and tells the story of Memed, a sympathetic outlaw who rebels against an oppressive establishment-backed landlord in rural southern Turkey.

This man who achieved the zenith of the Turkish language was of Kurdish origin.

Throughout his life, Kemal was an outspoken activist for a better democracy in Turkey. His left-leaning stance to raise the issue of the rights of Kurds, among others, made him into a target of the establishment in Turkey for decades. He himself was a kind of “İnce Memed” in the world of literature and culture.

In his final hours, Kemal was in a deep coma when a statement penned by Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), called on the PKK to hold a congress for a “reinforced cease-fire” aiming for disarmament if certain conditions are met. The statement was issued in a joint press conference with the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and members of the Turkish government.

It is speculative to say this, but Kemal would probably praise the call and the joint appearance as a step toward peace after the PKK’s three-decade-long armed campaign, during which 40,000 people have been killed. It is a pity that he could not survive to see that.

Of course, it is not clear whether this important step could bring the long-desired inner peace to Turkey. But the promising part is that no former effort has ever gone so far before.

At the moment, it seems like the controversial domestic security package submitted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) to parliament is the main stumbling block in the peace process, as presented by both the HDP and the PKK.

The package was submitted to parliament after a wave of protests by the PKK against the government’s stance regarding Kurdish resistance against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Kobane, a Syrian town near the Turkish border. The protests in a number of Turkish cities turned violent and claimed over 40 lives last October.

President Tayyip Erdoğan, who had initiated a dialogue with the PKK back in 2012, asked for strict counter-measures from the government, and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu quickly got the draft ready.

It is not only the HDP group in parliament that resists the draft. The social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) also object to it, on the basis that it contains articles restricting freedom of assembly and expression, while also giving excessive power to police and provincial governors to restrict freedoms and tap communications.

All three parties, now joined by the outlawed PKK, with its headquarters in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq, have asked for the withdrawal of the draft by the government as a condition for peace.

But for the government, it is a matter of credibility not to withdraw the law, which it sees as a test case from the PKK after Kobane. The government insists that amendments can be made to certain articles during the overall voting of the draft, but the opposition parties do not trust this claim, based on past experience.

It seems like a deadlock now, but there is a strong possibility of it being resolved. This is because neither the government nor the PKK would likely have the face to explain to the public that the possibility of a long-desired peace has been wasted because of a few articles of a single law, especially when the country is heading for parliamentary elections on June 7.

If Yaşar Kemal was still alive, he would probably have called on both sides to use their common sense to find a solution, the sooner the better.