Something's wrong with Turkey’s Kurdish peace bid

Something's wrong with Turkey’s Kurdish peace bid

At first sight, everything seems to be on track.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) recently made official the two-year-old dialogue with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has so far been carried out by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). It also decided to set up 11 committees to work on problem areas.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu says there could be a final settlement within a few months.
A similar statement was made by Sırrı Süreyya Önder, an MP for the Kurdish problem-oriented Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who has recently visited Öcalan in the İmralı Island Prison in the Sea of Marmara. Önder went as far as to give a date for a possible settlement as next March.

Both say the dialogue process was not interrupted, despite a number of ups and downs over the last few weeks.

But both also have a number of reservations, despite the optimism that they are trying to reflect to the public. There are too many “ifs” in  their respective statements.

When Davutoğlu says, “if the parties act responsibly,” he implies a lack of trust in the PKK leadership and the HDP, which share similar grassroots.

When Önder claims that there is “a structure within the government” that is trying to hamper the talks, he is mainly implying the security forces, the military and intelligence agencies.

In the same interview with CNN Türk, Önder mentioned the establishment of a “secretariat” to serve Öcalan - both inside and outside prison - for the next level of the talks, about which there has been an agreement in principle with the government. Those words were denied within a few hours by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, but they were repeated by HDP co-head Selahattin Demirtaş, who said Öcalan wanted to include a name from “Kandil” in the “negotiations.” “Kandil” refers to the mountainous region of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) area in Iraq, where the military and political headquarters of the PKK are located.

However, speaking during a visit to Latvia yesterday, President Tayyip Erdoğan did not try to be subtle like Davutoğlu. He said it was the PKK and the HDP that could not “digest” the “process.”

That is the clearest indication that something is not quite right about Turkey’s Kurdish bid, mainly due to three factors:

The first is the Kobani factor. The Kurdish-populated Syrian town of Kobane (Ayn al-Arab) near the Turkish border has been under attack from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) for a month. The militia of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) there, which is the sister of the PKK in Syria, has started to get weapons support from the U.S.-led coalition, “despite Turkey’s will” as Erdoğan stated yesterday. So, Erdoğan is carrying out talks with the PKK in pursuit of peace but does not want the U.S. to provide arms to the PYD for defense against ISIL, because he says the PYD is a terrorist organization like the PKK.

The second factor is the AK Parti itself. Giving too much to the PKK might alienate the strong Turkish-Islamic wing in the party ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for June 2015.

The third factor is related to the elections. The key term in Davutoğlu’s statement is “the next few months,” while the key issue in Önder’s statement is the “March” prediction, as rumors intensify in Ankara about a possible early election in late April or early May instead of June. There are two possible reasons for an early election: Pressing economic circumstances and Erdoğan’s desire to go for a constitutional change to introduce a semi-presidential system hoping for the support of Kurdish votes.

The PKK in Kandil has expressed its worry that the AK Parti is dragging its feet, playing with time until the election and will do nothing after it.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), yesterday underlined the “lack of transparency” in the Kurdish peace bid, and suggested that Davutoğlu should bring the issue to Parliament so that they could learn about it and perhaps give support. That could suit Davutoğlu’s style, but definitely not Erdoğan’s.