Turkey’s main parties converge on the Kurdish problem

Turkey’s main parties converge on the Kurdish problem

It is the first time that two main Turkish parties have agreed to work to find a way to solve the Kurdish problem together. Spokesmen for both the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) expressed satisfaction after yesterday’s meeting on the issue between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

It all started last week, when Kılıçdaroğlu submitted a letter to Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek proposing a special “Societal Conciliation” commission should be formed with the participation of the four parties represented in Parliament, to find a solution to the country’s Kurdish problem by consensus. Then Kılıçdaroğlu said he wanted to discuss the issue with Prime Minister Erdoğan and the leaders of the other two parties as well. The Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) was already volunteering for such an exercise. But let alone discussing the problem, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, refused to even refer to it as the “Kurdish problem,” and denounced the CHP as having fallen into the trap of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK has been waging an armed campaign that has claimed more than 40,000 lives over more than three decades; that is the main reason why Turkish President Abdullah Gül has named the issue as “Turkey’s number one problem.”

Prime Minister Erdoğan had actually initiated a “Kurdish opening” policy in 2009, which has now been renamed the “National unity and fraternity” project. Within the framework of that project a number of steps have been taken, including secret talks between National Intelligence Organization (MİT) officials and both Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, and PKK representatives living abroad. But the process has not brought the results it was meant to. Erdoğan has shifted to “Fight against the PKK, negotiate with the BDP” rhetoric, but incidents like the Uludere blunder, in which 34 villagers were killed when they were mistaken for PKK militants, have further worsened the situation.

So when Erdoğan granted Kılıçdaroğlu an appointment at his party’s headquarters, many in Ankara smiled ironically, because the MHP had already closed its doors to any kind of discussion of the issue.

But the outcome was a surprise. Ömer Çelik, the deputy chairman of the AK Party, said after the meeting that his party would support a parliamentary commission, if the CHP managed to convince the MHP and the BDP, but if not, the AK Party was ready to continue and set up a two-party commission with the CHP to discuss ways to find a societal consensus on the Kurdish issue. Çelik said that it was an acknowledgement of the opposition party’s initiative to share responsibility on such a large national issue.

“People want the violence to come to an end, and we want to deliver what they want,” Faruk Loğoğlu, the deputy chairman of the CHP, said after the meeting.

So Erdoğan did not turn away from Kılıçdaroğlu’s hand, extended in cooperation, and even carried it a step further with his counter-proposal that “We can do it together if the others don’t join us.” This is a historic breakthrough, and also a historic opportunity not to be missed.