A Turko-Kurdish axis?
In Turkey, some things are going really bad, while other things are going not that bad. Among the latter, there is Ankara’s historic reconciliation with Kurds, both at home and abroad, which took a bold step forward in Diyarbakır last weekend.
First, a summary of what happened: Two key leaders, the prime minister of Turkey, Tayyip Erdoğan, and the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq (KRG), Massoud Barzani, came together to witness the mass wedding of some three hundred couples. (It is a culturally important phenomenon in the region to co-witness a wedding.) In their speeches, they gave powerful messages.
Erdoğan promised a Turkey where “prisons are empty” and “those who are in the mountains come down,” a euphemism for the farewell to arms by the Kurdish guerrillas. Meanwhile Barzani supported the Turkish PM and praised his effort towards “peace and brotherhood.”
An important detail, and a first, was that Erdoğan used the word “Kurdistan,” in reference to the KRG. That is crucial, because many Turks, who are fearful of a would-be Kurdistan inside Turkey, cannot accept there is already a Kurdistan on the other side of the Iraqi border. That is why the state TV, TRT, could not dare to quote Erdoğan accurately and rather opted to censor the word “Kurdistan.” The K word, in other words, is still toxic. But more and more Turks will eventually get used to it.
Another important detail was Erdoğan, for the first time, visited the offices of the Diyarbakır municipality, which is held by his main political opponent in the region, the Peace and Democracy Party, or the political wing of the armed and outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). His handshake with Mayor Osman Baydemir was a sign of peaceful times.
The presence of Şivan Perwer, a popular Kurdish singer who has been living in Europe for more than three decades due to the ban on his songs in his home country, Turkey, was also symbolically important. His songs are known to have inspired many Kurdish youngsters who joined the “guerrillas.”
His return to Turkey, and his support for peace, might encourage the same youngsters to leave arms.
All in all, the Diyarbakır meeting underlined the great transformation in Turkey relating to the Kurds: Ankara, which for decades saw all Kurds, in Turkey or abroad, as a problem, is now willing to see them as an asset. This was a strategic chance first imagined by the late Turgut Özal, who led Turkey in the fateful decade of 1983-1993, but is now realized by the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government. (Other problems with the AKP should not overshadow this progress on Turkey’s most serious issue.)
Of course, the most crucial element in this Kurdish peace process; the deal with the PKK, is not fully realized and is in fact in a fragile state. Voices from both within the PKK and the government accuse each other of not being brave, honest or good willed enough. Yet it is a comforting fact that the ceasefire that was announced at the beginning of this year is still valid. And the weekend in Diyarbakır raised more hope for a truly and consistently peaceful southeast.