Negotiations with the PKK and Erdoğan’s difficulties

Negotiations with the PKK and Erdoğan’s difficulties

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan officially announced that negotiations with outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan are continuing. Apparently, the government saw that the developments could not be managed either with the current form or with the current means.

It was not just regional developments that pushed the government to decide to negotiate. The PKK’s armed attacks, street demonstrations and hunger strikes also shaped this decision. Moreover, presidential and local elections are putting pressure on Erdoğan. Seemingly, the government received the message from the PKK and was obliged to knock on Öcalan’s door again.

Considering all of these developments, the position of the government today is worse than when negotiations collapsed in May 2011.

The PKK is the actor which benefited most from Syria’s civil war and political uncertainty. Pro-PKK Kurds have become visible not only in the international arena but have also made an important contribution to the PKK in terms of increasing its legitimacy, psychological effect and military capacity, and in creating a political network. It’s good news for the PKK but bad news for the government.

On the other side, the PKK is utilizing the tension between Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Masoud Barzani and the Iraqi central government. Barzani has a good excuse for ignoring Turkey’s demands related to the PKK issue.

Over time, the PKK has not only gained experience in armed conflict but also increased its capacity in negotiations and diplomacy. Öcalan is a very smart, well-experienced and ambitious leader who knows what he wants and the limits of his power. Moreover, his leadership is indisputable. In fact, due to these abilities, he has been able to survive for 35 years in a region like the Middle East which is so chaotic and slippery. Since we do not know the government’s negotiation team and the identity of who is on other side of the table, we cannot make an accurate and true analysis. However, it is true that we have some questions in our minds due to our last experiences.

On the other hand, the collapse of the 2011 negotiations led to mistrust between the two sides. Thus, Öcalan will not only raise the threshold in his political demands, he will also seek new guarantees. Most of these demands and mechanisms will leave the government in a difficult situation.

In the coming two years, Erdoğan has to win presidential and local elections, so he is under pressure as time ticks away. It is also known that the new Constitution would be the most effective tool to legitimize the negotiations and guarantees. However, Erdoğan is faced with the dilemma of his ambition to become president and the bargaining with the PKK. It’s clear that in 2013 he will again test his ability to manage the PKK problem and the perception of public opinion.