Lifting immunities or blinkers?

Lifting immunities or blinkers?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has launched another offensive strike against the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), calling on Parliament to lift the immunities of BDP MPs for showing sympathy with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants. I think it was a move by Erdoğan to underline his authority to compensate for his shattered image when recent hunger strikes came to end solely due to PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s intervention. Nevertheless, by doing so, he further risked his authority since his call provoked a major controversy, even within his own party. First, President Abdullah Gül warned that it would mean “repeating past mistakes” and would lead to a “dead end.” Moreover, a leading Kurdish MP of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Galip Ensarioğlu, declared that he was opposed to his party’s move to strip immunities and that “the matter should be decided by voters.”

This is not the first time that facts and realities have challenged the government’s Kurdish policy, but the hunger strikes and the recent controversy underlined the extent of the “unsustainability” of the prime minister and his government’s position. Öcalan’s intervention to end the hunger strikes confirmed his legitimacy, and then the controversy, rather than unanimity, on lifting immunities reflected the problem of the widening gap between legality and legitimacy.

Indeed, Turkey suffers from legitimacy crises in terms of Kurdish politics. Öcalan is legally a “convicted terrorist,” yet he is regarded as a political leader by thousands (and in fact by millions) of Kurds. The PKK is a legally outlawed “terrorist” organization, but it has millions of sympathizers, if not supporters. The BDP is committing “legal” crimes, yet even the president has warned against legal proceedings. It is not possible to cover these contradictions by the lack of “democratic flexibility.” It is a problem of legitimacy; that is, the growing discrepancy between the existing norms of legality and political legitimacy in the eyes of many Kurds.

Therefore, democratic flexibility can neither be an excuse, nor can it be the solution. We need more democratic flexibility to be able to freely discuss the future of the Kurdish issue, but it can only be a part of and/or path for a peaceful solution. Turkey needs to recognize that there is a politicized Kurdish society with its own political actors and that they want a political status, be it democratic autonomy, or some sort of federation. A peaceful solution can be reached only by political negotiations with the actors (of Kurdish politics), including those who are not recognized legally by the state/government, but regarded as legitimate by their followers.

In short, we need to lift our blinkers; seeing facts rather than lifting immunities could be a good start.