The ‘Kurdish peace process’ and bad omens

The ‘Kurdish peace process’ and bad omens

The beginning of the “Kurdish peace process” was a big relief, as it was a giant step for the government to engage with the Kurdish political movement to solve the problem. Besides, it paved the way for a freer political debate on the Kurdish issue. I personally benefited from this political atmosphere; right after the process began, a legal allegation against me for “promoting terrorism” by saying that the “PKK is not a terrorist organization” was dropped, since it was considered that the context of my speech was pro-peace and in tune with the politics of peace process. Now, I hope other similar legal proceedings against me will also be dropped. So far, so good.

Nevertheless, it seems that the peace process is going nowhere, while the latest taboo is to discuss the so-called Kurdish peace process itself. Government circles consider any criticism concerning “the peace process” as political sabotage. Besides, voicing problems about the process is considered a form of schadenfreude or political provocation. Unfortunately, the main Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has started to adopt a similar attitude even if criticism comes from “friendly” voices who have been supportive of Kurdish rights and freedoms for a long time.

First of all, nobody knows whether the negotiations with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan are actually going well or not. The government declares that it is going well, and then an HDP delegation that visits Öcalan makes similar declarations, but subsequent declarations from the PKK sound a different note.

Moreover, the government’s declarations often contradict the HDP declarations regarding the content of the negotiations. Most recently, for instance, the HDP delegation declared that the issue of Kurdish autonomy was discussed within the framework of negotiations with Öcalan, but then PM Ahmet Davutoğlu and his ministers refuted this claim, after which the HDP delegation’s spokesperson claimed that he was misunderstood. More recently, the HDP delegation agreed with the government to keep the content of negotiations secret to avoid such problems.

Indeed, this has been the latest sign of a parting of ways between democratization and the peace process, since there cannot be a democratic debate on “secret” negotiations; it is simply a contradiction in terms. It is true that negotiations with an armed political group cannot be entirely transparent. Yet, on one hand, the HDP is the democratic parliamentary wing that is supposed to engage in democratic debate and to ask for political support from all democrats; on the other hand, it is involved in secret negotiations which are not open to political debate. I think it will be a big hindrance in the election process, since we democrats will be asked to support the Kurdish party in the name of democracy, but we will not be supposed to know “the deal” between the government and the Kurdish political movement.

Finally, it will still be considered a minor problem in comparison with the bigger problems and challenges of the process. The major challenge is the unavoidable dilemma that the HDP (and indeed the whole Kurdish political movement) will face on the way to the general election. It seems that the government is expecting the Kurdish political movement to promise some sort of support to enable the governing party to realize the presidential system after the elections, as the price for more Kurdish rights. As for the Kurds, they expect some guarantees before the election. Since there is no trust between the parties and there is no clear road map concerning the process, each party expects the other to make the first decisive move. Besides, they do not mean the same thing when it comes to Kurdish rights and freedoms as in the case of “autonomy” and language rights. These are the biggest risks for the prospect of the peace process. Despite all efforts to hide the core of the problem, it is there; despite all the rhetoric to overcome the conflicting views within the Kurdish political movement, it is there.

Moreover, neither party has prepared their respective social base for a realistic solution; on the contrary, they have adopted double talk to avoid losing political support. The government continues to deploy a nationalist discourse while defining the PKK as a “terrorist organization to be fought” as the HDP relies on revolutionary rhetoric. 

As a result, I am afraid the times of being hopeful about the peace process having a positive impact on Turkish politics and democracy have long passed, and that it has now turned into another time bomb for Turkey.