The parting ways of Kurdish peace and democratization

The parting ways of Kurdish peace and democratization

The joint press conference of the Kurdish party delegation and the government over the weekend seems to have created new tension between the left/democrats and Kurds in Turkey.

Although nobody is willing to admit it, the move may well foster already existing skepticism about possible collaboration between the government and the Kurds, at the expense of democracy. In fact, the Kurds are not “collaborating” with the ruling party, but rather “negotiating” a peace deal.
Democrats in Turkey first of all need to acknowledge this, rather than accusing Kurds of “cooperating” with the government. Nevertheless, Kurds should also acknowledge that as long as they continue to pretend that the Kurdish peace process and the democratization process in Turkey are one and the same, their politics will face more skepticism.

The present government needs to do a deal with the Kurds to avoid a Kurdish challenge. The Kurds need to do a deal with the present government in order to not miss a “historic opportunity,” as they see it. The ruling party has resisted the idea of solving the Kurdish question within the framework of a more general democratization and pushed for a separate deal with the Kurds. This is what the so-called peace process has turned out to be, leaving the Kurds with no other option. In addition, the Kurds have other stakes across the whole region, with the prospect of a Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) proving to be a priority and the fight of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) creating an opportunity for more power and influence in Iraqi Kurdistan in the name of these twin parties. It is also therefore about intra-Kurdish power struggles.

In the beginning, Turkey was very reluctant to do a deal over Kurdish enclaves in Syria after the PYD declared autonomy. However, ISIL’s failure to take Kobane created very favorable conditions for Kurds that Turkey cannot deny anymore. Most recently, the Turkish government organized a military “operation” to move the historical tomb of Süleyman Şah to a Syrian border town that is currently under Kurdish control. Nobody knows all the realities behind the move yet, but it is an established fact that the government needed to coordinate with the Kurdish forces to carry out the “military operation.” This total farce, which was presented and pretended as a show of strength, may have played a role in current Kurdish peace deals, possibly explaining the reasons behind the weekend’s joint declaration.
The Turkish government is already under Western pressure to recognize the Kurdish presence in northern Syria on the one hand, and it is being pressured to distance itself from ISIL on the other hand. Under those circumstances, it may be regarded as a clever move for the government to put Rojava at the center of a Kurdish deal. Besides, it is understandable for Kurds to focus and secure Syrian enclaves, rather than starting a new confrontation.

So, while it may be very disappointing for democrats to see that the Kurdish peace process and the democratization process are increasingly parting ways, it should not be a surprise, under the circumstances. That is not to say that the disappointment is not at all justifiable. After all, at a time when the peace deal culminated in a joint declaration, the government is also passing a draconian security bill in parliament. That is why I not only call on democrats to recognize the Kurdish political facts, but I also call on Kurds to stop pretending that politics over the Kurdish peace process are working for democratization. It is true that Turkey’s democratization cannot be thought of without peace with the Kurds, but the opposite has also proved not to be true - in other words, for the time being, Kurdish peace can be thought of without democratization.