Can the Kurdish peace process survive local polls?
Many consider the launch of the ongoing process to solve the decades-long Kurdish issue as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s greatest accomplishment.
It came as a result of indirect talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who is serving a life sentence in İmralı Island prison. In a letter from Öcalan read during the Nevruz celebrations in Diyarbakır on March 21, 2013, the jailed PKK leader asked the Kurds and the PKK militants to support the process.
Tomorrow, he is expected to make an assessment of the process as Nevruz - celebrated as a spring festival by many people, including the Kurds - and the first anniversary of his call for a ceasefire are marked.
Öcalan’s latest letter, expected to be read in Diyarbakır again, is highly anticipated, as the country heads to the March 30 local polls. Under fire due to corruption allegations targeting his ministers, his family members and himself, Erdoğan has said the “coup attempt” directly targets the peace process.
Speaking at an election rally in the eastern province of Siirt on March 12, Erdoğan asked the crowd to “protect the initiative.”
“You wanted this solution [the peace process]. You have claimed the process for one year. Now I ask you to protect it. In the new Turkey there are no arms, but politics,” he said, adding that his government would further strengthen the “brotherhood of 77 million Turkish people” and would take “peace, stability and brotherhood” to a higher level.
The government has taken some steps, such as offering Kurdish in state schools as an elective course or allowing political propaganda in languages other than Turkish since the launch of the bid. While the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) finds the steps inadequate, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) considers them as “preparations for dividing the country.”
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has had mixed reactions to the government’s move. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said in the past that the process was just an “act” by the AKP to lure Kurdish votes in the east and the southeast, which mainly go to the BDP.
But he made a brave statement March 17 in the eastern province of Tunceli, his hometown. “We are happy that people have not died,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, referring to the ceasefire. “Many people are concerned about the future of the peace process if the AKP loses power. The peace process is no one’s exclusive possession. If peace is to come to these lands, it will be the CHP bringing it.”
The BDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş, who is one of the few lawmakers to have met Öcalan on İmralı, also does not give full credit to the AKP for the process. “We will continue to work for a peaceful solution to the problem no matter which party is in government,” Demirtaş said in an interview with CNNTürk on Feb. 28. “Is the process smooth with the AKP? No, it includes a great struggle. We will continue to seek peace with the alternatives if the AKP is no longer an alternative.”
Polls show that everybody in Turkey is happy with the ongoing ceasefire and the majority supports a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem within democracy. The process should continue regardless of the results of the local election, and the upcoming presidential election in July. And CHP officials will have to do more than make brave remarks about the issue if they want to position the party as a realistic alternative to the AKP in the subsequent general elections.