Erdoğan has to be honest about the peace process

Erdoğan has to be honest about the peace process

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has often expressed pride over what he says is his brain child, namely the peace process that is meant to solve Turkey’s age old Kurdish problem and end the violence by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Maintaining this process, however, is becoming more difficult by the day, as the general political environment in the region spins out of control for Turkey.

To its credit, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has gone further than any government before it with regard to the Kurdish problem, even doing the unthinkable for nationalists by engaging in peace talks with the PKK, which the average Turk sees as a terrorist organization with Turkish blood on its hands.

The succession of electoral victories by the AKP, however, has shown that it has public support for this process. The general hope clearly has been that peace along the Turkish-Kurdish fault line may be attainable after having being elusive in the past due to hardline positions on the Turkish side, and the use of terrorism on the Kurdish side.

Those hopes, however, are on the verge of being dashed because of the confusing position Erdoğan has started taking with regard to developments in Kobani, as well as the PKK and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, whose armed units are fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

By equating the PKK and PYD with their deadly enemy ISIL, as he is doing, Erdoğan is angering Turkey’s Kurds, who see these Kurdish groups as popular movements, and who are already agitated over what they consider to be Ankara’s insensitivity toward the plight of their kin in Kobani.

Erdoğan is also causing waves among allies who are questioning the timing of his remarks. The PKK is, of course, on the list of terrorist organization in the U.S. and a number of western countries, although it was placed there essentially to appease Turkey as a NATO ally, rather than being considered a direct threat by them.

Turkey has therefore the legal and moral justification to maintain a hard line against this group. Be that as it may, though, many western diplomats are still justified in wondering why Erdoğan has chosen to anger Kurds across the region, when there is such a delicate situation in Syria and a peace process supposedly underway in Turkey.

Ankara is, after all, already in talks with the spiritual head of the PKK, namely Abdullah Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence for terrorism. The simple question is, if Ankara is working hard to maintain focus on the PKK as a terrorist organization, which it says is as viscous as ISIL, then why has it been engaged in peace talks with it?

Turkey is also trying to get the PYD listed as a terrorist group, but the West is unlikely to do this. To the contrary, it sees the PYD as an ally against ISIL. Washington has already admitted to helping the PYD and it would not be a stretch of the imagination to assume some of this help is going to the PKK, which is also fighting ISIL.

How Turkey hopes to remain a credible ally against ISIL while maintaining its Kurdish peace process at home in this increasingly confusing environment remains an open question.

Looking at how developments are unfolding, most Kurds are coming around to believing that this process was hollow to start with. Many Turks say this too, but are happy over this because of their intense dislike of the AKP’s peace process, which they say is treasonous.

The bottom line, however, is there is no peaceful alternative to this process. The belief that the PKK can be militarily defeated at home and abroad, given the present environment in the region, without aggravating the Kurdish problem is misplaced.

Erdoğan has to return to the drawing board and reassess his position so that he can honestly tell the confused public what his policy really is. Otherwise we have another example of the mismanagement of an issue that is of vital importance for Turkey.