Sometimes peace requires more courage than war
Many will see a bitter irony in the way Turkey has welcomed the peace accord between the Columbian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has been waging a war against the Colombian state over the past 52 years leaving over 220,000 dead.
Parallels will inevitably be drawn between the situation in Colombia and Turkey’s ongoing fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has a 31 year history behind it and which has resulted in the death of tens of thousands of people so far.
A statement from Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Aug. 26 described the accord arrived at in Havana as “an important step taken for the stability of the region,” expressing hope that Colombia will now “head for a tranquil and prosperous future.”
Generally speaking, Turks do not like parallels drawn between their own situation and similar cases elsewhere. Just like the Americans or the French, Turks have a sense of their “exclusiveness,” which feeds their belief that whatever is happening to their country is unique.
A case in point is the “Good Friday Agreement” signed in Belfast in April 1998, which ended terrorism by the Catholic Irish Republican Army and its Protestant counterparts that had left thousands dead in Northern Ireland over almost five decades.
Mentioning the need for a similar process in Turkey regarding the PKK is tantamount to treason and caving into terrorism in the eyes of nationalists, especially at a time when the PKK has increased it murderous campaign in Turkey.
However, the fact is that until the elections in June 2015, a peace process was underway with this group, even though it is clear in retrospect that neither side was too happy about it. Why the war flared up overnight after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority – which it regained in flash elections a few months later – will remain the subject of speculation for a long time.
Although ultimately unsuccessful, that process nevertheless broached subjects that were previously considered to be taboo in Turkey. It also demonstrated that if there is the political will then peace can be secured, as was the case in Britain and now in Colombia.
There is only one way for Turkey to secure the “tranquil and prosperous future” for itself that it now hopes for Colombia. Nevertheless, it appears determined to go through its own bitter experiences before arriving at the kind of decisions other countries were forced to take in the end, no matter how unsavory these may have been for them at the time.
That is why many Turks are deeply concerned that the war with the PKK still has years to go before the need for peace eventually imposes itself. When that day comes many will look back, of course, and blame those who failed to prevent the loss of so many lives.
While the PKK poses a major security threat to Turkish citizens and makes the lives of Kurdish citizens more difficult, it is clear that it has not secured what it is after, despite shedding much blood, and is unlikely to do so in the future. Turkey has the staying power and the might to stick to the fight despite incurring serious losses in life.
Meanwhile, the situation in Syria is turning to the disadvantage of the Kurds again, who are now bracing for “a new historic sell-out” by the West, making the position of the PKK in Turkey even more difficult. However, a cornered PKK will be doubly dangerous, because it will likely resort increasingly to vindictive urban terrorism.
It will also continue to use the volatile situation in Iraq and Syria to ensure that it remains on the agenda as a source of regional instability. This makes it doubly important for those in the West to look on the PKK issue from a much more realistic perspective than they tend to today.
As for Turkey, it too will have to realize sooner or later that making peace requires more courage than waging war. For the sake of everyone concerned, we must hope that this realization comes sooner rather than later.