Too early yet to talk of a historic moment
No one in their right mind can oppose the attempt to end the 30-year war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and to solve Turkey’s long standing Kurdish problem through negotiations. Saturday’s declaration by the government and representatives of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) must be welcomed for the peace dividend it promises.
For months there was uncertainty with regard to this process because the public was in the dark as to what it entailed. We now have a 10 point roadmap for the way forward. But there are still details to be clarified and hammered out.
The real way forward, however, still passes through overcoming mutual suspicions.
Despite the fanfare surrounding the “historic declaration” made in the plush surroundings of the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, the deal is far from done yet.
One thing must be understood about who the sides to these negotiations really are: While they appear to be the government and the HDP, in reality they are the government and the PKK.
HDP officials indicate that as far as Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK, is concerned, what we have at this point is only a declaration of intent by the sides. President Erdoğan, for his part, has declared that they now expect the PKK to say a farewell to arms before the process can be finalized.
The government clearly needs this in order to be able to sell the deal to those doubtful in Turkey, especially among disgruntled nationalists. The PKK’s military leadership in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq, however, has indicated that it expects a sign of goodwill from the government before it gives up arms.
It has made the draft law on internal security, which is currently being debated – or rather fought over - in parliament a litmus test in this regard. The PKK wants this draft to be pulled back or seriously amended. HDP officials say the government is preparing to do this.
Some deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have also indicated that aspects of the draft law could be revised. But Prime Minister Davutoğlu continues to say the law is necessary, pointing to the violent demonstrations by Kurds last October in support of the besieged Kurds in the Syrian town of Kobane.
His remarks have compounded the belief among Kurds that the security law is primarily aimed at them, although its scope is such that its draconian measures can be used against any type of demonstration, even peaceful ones.
Erdoğan and Davutoğlu have committed themselves to passing this law. Erdoğan is on record saying he wants to see it implemented as soon as possible, while Davutoğlu has indicated that it will come into force regardless of the opposition.
It is not clear how this obstacle will be overcome because Erdoğan and Davutoğlu want to retain all the aspects of the draft law that the PKK and the HDP want to see revoked or amended. If this is done, then Erdoğan and Davutoğlu will lose face. The nationalists will also accuse them of caving in to PKK terrorists.
If it is not done, though, then the AKP also risks losing support from Kurdish voters to the HDP in the general elections in June, especially in southeast Turkey. This also points to why there are serious doubts on the Kurdish side about the government’s sincerity.
The concern is that the government has only engaged in this peace process for self-interested political reasons and will not fulfill its promises once it has achieved its electoral aims. These are significant sticking points which show that the celebratory mood following the Dolmabahçe declaration may turn out to be premature.
If, however, the sides can overcome their suspicions and enable this process to mature to mutual advantage then, and only then, will we be able to say that Turkey has turned a historic corner. It is still too early to claim this.