Kurdish peace process signals tough times ahead

Kurdish peace process signals tough times ahead

Last week’s unfortunate Paris attacks that left 17 people dead, including famous French cartoonists of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, continue to occupy the national and international media.

Dubbed the 9/11 of Europe, the Paris attacks are sure to continue to be on the continent’s agenda - not only with the anti-terror dimension but also with the probable consequence of sparking a fresh wave of Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism. 

However, moving the periscope from Europe to Turkey, particularly to its southeastern Anatolian region, reveals an equally important escalation of tension over the ongoing Kurdish peace process. At the center of the escalation is Cizre, a district in the province of Şırnak that has witnessed the deaths of five people in less than a month due to apparently unstoppable unrest.  

Hüseyin Yayman, who is known as a pro-government journalist, is currently in Cizre for daily Vatan. He reports: “Nobody knows the reasons [for this unrest] in Cizre. Opinion leaders fail to explain the meaning of the incidents. Public officials cannot go into the depth of incidents, but step by step things are getting out of control.”

Having experienced the deadly Oct. 6-8 uprising of Kurds, which killed nearly 50 people because of the Turkish government’s inaction over the jihadist attacks on the Syrian Kurdish people of Kobane, the government is trying hard to keep things under control by intensifying dialogue with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). First, an HDP delegation met with Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan, followed by Interior Minister Efkan Ala, and prominent Kurdish politician Hatip Dicle has rushed to the province to halt the growing incidents.   

The HDP has said it expressed its concerns over developments in Cizre to government officials, officially requesting an investigation into the killing of civilians in the province. What we understand from the tone of the statements - from both the government and the HDP officials - is that there are concerns that Cizre might turn into a second Kobane. This shows that the peace process is still very fragile and existing mechanisms are still unlikely to respond effectively to such attempts at unrest in the region.

At the point where we have reached, there are two particularly important aspects regarding the peace process: Firstly, will it really turn into a negotiation process in which Kurds will be able to put their demands on the table? Secondly, will the HDP run for the elections as a party or through independent candidates. (Although Kurdish politicians seem confident that the threshold will not be a problem, public opinion surveys indicate they are far from the 10 percent.)

The HDP is pressing the government to start a give-and-take process before the June polls, as it knows perfectly well that the post-election era will be too late to get what they want. That’s perhaps why they are threatening the government that they will go to the polls as a party and risk remaining below the 10 percent threshold, which would eventually leave Kurds out of parliament for the period between 2015 and 2019.

There are many indications that the peace talks do not signal a smooth process ahead. The recent incidents in Cizre could well be seen as isolated events, but they could also be interpreted as just the tip of an iceberg.