Lessons for Turkey: Northern Ireland and South Africa

Lessons for Turkey: Northern Ireland and South Africa

You must have heard of Sisyphus. According to Greek mythology, he was a king compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever.

Peace processes are like this. You give your all for decades to bring it up to certain point. And then all of a sudden, the process might get bombarded by a single incident.

This week Gerry Adams, who is considered to be the leader of the Northern Irish peace process, was arrested. He was accused of the murder of Jean McConville, a mother of 10 who was dragged from her home in front of her kids by armed gunmen in 1972. As the leader of Sinn Fein which is the political wing of IRA, however, he denied the accusations and got released. Yet, just this incident has been more than enough to bombard the peace process.

By pure coincidence, South Africa, which is another country having gone through a long peace process, has been a topical issue this week. The country held general elections on Wednesday in which Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) is set to win a majority of the votes. The peace achieved 20 years ago after ending the Apartheid regime in the country has been consistent. 

The Northern Irish peace process was built on “forgetting” since past traumas have not been raked up at all. The process which started with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 has survived until today. Yet, the troubles of yesterday which have been swept under the carpet are now coming back out into the open.

The peace process in South Africa, on the other hand, has been built on “remembering.” The Truth and Reconciliation Commissions used to confront the perpetrators and victims for years. And the perpetrators who admitted their crimes and asked for apology were forgiven without any trial.

Nowadays, Northern Ireland is asking itself the following question: “Have we done the right thing by not setting up Truth Commissions and choosing to forget rather than remember?” American diplomat Richard Haass had suggested the formation of such commissions last year. Yet the parties were not able to come to an agreement and the file was closed.

Turkey is quite lucky since it is provided with two already tried and tested cases. It only needs to draw the right lessons from them.

As the Irish case reveals, the past will not leave you in peace if you don’t make peace with it. The only way to peace and reconciliation goes through remembering the traumas, facing them, asking for apologies and forgiveness. Otherwise the victims from both sides, namely the state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), will keep on grieving and suffering.

There is another vital lesson to be drawn from the Irish case. Tony Blair, who was the architect of the peace process, has said several times that he would not have been able to end terrorism without the support of the opposition. Also in Turkey, the peace process needs support as much from the opposition as from the government. 

In addition, British people avoid using the word “solution” since it stands for an absolute closure. Yet peace processes are evolutionary and never-ending processes.

The time is up for all of us to remember the past and embrace the peace process.