Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013

Ahram Weekly

Solving the Kurdish problem

After blowing hot and cold on Kurdish issues, Ankara is blowing a soothing warm these days. Is this a genuine change, asks Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Every year, the military chiefs-of-staff in Ankara present a progress report. It’s routine. It is also not new that the main focus is the fight against terrorism, a battle that has lasted for three decades so far. So, according to custom, on 27 January, the office of the chief of the general staff published on its website a range of facts and figures regarding the military’s activities in this domain. It covered the number of separatist insurgents killed (a total of 560 last year), the numbers arrested and those that surrendered to Turkish security authorities voluntarily. The report also detailed, among other things, the targets destroyed by the Turkish army in the Kandil mountains in northern Iraq, which serve as a platform for guerrilla operations against Turkish military and civilian interests in Anatolia, as well as the number of aerial sorties and the flashpoints in southeastern Anatolia.

As is equally customary, the online general staff report was greeted by the widely reiterated question as to the purpose of these statistics. Is it to spread a sense of joy or relief among the public by reassuring the people that the blood of Turkish soldiers and officers was not lost in vain? Or is it no more than a routine exercise of transparency and accountability in fulfilment of the public’s right to know?

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Sky TV satellite news station announced this week that a gendarmerie station on the outskirts of Eruh in the southeastern province of Siirt had come under a “terrorist” attack and that the perpetrators managed to escape. In a parallel development, a huge explosion erupted on the outskirts of the city of Batman following the passage of a bus transporting 40 police soldiers. The explosion damaged some neighbouring buildings but there were no reports of casualties. Batman is the capital of Batman province, to the West of Siirt, and like Siirt it has a large Kurdish population.

Although such incidents are familiar and frequent, they have come to impede the communications that the Turkish government initiated several months ago with the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The talks began in secret meetings that were held in Oslo with PKK leaders that resided in other European countries. Then, the venue shifted to Turkey itself when, at the direct instructions from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Chief of Turkish Intelligence Hakan Fidan met in person with Abdallah Ocalan, the PKK leader who has been serving a sentence of life imprisonment on Ìmralı island in the Sea of Marmara. Shortly afterwards, Ankara made the unprecedented concession of granting permission to members of the Peace and Democracy Party (Baris ve Demokarasi Partisi — BDP), the political wing of the PKK, to meet with Ocalan.

Erdogan now needed to safeguard the negotiation channels he had opened from the outburst of anger and criticism that his actions had triggered, especially among the numerous and vociferous ultra-nationalist quarters. Accordingly, parliament, which is dominated by the prime minister’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), passed a law that effectively immunised the intelligence officers that he assigned to conduct the negotiations with Kurdish leaders from questioning. On Friday, the Constitutional Court turned down a request submitted by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to overturn the law which requires the prime minister’s permission to investigate intelligence officers. Erdogan has thus been given a legal green light to press ahead with his drive to solve the Kurdish question.

The prime minister justified his actions in a television interview on 25 January. Turkey must continue its efforts to resolve the Kurdish issue and to fight terrorism using all available means, he said. Defending his strategy of negotiating with Ocalan, he said that he understood very well the risks (to his own political career, he was implying), but that he was prepared to do anything for the sake of the stability and prosperity of the country.

Erdogan’s peacemaking approach, in spite of the ambiguity surrounding some of its aspects, has been welcomed by Kurdish spokespersons. Spokeswoman for the Kurdish BDP parliamentary bloc Pervin Buldan said that the Kurdish people were optimistic with regard to the progress of the negotiations between the Turkish government and Ocalan.

Nevertheless, the path will not be easy. Few have any doubt that the recent assassination of three Kurdish activists in Paris was meant to undermine Erdogan’s strategy. Ramzi Kartal, the leader of the Kurdish National Congress which consists of a number of Kurdish movements in Europe, described the assassinations as a consummate political crime the aim of which was to disrupt the peace process inaugurated by the Turkish government. “There are forces that do not want to see a solution to the Kurdish question and these do not only exist in Anatolia,” he said, pointing a finger of accusation against Iran, in particular. Tehran has accused Ankara of working to protect Israel by installing a radar system base in Malatya in southern Turkey. Tehran has also lashed out against the AKP government’s handling of the Syrian crisis and its recent deployment of Patriot missiles along the border with Syria. Baghdad was also among the forces outside Turkey, mentioned Kartal, who held that Iraq under the Maliki government is determined to destabilise its neighbour (Turkey) in order to get back at Erdogan for taking in Iraqi Vice President Tarek Al-Hashimi and for signing an oil-importing agreement with the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq over the objections of the central government in Baghdad.

Evidently, the incident in Paris will not deter Ankara or Kurdish leaders from continuing their dialogue. Moreover, as a sign of encouragement the Turkish parliament has just approved a bill allowing ethnic minorities to defend themselves in Turkish courts in their native language. Now, for the first time in history, the Kurds, the largest ethnic minority, may use Kurdish in the halls of the Turkish judiciary.

Nor will this be the last measure towards multicultural rights. The government is currently preparing to submit a range of proposals for constitutional amendments that will favour Kurdish cultural expression. The most important will grant cultural rights to the Kurds and remove all legal barriers against instruction in the mother tongue in Kurdish schools. Another will lower the quota of votes a party needs to obtain in order to be represented in parliament. Also anticipated are provisions paving the way for better financial and material support for municipalities, especially in the Anatolian south and southeast.

In spite of this, scepticism and anxieties prevail. Will Erdogan succeed where all his predecessors have failed? It will be rough going, but the outcome is still too early to predict.


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