Friday, January 18, 2013

Turkey: Ankara's "Peace Talks" with PKK Facing a Critical Test

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Turkey: Ankara's "Peace Talks" with PKK Facing a Critical Test

by Yigal Schleifer

Following today's burial in Turkey of the three Kurdish women activists murdered last week in Paris, Ankara's renewed peace talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) and its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, are facing a critical test.

There were some concerns that the funerals, which drew a massive crowd in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, could turn violent and become another provocative development which could jeopardize the nascent talks, but the event turned out to be peaceful in the end. Writing in the Hurriyet Daily News today, analyst Semih Idiz takes a look at the significance of both the murders in Paris and today's funerals:
The bottom line is that today’s developments, whether are positive or negative, will determine the course that the ongoing peace talks between the government and the PKK take, perhaps much more than the actual murders in Paris. Despite the horror of that event, a positive result has been that the government, the PKK leadership, and the BDP have all indicated views suggesting that this as a provocation aimed at derailing the current peace talks. This shows that there is a desire for these talks to continue.
That said, major challenges face the peace effort. While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the process is "still on," he also recently said, soon after Turkish jets bombed PKK bases in northern Iraq, that Ankara would continue pursuing the organization until it "lays down its arms, until they end their attacks." This two-pronged approach, which Ankara feels it must pursue in order to satisfy domestic concerns about the government giving in to PKK violence, is a tricky one that carries with it the possibility of souring both the Turkish public and the Kurds on the talks.
How to move forward, then? In an excellent piece published yesterday in the International Herald Tribune's Global Opinion page, Aliza Marcus -- a leading expert on the Kurdish issue -- suggests a three step approach:
First, Mr. Erdogan must unequivocally commit to a negotiated process that includes compromises by both sides. While Turkey’s territorial integrity should not be up for debate, everything else should be. Mr. Erdogan has generally been dismissive of Kurdish grievances. In a recent interview, he said there was no need to instruct Kurdish students in their native tongue, because they can already study the language as an elective. Instead of belittling Kurds’ cultural demands, he should demonstrate good faith by pushing through stalled constitutional and legal reforms, including changes to constitutional provisions that restrict the use of the Kurdish language in schools, punish criticism of the Turkish state and define citizenship through the prism of Turkish identity.
Second, Mr. Erdogan needs to understand that disarming the P.K.K. won’t come at the beginning of the peace process, but at the end. He can, and should, ask for a cease-fire agreement, but it cannot be a one-sided call for Kurdish surrender. To silence the P.K.K.’s guns while talks are under way, Turkey will also have to suspend its military operations against rebels in the southeast and in northern Iraq.
Third, Turkey shouldn’t limit itself to negotiating with an imprisoned authoritarian figurehead; it should also negotiate with the B.D.P. Unlike the P.K.K., the B.D.P. has legal recognition. But it also has legitimacy among Kurds due to its close ties to the P.K.K.; its members share the P.K.K.’s political goals of Kurdish autonomy and recognize Mr. Ocalan as a leader of the Kurds. This is what makes the B.D.P. a serious negotiating partner; the party can be an effective conduit for P.K.K. demands and help devise a viable democratic reform package in Parliament.
Before it can take steps like these, Ankara needs to first ask itself whether it is negotiating in order to end a security and terror problem, or if it has entered these talks in order to solve the deeper Kurdish issue. Taking the kind of steps Marcus recommends taking can only happen if the answer to that question is the latter.