Turkey is suffering from escalating violence. Each week dozens of security force personnel are being killed and sent home in coffins, further deteriorating the situation. According to some experts Turkey’s reaction to this escalation is critical for the future of the Kurdish issue.
Hugh Pope, Director of International Crisis Group’s Project in Turkey and Cyprus recently talked to euronews’ Bora Bayraktar:
“International Crisis Group has recently released a new report on Turkey’s Kurdish issue. You have been following this subject for many years. How do you see the recent escalation between Turkey and the PKK?”
“There were 10 good years in Turkey between 1999 and 2009 when basically Turkey was on course with EU negotiations. It had decided to improve the rights of the Kurdish community in linguistic terms, offering new freedom for the language, better laws and cleaning up the prisons and so forth.
2009 unfortunately saw a process in which both the armed insurgent group the PKK and the Turkish government involved in negotiations about settling their dispute ran parallel with a deterioration in the rights and lives of the Kurds.
Last year there was very severe degrading of the situation to a point where more than 700 people were killed in the fighting, including more than 200 soldiers, more than 400 PKK members and nearly 80 civilians. These are the worst casualty figures since the capture of PKK Leader Abdullah Ocalan and I think it is a watershed moment for Turkey, I think, because many things are changing in the region and Turkey needs a new policy direction. I think currently the way that fighting escalation needs a reconsideration a real of policy.”
“Is this escalation during the last three years because of the failure of negotiations? Don’t Turkey and PKK have culture of conflict management? I mean, were the sides not professional enough to carry on a professional peace process?”
“I think in 2009 there was a really genuine peace effort by both sides to reach a deal. But as you are suggesting it was not properly planned by either side and unfortunately when things started to break down there was a big emotional reaction, a sense of betrayel on both sides. It did not immediately happen in 2009. For two more years the PKK and the government continued to talk but unfortunately the trust is broken. And they did not have a mechanism to restoring this trust. And since the talks completely broke off entirely in the summer of 2011 both sides hardened their positions.
PKK leaders now are talking about military solutions and the legitimacy of armed struggle and their wish to bring down the AKP government. And the AKP government is no longer talking about a Kurdish problem but a PKK problem and saying ‘we are going to defeat them militarily.’ It means that there is a much less rational environment. And Turkey must go back to a proper conflict resolution plan.”
“Did Turkey and the Kurdish movement have obvious final plans?”
“I think neither side has thought through what it wants. That was one of the reason why talks broke down in 2009. The PKK thought it was going to get a deal. But they thought they would get the deal they wanted. Similarly the Turkish government thought also it was going to get the deal it wanted. They hadn’t thought through what both sides wanted. And that is stil the case.
I think there is great vagueness in the Kurdish movement, broadly described as the PKK, and the legal Kurdish groups have no clear policy goals and in Turkey we do not even know who is in charge of policy. Maybe it is the Prime Minister. We do not know who is the chief, who the responsible person is.
It could be Beşir Atalay, deputy prime minister, it could be one of Erdogan’s advisors, or the secret police chief. It is unclear and certainly the plan is unclear. Turkey is the lead power. It is an established state with thousands of people quite capable of putting together a plan. In our report we tried to isolate what the Kurds broadly described, what they want in Turkey.
You must remember Kurds are 15 to 20 per cent of the Turkish population. Whatever is done must be acceptable for everyone in Turkey. It is quite clear that most Kurds wants to be able to be educated in their mother tongue. We do not know how many would want this but it has to be a goal that full right should be given in 10 years.
Preparations need to be made. That has to be a goal for the government. Next is the question of the fair political representation . In every general election there is big problem for any Kurdish party, because there is a 10 per cent threshold. This basically threatens only the Kurdish movement party, because it gets 6-7 per cent of the votes. The threshold should be lowered to 5 percent which is a European norm. Most Council of Europe countries who use this system have a 5 percent threshold.
Then comes the question of decentralization. The Kurdish movement has an extremely vague goal of democratic autonomy, but does not say what it means. Turkey does not want to talk about it at all. But the fact is that most people in Turkey want stronger provincial governments and city governments. All 81 provinces and the main cities could use more control over their daily lives. This needs to be put in the package. It is something everybody wants and it is good to reduce tensions and frustrations in the Kurdish area as well as being wanted in the rest of Turkey.
Finally there has to be an end to discriminination in the laws and in the constitution. There is no short cut on that. Luckily there is a constitutional commission working in Ankara now. The ruling AKP party has to use this to clear the way for a proper system of laws and justice in this country.
Currently there are thousands of people in jails on terrorism charges who performed no violent act. It is unclear what they are being charged with, or if they are guilty or not. Each time you arrest someone like that you are creating a hundred enemies, making the problem worse and unfortunately legitimizing the armed resistance in the eyes of Kurdish movement and unfortunately accelerating the current cycle of violence.
In the last couple of months we have reassessed the situation. It is at a dead end. We need a u-turn to get out of this dead end. We really hope for ideas, not only from the Crisis Group. I think the suggestions we listed are very mainstream in Turkey and I think the government just has to get down and look at it and make a plan, a 10-year plan for once and all in Turkey, beyond the life of the current government and sort this out.
Because, as Turkey keeps saying, they have lost 300-400 billion dollars in lost productivity due to this war. Nearly 30,000 people have died. This has to end. The government has to find a way. PM Erdogan can do this now. He has 2 years of absolute power left. He has a strong majority in the parliament. There is a constitutional commission where he can start it. He does not have to work with the MHP. He could work with the CHP and BDP opposition parties.
It may be more difficult for him in the coming elections. But he has to decide which is more important for him; an easy election in two years time or solving the Kurdish problem at a time when the region is developing in a dangerous way for Turkey. Syria, Iraq, Iran are all becoming more hospitable to the PKK and that trend is going to go on. Turkey needs to solve it now.”
“What are the roles of external powers like Iran and Syria?”
“The PKK feels empowered by the way Turkey lost its leverage on Syria, Iran, and Iraq. But the fact is that the main core of the problem is inside Turkey. The PKK gets a lot of money from Europe from European Kurdish diaspora but that is not the core of the problem. The core is inside Turkey. Turkey feels threatened by the regional developments. The one place it can really make a difference is by fixing its domestic situation. Solving the Kurdish problem, seperating the PKK problem from the Kurdish problem and then hopefully demilitarisation and disarmament of the PKK when they have regained the Kurd’s trust.”