In all its years of clashes with the Kurds, Turkey has finally decided that political efforts may be more effective than its military advantage. The Turkish armed forces are second only to the Americans in NATO in strength, and yet Kurdish forces have continued to defy them a clear and sustainable upper hand in the troubled southeast.
The killing grounds weren’t only remote Kurdish villages but cities in Turkey and on European territory – arenas for terrorist murders; but the 1990s also saw counter-terrorist disappearances and executions. Meanwhile the Kurds kept calling for a recognised political identity.
“Terrorism is a separate issue,” said President Abdullah Gul. “Until now we have fought them. And I hope they have realised that armed struggle is not a solution. Turkey is determined, on our own initiative, to take measures to develop our democracy. In that way we can put an end to the criticism we have received.”
Increasing soft power would allow Ankara more room to pursue its international ambitions.
Asli Aydintasbas, a comment writer at the major Turkish daily newspaper Milliyet in Istanbul said: “Turkey has ambitions beyond Turkey’s borders, they want to be a regional power, they want to be the leader of, particularly this pro-islamist government, they want to be leader of the Sunni world. So while they have these grand ambitions for the Middle East and for regional leadership, it just looks bad that the have this bleeding internal struggle.”
A great many Kurds live in Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul, side by side with the Turks – and many people welcome the fresh initiatives.
An elderly man in a backgammon café said: “I think this political intervention by the Turkish government is a very positive step. This whole conflict makes us all nervous – mothers and fathers, our soldiers, our Turkish and Kurdish citizens. We all grew up together, and most people support it.”
Diyarbakir, a city of 1.5 million people, on the banks of the River Tigris in the southeast, is the biggest majority Kurdish city in Turkey. People have been living here since the stone age. But in recent decades, it has got poorer as regional fighting dragged on, and Ankara sought to repress the Kurdish culture.
Our correspondent in Istanbul Bora Bayraktar has been talking to the writer Enver Sezgin and asking what the ceasefire means for the future of Turkey.
Bora Bayraktar: What will be the next step? What will happen?
Enver Sezgin: I think it will be like this: If the withdrawal is realised the parliament is expected to take a decision. The most important point here is the security of the PKK forces who are withdrawing. I think the government should take responsibility for this. We should be very sensitive about it because in 1999 during a withdrawal, security forces opened fire and many people were killed. So there is a distrust here. We have to overcome this. The Prime Minister says he will guarantee that but his words must be backed up by actions. After the withdrawal, there should be a plan for their return to Turkey, their re-integration into daily life, and the return of the leaders of the PKK. But at the same time it is not only a problem of disarmament. There should be a solution to the Kurdish question in a peaceful and a democratic way. Other steps should also be taken.
euronews: What are these steps?
Enver Sezgin: First of all this is a constitutional problem. You know the parliament is working on a new constitution. The new constitution should be democratic and should provide for the resolution of the Kurdish problem. The definition of citizenship must be changed. The constitution should recognise all ethnic groups and treat everyone equally, it should be neutral. It should not be a barrier to education in a native language. All these steps provide a solution for the Kurdish issue, education in their native language, definition of citizenship and participation of everyone in the decision-making process, I mean governing themselves.
euronews: The slogan of the Kurdish New Year is Freedom to Ocalan, Status to Kurds. Do you think there will be any change in Ocalan’s situation.
Enver Sezgin: According to the statement from the meetings in Imrali we understand that Ocalan does not want his personal situation to be part of the process right now. It is understood that this may be an issue later in the process. But in the future that can be discussed. If we achieve peace here – Abdullah Ocalan has been in prison for 14 years. If we achieve peace the people’s understanding will change. Then this can be part of the agenda and society can solve this problem.
euronews: At the end of this process do you think the problem well be solved for good, will the conflict finally end?
Enver Sezgin: First of all peace is difficult. Making peace cannot happen around the table among a few people. This is important but we are talking about making peace between communities. For that reason it will take time. Unfortunately there is blood between the communities and it cannot be resolved within a few months. This is a process. At the end of this process we will see Turkey’s communities living in peace.