The New Turkey And The Kurdish Issue

Turkey's efforts to settle its vexed Kurdish issues is making important
headways. As the democratic space widens for all citizens and Kurds
across the country enjoy the benefits of political stability, economic
development and social mobility, Turkey is getting closer to a
comprehensive and long-term resolution of the Kurdish problem.

In their new roles, both President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu
underscored their commitment to settling the Kurdish issue. Both will
follow-up on what has been achieved so far. And what has been achieved
is significant: a radical drop in terrorist attacks, comprehensive
political talks, passing of legislation that protects the settlement
process, major economic investments in the Kurdishpopulated areas and
the overall support of the public for resolving the Kurdish issue.

Since March 21, 2013, when Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the
PKK, made a call from his cell for the PKK to end its armed struggle,
the Kurdish issue entered a new phase. 'Political struggle' rather than
'armed struggle' has been embraced as the only way forward.

Öcalan's call for the disarmament of the PKK was a first in Turkey's
30-year struggle. It serves well to remember that the PKK has fought a
bitter and bloody war against Turkey since 1984, killed over 40,000
people, wounded thousands and cost the country billions of dollars. But
more dangerously, it created a psychological wall of separation between
the Turks and Kurds, forcing them to believe that they cannot live
together in peace and prosperity.

The failed policies of the Turkish state in the past have much to blame
for this precarious situation. Policies of denial, assimilation and
collective punishment have served as a breeding ground for the PKK.

More PKK attacks have led to more anger and hatred towards the Kurds.
Weak governments failed to address the core issues for fear of the army
generals and the nationalist public. The result has been bloody
fighting, economic destruction and deep social and psychological trauma.

President Erdoğan was the first prime minister to address the Kurdish
issue in a way that challenged and changed the state paradigm. In
Diyarbakır in 2005, he became the first Turkish prime minister to
officially acknowledge the existence of the 'Kurdish problem.' He
followed a twopronged approach since then: while addressing the
identity-based grievances of the Kurds, he also implemented a robust
politics of services. He invested billions of dollars in infrastructure,
agriculture, transportation and education in the Kurdish- populated
areas. New roads, airports and universities have allowed a greater
degree of social mobility for all citizens in the east and southeast

Despite the fierce opposition of the secular Republican People›s Party
(CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Erdoğan made important
headways. His politically-sensitive initiative was fully supported by
the former President Abdullah Gül who as president, acknowledged the
reality of the Kurdish problem and encouraged political dialogue. Deputy
Prime Minister Beşir Atalay coordinated the work of the various state
offices to ensure stability and coherence. Hakan Fidan, the head of
Turkish intelligence, has been playing a key role in the execution of
the current policy including direct talks with Öcalan.

All of this has created a new political space to save the Kurdish issue
from the tutelage and subversion of armed struggle. Politics rather than
weapons are being allowed to speak. As part of this process,
restrictions on the use of Kurdish language in prisons, media outlets,
political campaigns, public speeches, et cetera have been lifted.
Optional Kurdish language courses have been introduced in schools. TV6, a
state TV channel, broadcasts in Kurdish 24/7. Kurdish print and
Internet media is available in various forms. Artists now sing in two
languages and perform together. None of these were even imaginable until
a few years ago.

Looking forward, five key areas remain important. At the political
level, the current initiative will continue. The political process
rather than armed struggle is the key to success. Last month, the
government passed an important legislation that will protect the Kurdish
process from any legal


The second issue is related to the first one: the PKK's disarmament. As
long as the PKK presents itself as a terrorist alternative and
subjugates Kurdish politicians, political initiatives will remain weak
and ineffective. A full and transparent disarmament will give more
weight and efficacy to the political process.

The third is the socio-economic conditions under which the Kurdish
citizens live. They have been improving vastly, but there is still more
work to do. The government continues to invest and lower unemployment in
the Kurdish-populated areas. But this cannot be done by the state
alone. Local businessmen, entrepreneurs, investors, mayors and
politicians have to support this.

The fourth is the psychological climate in which the Kurdish issue is
discussed. Like the new socio-economic opportunities, this has changed
deeply over the last decade. The bogeymen of the 'bad Kurd' versus the
'cruel state' have been left behind. The large majority of the Turkish
public supports the Kurdish process and wants to see all citizens
enjoying equal rights.

The fifth and the final area is the regional context of the Kurdish
issue. With the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the Kurdish issue has
once again become a regional issue especially with the fighting going on
in Rojawa in Syria. The Kurdistan Regional Government has faced a
serious challenge too, but they seem to have overcome the initial shock
of the ISIS advance.

Undoubtedly, resolving the Kurdish issue will be one of the most important achievements of the new Turkey.


Prof. Ibrahim Kalin

OP's Note: The article is not my view or thought. It's written by Ibrahim Kalin.