27 February 2013
JTW team has conducted an extensive interview with Prof. Ihsan Bal, Head of USAK Science Committee, on the peace-making process with the outlawed PKK, discussing the historical background of the issue and potential risks it bears for Turkey.
Prof. Ihsan Bal: In 2000s, considerable steps for the Kurdish issue were taken within the scope of democratization moves as a part of EU accession process. These steps included many rights for Kurds such as freedom of expression and the official recognition of their ethnic culture and identity. Besides, the wrongdoings of 1990s were tried to be compensated by initiatives including zero tolerance to torture and the project of returning expatriate locals back to their former villages. Conversely; the attacks to civilians and police stations increased dramatically throughout 2005, 2006 and 2007.
The consistent motivation to find an answer to the question what kind of policies should we produce against the violence and attacks that occur despite of all the efforts? paved the way for the future initiatives. It was predicted that PKK and its terrorist activities could be eliminated via an initiative which will open dialogue channels to solve both Kurdish problem and PKK terrorism. Against expectations, terrorists coming from Habur Border Gate with the excuse of repentance took advantage of the situation to legitimize their entrance to Turkey. They even started to give conferences in different places. Considering the political inexperience, we can say that the first initiative process was not successfully concluded.
Now, we are in a new negotiation process which mostly depends on the talks with Abdullah Öcalan, jailed leader of PKK. . This solution process has both risks and advantages that can be experienced in some cases. The strongest risk includes the paradox that the negation talks will be held with the leader of a terrorist group and the demands and ideas of an armed group are planned to be discussed in the Turkish Great National Assembly. To be more open, such an action may mean legitimizing this terrorist organization and its leader in the eyes of the public. Demanding release of KCK prisoners in return for the people kidnapped by PKK constitutes the outcome of the paradox.
The second risk is addressing Öcalan as the main actor of the peace-making process. When we place Öcalan in the core of the solution process as a figure who has spent years in generating terrorist strategies, it will be rather difficult to say that terror is a useless strategy. It is also possible to give a social recognition to Öcalan who has not long ago said that if we want, we can start such a war that 30.000 people can be killed in a day. Hence, the current point is very risky and should be handled with meticulous care. If Öcalan gains an identity as a man who started the war and helped bring the peace, it will give harm to Turkeys interests. The process should include political, social actors; not people resorting to violence. Another risk is the continuing lack of international publicity with regard to the process. Through the first initiative, Ahmet Davutoğlu as the Foreign Minister was closely engaged in the process and visited different capitals. This time, conversely, Davutoğlu is not an active player. Regarding to the international dimension of the issue, the government has come to an agreement only with Barzani administration. We still do not have an active negotiation with important international actors such as the EU and Iran.
As a concluding remark, the importance of keeping the stability of society in Turkey should be highlighted. Similar to the fact that sudden changes in weather conditions have an influence over health status of people, sudden changes in politics and social discussions may affect the health of a whole country. What should be done here is approaching the process with extreme care, providing a coalition and cooperation between the ruling party and the opposition parties, and protecting the stability of the society by integration into the process through public discussions and consultation meetings. Peace cannot be provided by ignoring the risks or waiting silently instead of generating alternative ways.
By Reyhan Güner