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June 03, 2012, Sunday

Erdoğan in Amed as CHP is maneuvering

For the 12th time, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has visited Diyarbakır to meet his party’s “fellow travelers” -- as he calls Justice and Development Party (AK Party) members -- and deliver another of those speeches, lengthy and highly emotional.

Certainly, the Uludere incident, which has continued to echo loudly over the past five months, has cast a shadow over the AK Party’s ties with the Kurdish voter base in general, and has added extra weight to this very visit.

Falling short of issuing an apology, or even a carefully worded expression of regret, Erdoğan was nonetheless in a chatty mood, attempting to persuade his Kurdish “fellow travelers” that his reform moves were constantly being blocked and underlining that he was always where he has been in terms of his stance on a solution.

He wanted the public to understand that he meant what he said when he acknowledged the “Kurdish problem” and that “Kurds’ problems are [his] problems,” in a historic speech in Diyarbakır 2005. He also added that he is still where he was in 2009, when he loudly launched the so-called “Kurdish Initiative.”

The rest was more or less expected: Erdoğan complained about blockages, about the BDP, about the dark forces and international actors, distributing blame on all those who have stood between his government and the Kurds. In a separate section two points were important: He this time called Diyarbakır by its original name -- Amed -- and underlined that “I am here as your brother in religion.”

People -- in particular Kurds and those concerned about this festering wound of an issue -- were left, at the end of the address, with the impression that there was not much new on the “Eastern Front”: Erdoğan was keen on weakening the support for the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and called on the people of Amed to fight against terror, as the AK Party would go on with powerful investments in the region. To many, his presence this time may have fallen short of where he stood in terms of the “2009 spirit,” and thus led to disappointment. Meanwhile, there is some surprise maneuvering in the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). In what came as a sudden move, two vice chairmen of the party made public what they call a “10-point plan” to deal with the Kurdish problem. One of them is Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a Kurdish lawyer and expert on human rights issues, part of the tiny reformist, rather marginalized flank of the CHP. The other one is more interesting: Faruk Loğoğlu, a retired ambassador whose views are based on the hard-core nationalism closer even to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has belonged for a long time to the hawks. Nevertheless, the proposal, apparently jointly prepared by these two gentlemen, is not one of those that can be shrugged away like a public ploy or shallow propaganda. That the MHP already rather strongly criticized its content -- if not condemned it -- underlines its difference. That CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has now managed to fix a rendezvous with Erdoğan, set for Wednesday, shows us that it is being taken seriously.

The 10-point proposal does not actually contain a series of to-dos. Its first six points tell us how bad and chronic the Kurdish problem is; that it caused the deaths of over 11,000 Turks and almost 30, 000 Kurds (not including those who perished without a trace); that Parliament has been insensitive before the issue, which is completely unacceptable. In the next four points, what the CHP recommends is the formation of a “Consensus Commission” which will operate like the one which deals with the draft constitution, and a “Group of Wise Men.” The commission will consist of eight members -- two chosen by each party in Parliament -- and the group will be of 12 people, also selected by four parties, with three representatives each. These bodies will have to work in coordination.

This is, indeed, a serious proposal (I have a hunch, based on our earlier talks, that it was Tanrıkulu’s initiative). It may be very helpful to break the ice between the AK Party and BDP and put the solution of the issue (rightly) in a constitutional context. But can it work? The MHP’s harsh reaction (“We do not believe there is a Kurdish problem, but a terror problem,” said Oktay Vural, the MHP’s number two person) indicates that it may stay out.

But the meeting between Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu is the key. If the former is sincere about “where he is,” he may extend a cautious hand; but this means he will have to calculate how it will echo among the MHP members, with whom he is flirting in order to secure a presidential post. And for Kılıçdaroğlu there are also risks, as he is preparing for the national congress. Both men’s tactical leanings will show us whether this solution will be a stillborn child or not.

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