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June 12, 2012, Tuesday

Fresh air of hope

If it goes on like this, there will be no end of surprises in Turkey’s politics. What was “reset” by the move of the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (the CHP), a week ago, by a set of proposals to deal with the Kurdish issue, has continued with an “historic” pledge by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In his usual Tuesday address to his party’s deputies, he declared that Kurdish will be an optional course as part of a fundamental education.

Change is, once more, in the air. Just as he has been showing a shift towards a loose and large conservative-nationalist bloc by a series of worrisome moves, Turkey’s popular prime minister may have been emboldened by a seemingly resolute CHP to tackle the country’s most urgent and challenging problem. Yesterday’s promise will weigh heavily on the agenda.

It means the government is again to press the gas pedal. But this time the range of the offensive seems larger than one can see. It involves the Kurdish neighborhood context as well.

Abdulbasit Seyda, elected as president of the Syrian National Council, gave a hint about the move. Soon after his election, Seyda told IMC TV about Turkey’s widening engagement in the region, with the addition of the Kurds, which he agreed was a correct one. “If Turkey wants to engage in a constructive and lasting reform and dialogue process with the Arab world, it must be through the Kurds both across its border and within,” he said.

He also underlined during his meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu that unless Turkey solves its Kurdish problem “fairly,” there will be no stability. “Davutoğlu did not object to what I said,” Seyda added.

It was stating the obvious, but perhaps needed. The Kurdish element has remained a crucial part of the increasingly volatile region, and what the Kurds of Iraq will choose in the case of chaos there -- and what the Kurds of Syria will do in Syria -- will shatter any stability. Of course, much of it will depend on how Turkey will act to approach its domestic Kurds.

The PKK is, therefore, the dark horse in all this. It continues to threaten the stability in both turbulent countries -- serving mainly Iran’s interests and the Syrian regime’s -- by threatening the stability of Turkey. The global wisdom therefore has remained united that, no matter what, the path to weakening the PKK is by acknowledging all the democratic rights to Turkey’s long-suppressed and justifiably infuriated Kurds.

Signs of change are strong. It was Beşir Atalay, a vice chairman of AKP, who first alarmed the media that about a “new initiative.” This was followed by a move that meant a larger regional context: that Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s Kurdish president was in touch with the Mt. Kandil-based PKK “rebel command” about a laydown of arms.

Then there was the declaration that Massoud Barzani, leader of the Iraqi Kurdistan, was also involved in the process. At the moment we do not know the framework of the engagement, obviously coordinated by the US, but nothing -- however bold it is -- should come as a surprise.

The answer is simple. All the pending reform steps regarding Turkey’s Kurds are peanuts, compared to a single challenge: What to do with the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, whose support base remains unchanged, no matter what he has been done. It keeps coming at Ankara like a boomerang, which demands creative thinking.

Talabani seems to be the “elderly” leader who can -- directly or indirectly -- persuade Öcalan about his safety and a lasting solution.

A colleague, Avni Özgürel, whose expertise is national intelligence and has a background of the nationalist movement in the 70s, announced on Monday that he had recently visited Mt. Kandil and met with the PKK commander, Murat Karayılan. What was his message? “He [Karayılan] believes that one has come to end of the road. Weapons are a cul-de-sac. This issue will not be resolved by armed struggle. This path is no path.

“Turkey’s good relations with North Iraq have suffocated [the PKK], and Turkey has now the upper hand but,” Özgürel adds, “it is no longer arm-wrestling. Turkey can beat the PKK, but this can not help solve the Kurdish problem.” In conclusion, Özgürel also agrees that, given Karayılan seems committed to the Oslo Process negotiations, the isolation of Öcalan must be lifted.

The BDP, PKK’s political wing, is therefore important because what it represents is, as Özgürel argues, not its votes but the “will.” And because the BDP is not independent of Öcalan nor Karayılan. And Erdoğan keeps the door open to it.

So, in a nutshell, a new wave is taking shape. By approaching each other, both Erdoğan and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, CHP’s leader, take bold steps. Their total vote is 70-plus percent. If the BDP can be added into a parliamentary dialogue on a solution, it will mean a way out by nearly total consensus. But for it to do so, a lot depends on whether or not the so-called KCK arrest campaigns will be disrupted. Its dark shadow is a threat to peace process.

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