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August 26, 2012, Sunday

How to win over Turkey’s Kurds?

“Everyone seems to know the proper prescription,” to borrow a phrase from the analysis yesterday in this paper by Sevgi Akarçeşme.

The prescription is, as summarized in the article: “Make a clear distinction between the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK] and the majority of the Kurds; remain determined in the fight against the PKK, especially when it targets civilians; continue the process of democratization and giving expanded rights to Kurds, including education in their mother tongue; have a more structured strategy against terrorism; and synchronize your policies.”

Sedat Laçiner, a prominent security policy analyst, a columnist with the Star daily and the head of Çanakkale University, has been endorsing similar thoughts all along. He is, as I agree, for a carefully orchestrated policy of balancing determined, uninterrupted reform, while maintaining an assertive, professional fight against terror.

“Reforms must continue with Kurdish citizens as natural counterparts. Second, Kurdish politicians who are not in hierarchical relations with the PKK must be drawn into a process of dialogue. Third, strategies for fighting terrorists must be redefined. Fourth, there must be no hesitation to go after the urban extensions of the PKK. Fifth, the legal framework must be consistently and clearly designed. Sixth, countries that back the PKK must be told of its price. Seventh, there must be dialogue and bargaining with Teheran and Moscow and not with [Öcalan on] İmralı Island or [the PKK rebel command] in the Kandil Mountains,” he wrote in a recent article in Star.

In addition, it is also interesting that two more points are now raised loudly in the media: The efficient way to stop the PKK campaigns must be for Kurds and Turks to take to the streets -- just like in Spain -- and for Kurds to say no to a stiff PKK rule by distancing themselves from voting for the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

The “summer of revolutionary war” as declared by the PKK spreading now on urban grounds towards Turkey's west tells us that it decided to intensify play on two points: using the hesitation of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government on reform to push it into total paralysis and acting increasingly like a “regional shabiha” to build hegemony over the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Syria, thereby strengthening its hand against Turkey's benevolent, yet shaky role in transformation.

If Laçiner and others' main point is the disarray in AKP policies and the historically flawed delay in implementing full (not half-hearted or window-dressing type of) reform at home, they are certainly spot on. In that context, the period since the June 12 elections last year till today is worth a deep study in order not to repeat the mistakes.

Erdoğan's changed rhetoric then (“There is no Kurdish problem, but problems of Kurdish individuals.”) may have been a signal, but we now know that this period has been marked by attempts to reset the negotiations (or “talks”) with the BDP, which every time -- until very recently, in June -- was sabotaged by the PKK's “rebel units.”

The pattern has been clear: The mountain gangs were not truly interested in amnesty nor laying down the arms. Even when free, they remain in doubt on their role in future society and fear for their lives (Kurds, more than Turks, are what they are afraid of because of blood on their hands).

They were therefore engaged in a language of cheating, as they knew Ankara was in some sort of limbo with regard to reformist action.

The government should have seen through that and have had a crystal clear strategy. Since it has the backing of every second voter, it could have communicated intensely to the public, and used Parliament as a tool for speeding up an efficient draft constitution process, stayed away from fierce nationalist rhetoric and eased the pressures on the BDP. No matter how intense the PKK terror, it could have won on this choice, ending up by exposing the PKK's shabiha character before the Kurds as well.

Today, winning the hearts of the common Kurds is the key. How? Hard-line policies since last summer proved that the more Kurds identify with the past policies of Turkey, the angrier they become; it may very well be a zero-sum game, nobody cares in the end. This is the huge pitfall, since it involves a region.

Kurds can only be won over by the government not talking in tongues -- reaching out by deeds -- beyond talk -- to define citizenship, mother tongue rights and devolution; the more of this -- the lonelier the PKK. Some colleagues here do miss the fact that those taking to the streets in Spain or in Britain, to protest ETA, etc. are all those possessive of their democratic, constitutional rights. They make terror a concrete danger for their existence.

If the AKP finally sees the value of a truly democratic social contract, Turkey's leap will mean an end to the archaic PKK.

Previous articles of the columnist