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November 13, 2012, Tuesday

‘Living Together’ under capital punishment

An intensity of expectations and a fear of failure are now part of the peculiar process of Turkey’s transition towards democracy. It becomes rough and complicated, as days go by; it has hit serious snags.

The heart of the matter is living together in peace and accord. When I watched a fresh manifestation on the theme last Sunday in İstanbul, I could not help but swing between hope and despair about such a future.

Hope was stemming from the Living Together Awards by the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), affiliated with the Hizmet movement. The print and visual media award was handed out to the Armenian newspaper AGOS and Dünya TV, a unique private TV channel in Kurdish. A mixed group of Turkish and Armenian gymnastics students were highlighted for their joint friendship project “Ashura/Anushabur” and others went to the Süryani Metropolit (Aramean Metropolitan) of Mardin and an elderly Kurdish opinion leader/spiritual guide in Batman.

There should be no doubt that this ceremony comes at a time when the government and Parliament need a powerful “heads-up” for the completion of the democratic transition. The fact that this comes from a globally benevolent, pious movement underlines the urgency to establish social peace. Despair is also for real. The hunger strikes of some 700 Kurdish prisoners have entered the ninth week, with no agreement in sight. Nine members of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), also joined the hunger strike, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan employs a harder rhetoric, talking about reintroducing capital punishment, refusing to discuss the change of prison conditions of Öcalan and, as he reiterated yesterday in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) weekly meeting in Parliament, that “nothing will happen unless the PKK lays down its arms,” emphasizing loudly that “I am not talking about silencing the guns, but laying down the arms.”

The only positive sign -- a tiny one -- is the hastily inserted bill that will make it possible to defend oneself in Kurdish in court. How to read the latest row on hunger strikes? How can it end? Erdoğan’s threat to reintroduce the death penalty should not be taken that seriously. It will simply remain a tactical tool to vent the mass emotions, but also, as an instrument for appeasing the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), as Erdoğan proceeds with his plans for his presidency. But there are dangers ahead in his vicinity: AKP will start showing wider cracks -- because its DNA is set to reject a return to the old times -- and a new political reality will develop. Senior AKP figures watch the path of Erdoğan with unease, and if the hardliner rhetoric turns into tougher action on the Kurdish issue, AKP’s conservative Kurdish segment will burst under the local pressures. No matter what, the AKP is approaching a crossroads that will confirm or redefine its identity.

The hunger strikes push forward major points. One of them has to do with the macro objective of the transition, namely a new constitution. Education in one’s native tongue, as well as the definition of citizenship and decentralization, have to be dealt in that context.

But there is also the hottest of all potatoes, the issue that dynamited the negotiation process: namely, what to do with Öcalan. This part of the problem has to be handled under the title “amnesty” (or whatever other term is applied) or a special deal. One severe consequence of the current deadlock around the hunger strikes is the BDP’s choice to abstain from the Constitutional Commission’s critical work. The BDP so far refused to send a “reason” for its absence, raising fears that it may weaken the commission’s legitimacy. It raises the hopes of the MHP, of course; and the CHP is left adrift in the midst of the turmoil.

If the bill of “legal defense in Kurdish” passes, will it end the hunger strikes? It probably will. Because the BDP does not want to be the one that throws in the towel in the constitutional process, but the huge problem remains intact. Where to go from there, about the PKK insurgency and a solution to the democratic part of Kurdish demands? No matter what, the bull is out there, wildly galloping, waiting to be tamed. Not by constant beating, but by other methods. What a challenge.

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