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January 01, 2013, Tuesday

Back to basics

Turkey had entered 2012 with a bitter sense of uncertainty on the Kurdish issue.

 Only days before New Year's Eve, the bombing at Uludere/Roboski had added to the despair, killing hopes of a tangible solution. A full year was spent carelessly on the matter, dominated by the angry rhetoric of the prime minister and a largely confused, concerned and zigzagging Cabinet.

However, the stakes that were valid then are equally valid now, as 2013 tiptoes in. Some of us, particularly in the columns of this paper, did not join the chorus whenever Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan raised the subject of lifting the immunities of the Kurdish deputies or reintroducing the death penalty. Even his relentless attitude vis-à-vis the hunger strikers did not shake us.

Many took those steps as concrete signs of his “real face” -- a hard-liner, an incorrigible militarist who would not hesitate to go all the way to crush Kurdish dissent en masse. Even at his hardest moments, though, behind his unhappiest façade, Erdoğan never relinquished the ideas his pragmatism produces. He had only put the inevitable solution on a backburner -- as he obviously did many things that involve reform.

You do not have to be specifically a liberalist, a leftist, a mild Islamist or an anti-militarist to persist on a conventional framework in order to arrive at a solution to the Kurdish issue -- simply a realist. The record of the Kurdish uprisings -- the one under the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) being the latest and longest lasting one -- has shown that, no matter how despicable the violence in the name of ethnicity or a worn-out ideology may be -- one has to identify the problems and agents, build a reasonable roadmap on signposts, design a way out and -- no matter how hard the winds blow -- persevere.

Are Erdoğan and his Cabinet now going back to square one after a laborious journey on the issue? What are the lessons learned now? His latest remarks can be summarized as calls to the PKK based in Kandil: “Take your fingers off the triggers and buttons, bury the weapons, and come talk with the heart or with the mind.” What we have sensed in weeks -- because of the apparent “lull” in the region -- was also declared: Talks between Abdullah Öcalan and the leading figures of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had resumed in the past months (following the end of the hunger strikes).

One of Erdoğan's closest advisors on the issue, Yalçın Akdoğan, clarified the matter further in some recent interviews such as that in the Taraf daily: "[Öcalan] is still the most important individual. We know that the organization has punctured his efforts, abused his name and benefited from his reputation. Being in jail for a long time, he cannot rule it, but he is crucial to its political body. The organization knows this and prefers that he stay in jail, passively watching. However, no new leanings are possible despite Öcalan's incarcerated status. Yes, there are different flanks within, and Öcalan is like glue that keeps them together. We do not foresee any uprising [against him] ahead; we shall see where he will lead us."

These observations do reflect the realism needed, although their “late discovery” cost Turkey another valuable 365 days. Nevertheless, let us suffice to say that Turkey enters 2013 with a tiny glimmer of hope on the matter.

However, somebody should tell the government about the do's and don'ts of the issue. If taken at face value, the official calls for “laying down arms to be able to talk” are meaningless; it must all start from a credible cease-fire. This requires that the most powerful individuals in the game, Erdoğan and Öcalan, must exert strict control, respectively, over those using weapons against each other. This is crucial as a game changer.

What about the rest? The stakes that work against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government are the rapidly changing regional environment. It is not an exaggeration to argue that 2013 will be the year of the Kurds in general, for better or for worse. The PKK and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) are part of the events taking place as they are gaining the upper ground. This will make any talks much tougher. And, finally, what will Öcalan's gain be if he is given the lead to shape a solution? The number one issue is this: Will a general amnesty, a crucial step in the process, include even him? Then what?

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