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January 03, 2013, Thursday

Delays of the Turkish mind

The guest on my TV program, "Open Media," which aired on Tuesday night was Hasan Kaya, author of the massive autobiographical interview book on the late Şerafettin Elçi, a central figure for Turkey's Kurds who died after a long illness days before New Year's Eve.

When I asked Kaya whether Elçi in his later days in the hospital was in a hopeful mood with regard to a solution to the Kurdish problem, his face turned sad, and his response was short: “No, on the contrary, he had lost much of his hope.” We stood silent briefly because these words resonated powerfully in our minds. Elçi was the first elected deputy who declared, “There are Kurds in this country, and I am a Kurd,” in 1979. This led to years of prosecution, pain and hardship, but never ended his hopes.


Kaya told me that when Elçi was asked to run as a candidate in the June 2011 elections, he had said, “I can be in it, but not in any way related to more violence, more death; I will only work as an elder, as a bridge between Kurds and Ankara.”


What struck me as Kaya explained why Elçi had lost much of his hope: Immediately after being elected he was able to meet with President Abdullah Gül in what he called a fruitful meeting, but as the nasty violence escalated in the autumn of 2011, his calls to meet Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were met with no response. When the prime minister's office after two months gave him a return call, he had lost his belief that Ankara was really looking for a solution, he told Kaya, in his bed.


There is a Turkish saying, which may be hard to translate. It goes: “The mind of the Turk is always in delay,” which implies that such minds take all possible paths before finding the obvious one. It is the case with the bleeding Kurdish issue, strife based on obstinacy, denial and vendetta. Much invaluable time has been wasted on it, and it is yet time for another go.


What turned Erdoğan's mind around is obviously two events. First, by ending the hunger strike in a snap, Öcalan came to his “rescue”; and Erdoğan used it skillfully for his benefit. Second, his long meeting recently with Justice and Development Party's (AKP) Kurdish deputies became a wake up call concerning current realities once more. It can be said that Erdoğan saw the sand running out in the hourglass, given the speedy, worrisome, not fully controllable changes in the region. Two events presented a strong opportunity, and he is now in for another risky ride.


The time span is shorter (Syria's Bashar al-Assad has a countdown, Iraq is splitting in slow motion), and he has pros and cons weighing against each other in his race. We have learned that this time the talks will be direct, no third parties and with no timetables, no deadlines. But, it is apparent that Erdoğan wants to achieve results before the end of 2013, so that he can see his prospects for the presidency in the political landscape, which might by then change due to his success or failures.


Pros are important. First, he still surfs on the 50 percent vote, and polls indicate the people desire a solution to the Kurdish conflict and a new constitution (each and every time, around 65 percent say that). Second, the key actor in the process, the Republican People's Party (CHP), has expressed some mildness in tone. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, its leader, told the press, “We are not prejudiced against talks (with Öcalan) as long as we as the parties are kept informed, and it leads to disarmament.” Third, key figures in the media this time will stand behind the efforts. Fourth, the signs from the Kurdish diaspora in Europe are positive. Fifth, Erdoğan can count on the two Barzanis (Massoud and Nechirvan) as helping hands and minds on his path.


The cons are also obvious: first, remnants of the “shadow state” in liaison with rogue elements in the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) can cause deep harm by new acts of sabotage. Other outlawed elements such as the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) can also be of use in such acts. Teheran, Baghdad and Damascus are to be counted in certainly, for undermining it, since a solution means loss of power and influence in the region for them. The “command” in Kandil will be split, for sure, as the IRA example has shown us in the past.


So, we are all in for a final shot. For Erdoğan, it should be all about building trust, keeping promises, not abusing Öcalan's power and staying resolute. If he wins, both Turks and Kurds (beyond the borders) will win.

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