January 10, 2013, Thursday

AKP peace via Öcalan

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) recently made its move on the Kurdish issue. Its basic stance has not changed: There will be retaliation for attacks and there will be no pardons for terrorists involved in murder. Those not involved in any killings will be pardoned and fundamental rights related to the Kurdish identity will be recognized unconditionally, but over time. The critical point is to ensure the silencing of weapons. Only then will it be possible to implement reforms. With this strategy, the government is forcing the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to make a choice. The PKK may argue that these conditions are not sufficient. This is a risk. The government may rely on the fact that it has surrounded the organization on all sides. And the government assumes that PKK factions which intend to keep fighting will soon lose their legitimacy.

Of the four factors which may convince the PKK to agree to disarm, the most important is certainly Abdullah Öcalan. The PKK's sociological and political structure has never been able to shake off the authoritarian mentality since its establishment. The military, hierarchical nature of the organization has reinforced the place of leadership within the organization, ensuring that the organizational structure could be maintained without institutionalization.

For example, from jail Öcalan could directly decide who would lead the organization's headquarters in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq. Numerous people in critical positions of the organization have met with Öcalan only a few times, but their careers are not independent from his choices. Therefore, the organization's structure puts Kandil at its center, and at the same times allows loosely structured feudal administrative islands. Öcalan's clout over the PKK has limits and certain groups may be out of his control, but he can declare these groups as "outside the organization." Eventually, the groups that don't obey Öcalan will lose their representative power and will be tagged as "terrorists."

This unique structure of the PKK has now become a political tool available to the government's strategy. No Kurdish group has a chance to openly challenge Öcalan or distance itself from him. Nevertheless, if the government continues to gives more room for Öcalan to maneuver and maintains its transparent attitude, the political circle around the PKK will inevitably shrink.

On the other hand, via Öcalan, the government is also able to influence two other factors: the PKK network in Europe and, of course, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The organization's European leg is living in a different atmosphere of ideology and mentality. At a time when Turkish-EU relations seem to be reviving, they cannot expect a good future by living as an extension of a political movement which is tagged as "terrorist." The BDP is already suffering from its failure to become a political actor and assert its identity.

With the re-emergence of Öcalan, both actors have earned the opportunity for political maneuvers. Contrary to being overshadowed by PKK attacks in the past, they are now a part of active politics thanks to Öcalan's approval. Given the fact that the BDP has about 30 seats in Parliament and more than 100 majors, this new function will reconstruct the party and be a gain in terms of democratization.

Finally, the government has another factor to exert influence over the PKK: Kurdistan leader Massoud Barzani or, more broadly, the developing ties between Turkey and Kurdistan. As the Middle East is being reshaped, big global opportunities are emerging for Kurds and they can make use of them via Turkey. No political movement that undermines the interests of Kurds' “first potential state” has a chance of survival, and those who put these interests at risk will lose their legitimacy in the eyes of Turkey's Kurds.

The government is on the right track. This applies to Öcalan and pro-Kurdish politics in general. If the Western world does not withdraw its support, this peace will form one of the cornerstones of the new Middle East.

Previous articles of the columnist