[email protected]

January 10, 2013, Thursday

Before a farewell to arms

Parameters have changed. The sense of stagnation in politics seems to be perishing. Turkey, in a dazzling, ever-changing mood, has entered 2013 with new hopes for the key Kurdish issue. In this context, many have already voiced hope that a united “Turkish-Kurdish Spring” is underway.

In the new talks between Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the next five-six months (until May-June) will define either the success or failure of the end game. That is, the disarmament of the Kurdish political movement -- the PKK and all its branches -- synched with a comprehensive amnesty, which may take up to a maximum of five years.

We are not yet at the stage of negotiations. We are, instead, at the stage of “framing the negotiations,” in which the sides have already defined a rough modality, and pressed the gas pedal. When the talks between the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) figures gain a systematic nature, as well as those between the MİT and the PKK command in Iraqi Kurdistan, we can talk about a process of deep negotiations, which will then take place in stages.

At this point, seven key figures for the solution of Turkey's chronic Kurdish issue have come out to set the stage. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was first to raise the curtain in clear terms, followed swiftly by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition (who did not oppose talks) and Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), who welcomed the idea. Abdullah Öcalan indirectly addressed the public through the elderly co-leader of the BDP, Ahmet Türk, who also joined him in endorsing a process.

In yet another defining boost for the reconciliation and reform (his second key step after the constitutional referendum in 2010), Fethullah Gülen, the profoundly influential Turkish scholar, endorsed the peace efforts “at all costs we can all bear.”

President Abdullah Gül joined those voices yesterday, stating that “terror must vanish forever from our agenda.”

What, all of a sudden, changed so much that the gloom has dispersed in a week? This question occupies many minds these days. Simply put, as one can see, Turkey has had to go through hardships to arrive at wisdom; experience with numerous domestic and regional issues have provided important understanding.

Erdoğan entered the last election campaign engaged, but not fully convinced of the potential for dialogue and settlement, although the talks in Oslo had mapped out almost 90 percent of the issues. He had a tightrope walk through the polls and when hopes for a deepening process for a solution were sabotaged by a chain of vicious PKK attacks, he pulled the brake.

The period that followed was marked by a tug-of-war, with Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) detentions en masse, and a severe loss of human lives on both sides. But, as noted in this column before, Erdoğan has always remained in a stand-by “search mode,” testing whether new ground had opened up. He may have hoped that the voter base of the BDP showed cracks and that Öcalan would lose his aura, but realized that these were not happening.

The widespread hunger strikes marked a peak in the conflict, but also presented an opportunity. It is said that a letter written by Öcalan and addressed to him directly that was carried out of jail by the “secret hero” of the new talks, Sadullah Ergin, minister of justice, came to his rescue. Erdoğan grabbed the opportunity and had a complete change of attitude. He knew that opinion polls did not pose a threat, and that the state (the President, National Security Council, MİT etc.) was behind him. It has also helped that the hawkish elements of the old military tutelage were much weaker (think Sledgehammer verdicts) than in 2011, which supported making a new attempt. The happy ending to the hunger strikes showed clearly, too, who the counterpart is: Öcalan.

Erdoğan apparently knows he has to hurry. The problem cannot wait until the presidential elections in 2014; its urgency was made clearly visible with recent developments in Iraq and Syria. He is now hopeful about close cooperation, and a new, loose alliance, involving the voter bases of the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the BDP, rather than ultra-nationalistic Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

So, it is now up to two men, each very powerful, to remain true to his cause, but to build trust, and also remain devoted to the endgame. Let us see how it develops this time. God may actually help Turkey.

Previous articles of the columnist