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January 17, 2013, Thursday

After the funerals, a ground more solid

For the mourners in Diyarbakır, the funerals of three assassinated women yesterday were a manifestation of unity, determination, strength, and most importantly, calm. All the messages and symbols confirmed the sentiment, and fears of provocations came to nothing.

The coffins were wrapped in Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) flags and they were carried – in contrast to old tradition -- by women and mourners who wore white scarves draped on the shoulders of their black dresses. The color white was meant to endorse efforts for peace and the messages by leading Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) figures endorsed the symbolism.

One could say another crucial phase on the path to serious negotiations passed without nasty incidents. The Diyarbakır crowd of thousands showed it was time to talk reform and progress, to silence the guns and say a farewell to arms. The scenery was a harbinger of a process, laying the groundwork for a solution and Ankara, anxious until yesterday, must feel more confident about proceeding ahead.

What we saw and heard in Diyarbakır was unimaginable some years ago. A prominent business person I met at the annual congress of Turkey's mighty Union of Industrialists and Businessmen (TÜSİAD) reminded me of the great political and judicial turmoil after the nefarious bombing of the bookshop in Şemdinli in November 2005 and added, “Never in my lifetime had I imagined that Turks and Kurds would come so close to a solution. These murders will unite all the good forces and as old as I am, I might see peace coming to Turkey, making it stronger than ever. I get goose bumps seeing all these people in Diyarbakır; let their and our suffering end.”

We are closer, that is for certain. Ankara realized that, though it dislikes the fact that support behind the PKK and its leader, Abdullah Öcalan remains rock solid. The PKK, the BDP and Öcalan realized that, after the enforced retreat of the military from engineering the politics, it should take seriously the strength of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and its leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and must accept the fact that he and President Abdullah Gül are the key players for an acceptable solution.

What next? Let me repeat that it will be a very bumpy ride. The bombs that exploded at the offices of Kurdish parties in Iraqi Kurdistan tell us that the axis of Teheran-Baghdad-Damascus may be lurking behind efforts to undermine Turkey's attempts to win over the entire Kurdish population against tyranny and for economic prosperity. Front lines will be drawn. Efforts must therefore be solid in their determination.

From now on, it will be mainly up to Erdoğan and Öcalan, and perhaps to a certain degree, at a later stage, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, and Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.

Aliza Marcus, an esteemed American colleague and a prominent expert on the PKK (she is the author of the book “Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence”) doubts that Öcalan will be the one Ankara negotiates with. I strongly disagree. Turkish intelligence officials kept in touch with Öcalan over the years, he was able to read newspapers (in clips) and he showed amazing skill at keeping himself updated, judging by the analysis he conveys (A book by journalist Cengiz Kapmaz shows in clear detail how Öcalan could already foresee in 2005 the Arab uprisings.). Most important, Öcalan is seen as “the negotiator” by a large number of Kurds in the region. In addition, we also know that at further stages the BDP, the Kurdish diaspora in Europe and the “command” should be included in a multi-legged process, using Parliament as a platform.

In a recent, important op-ed piece in New York Times, Marcus correctly points out three “to do's” for Erdoğan: Full commitment to a solution based on give and take; awareness that disarmament will be the final, not the first stage for negotiations; and that the BDP be included in talks as a legal body.

I agree. But, let me conclude with three “to do's “ for the PKK–BDP (which requires such an addition): The armed wing of the PKK must immediately declare a unilateral ceasefire; Öcalan must also write a letter addressed to a doubtful Turkish public; and the BDP must use non-aggressive, constructive language throughout, at least until the de-facto June 2013 deadline.


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