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January 25, 2013, Friday

The Kurdish initiative, the AKP and losing the Kurds

Like many, I am very enthused about the current developments taking place with regards to the Kurdish problem. At last, politicians are brave and bold enough to solve the problem. Unlike in previous times, they seem very adamant about sorting out the problem.

I hope and pray that they are not afraid of the so-called Turkish nationalist backlash that will inevitably emerge. Yet despite this nationalist backlash and despite the probable attempts at sabotage by Ergenekon and some international players, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) must not give up its dedication to dealing with the problem this time. The expectations -- especially among the Kurdish population -- are so high that any failure could result in the eventual loss of hope and will of not only secular Kurds but even religious Kurds who have been supporting the AKP.

Even though the prime minister insists that the current peace talks and negotiation process are about disarming the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), everyone can figure out that peace talks or negotiations cannot take place with only one of the parties being asked to give up their claims while the other party sacrifices nothing. As Fethullah Gülen made very clear in a public declaration on the issue, peace is better and for peace, one has to make sacrifices. However, if one were to only listen to the prime minister's remarks on the issue, one might think that the PKK has come to understand that it has to give up its armed struggle and transform itself into a peaceful political party. But that would be very naïve.

I am not failing to consider that some major countries, such as the US, now need peace in the region for several reasons, such as the safe transit of Kurdish oil from northern Iraq through Turkey to European markets and their desperate need to face Iran before it is too late and Iran becomes a nuclear power. However, there could be several other international players that would see the continuation of the PKK's armed fight against Turkey as in their best interests. For example, if Iran is on the other side of this equation, why would it not harbor the PKK if the Barzani government demands the PKK leave northern Iraq? What I am saying is that Turkey must not put all of its eggs in the international basket and expect the PKK to terminate itself just because some international players ask them to do so. The AKP must solve the issue on the domestic front.

What does that mean? It means the AKP must look at the root causes of the problem. It must understand why millions of Kurds continue to support the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which openly supports the PKK. It must understand why millions of Kurds love and support PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. I do not like it and am not happy about it, but it is a fact that these millions of Kurds think that without the PKK's efforts, the Turkish state would never be bothered with their problems.

It may be agonizing, but we have to accept that the Kurdish identity is now not only a cultural or linguistic identity but a political identity. Political science literature is full of examples that show what to expect when an identity becomes politicized. The prime minister keeps mentioning that there are other identities in Turkey, such as the Circassians, Caucasians, Bosnians and so on. While this may be the case, there are a few crucial differences between these groups and the Kurds. The Kurdish identity is now politicized. Unlike the others, many Kurds feel they have been discriminated against. Many of them have lost their children in the fight. Kurds have been living in this country for a few thousand years, and they are dominant in the populations of some regions of Turkey. They have also resisted linguistic assimilation despite some painful state measures. These are very important differences that require very serious political steps to deal with.

I hope the AKP is not naïve and does not expect the Kurds to make sacrifices while the Turks or the Turkish state offer little. I also hope the AKP is not playing a dangerous game, making efforts only to safely navigate the electoral years of 2013 and 2014 with the PKK inactive. If that is the case, Turkey will lose the Kurds.

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