During his famous visit to Diyarbakır in 2005, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan acknowledged the reality of the Kurdish problem and promised to solve it. Since then, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has introduced new policies and measures which have broken many taboos in Turkey and paved the way for the “İmralı Process.”
The Kurdish issue is the most difficult and intractable problem Turkey faces. Its long and bloody history is well known and there is no need to repeat it here. No other national or regional issue has caused Turkey as much human, financial and psychological suffering as this one.
Ever since the time of Turgut Özal, numerous attempts have been made to find a lasting solution to the problem but they have all failed. The main reason is that the proposed solutions never sought to change the paradigm that produced the problem in the first place. It is impossible to solve the Kurdish issue without first changing the prevalent notions about the state, the nation, the individual, national security, threat perception, minorities, rights and cultural pluralism. There must be a post-nationalist redefinition of all these concepts.
A proper, rights-centered legal system is indispensable. Yet, a fully functioning advanced democracy entails a certain degree of societal maturity on the most important issues in a nation's life. A mature “politics of acceptance” requires a paradigm shift in our mental constructs, moral attitudes and political choices.
This means that any possible solution to the Kurdish problem, as the one we're discussing in Turkey today, requires the support of all stake holders, from ordinary citizens and politicians to opinion leaders and the media.
It was against this background that the Erdoğan government launched the democratic initiative in 2009 to solve the same problem. That initiative was based on two essential legs: On the one hand, the democratic rights and civil liberties of all citizens of Turkey including the Kurds would be granted. This has been achieved to an extent never thought possible before. The obstacles before the use of the Kurdish language in prisons, media, political campaigns, etc., have been removed. Kurdish broadcasting and publication has been made legal. There is now a 24-hour public TV station in Kurdish in addition to other private channels.
Furthermore, to bridge the development gap, the government has invested billions of dollars in the eastern and southeastern parts of the country. Better-educated and qualified civil servants have been appointed to help with the rapid economic development of the region. New universities have been opened. New airports and major housing projects have been completed. Poverty and unemployment have been largely eradicated and the developmental gap between the eastern and western parts of the country has been brought to a manageable level.
The second leg of the Democratic initiative was the disarmament of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). This is a sine qua non of any democratic solution. You cannot fight for your democratic rights with non-democratic means. In 2009 and 2010, the PKK refused to lay down its arms. The infamous Habur incident in October of 2009 created a social trauma and was horribly manipulated by the opposition parties and the media. The conclusion that the government drew from all this was that Turkey, as a whole, was not ready for a solution yet.
But the 2009 initiative, though it remained incomplete, was not for nothing. It prepared the ground for the so-called İmralı Process today. Yet, the way ahead is not easy. There are strong signs that PKK will disarm this time, paving the way for broader democratic and judicial measures that the government can take. As a matter of fact, the government is currently working on the fourth judicial package, which will update the current anti-terror laws.
If the PKK does not disarm after all these measures, the new process will come to nothing. The PKK and its supporters also have to overcome their retrograde, petty nationalism -- an expired political ideology which they present as a struggle for Kurdish rights.
A real solution will come when we all move to a post-nationalist, post-terrorist paradigm.