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February 18, 2013, Monday

Alternative to current peace process is catastrophe

The ongoing peace process to bring an end to Turkey's 29-year fight against terrorism, through non-military means, appears to be an irreversible process, though finding a lasting solution will take a long period of time as it will undeniably be interrupted by, among other things, various acts of sabotage.

The peace process carries such risks due to the nature of the terrorism problem. However, according to my reliable local security as well as Western diplomatic sources, there has been some progress achieved in the talks, now under way for several months between Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the imprisoned leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan. The government is reportedly thinking about a strategy on how to market this progress to the nationalist Turkish population, who, most of the time, associates all Turkish Kurds with the PKK. This is despite the fact that an increasing number of Turks support the government's efforts to end the problem of terrorism through peaceful means.

However, if the content of the talks is made public without a strategy in place to help citizens accept it, Turks may react sharply as some elements of the points said to have been agreed with Öcalan may be interpreted as concessions to the PKK. This possibility brings to the agenda the critical importance of finding a thoughtful way of assisting nationalist Turks in swallowing what they will most possibly see as a bitter pill. Kurdish education in schools (currently Kurdish is included as an optional course at schools), the decentralization of state powers (this is seen as a move that will bring autonomy for Kurds and that it will finally lead to the division of the country) and moving Öcalan to house arrest from the İmralı Island prison where he is currently serving a life sentence are some of the critical elements that Turks will perceive as bitter, though they are among the many rights that need to be granted to the Kurds.

Though most Turks do not realize it, it is a fact that such moves as decentralization will further democracy in Turkey because it will allow the citizens of this country to exercise their rights to participate in the conduct of public affairs. This is because when local authorities have real responsibilities, there can be administrations which are both effective and close to the citizen.

At his stage, however, Öcalan has reportedly not made any demands that would agitate the Turkish population. My reliable Western sources who were in contact recently with Turkish officials as well as with Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and PKK affiliates in Europe have stated that Öcalan has conveyed messages to Turkish Kurds that include asking that their support be given to the opposition in Syria (something that falls in line with Turkish state policy) and a statement that they should not be persistent in asking for Kurdish language education to be included in a new constitution currently being drafted and that this problem can be overcome through legislation. Öcalan also sent a message through the Kurdish politicians that he met with in his prison in early January that Kurds should not persist in seeking the introduction of what he describes as democratic autonomy for the Kurdish-populated eastern and southeastern regions of the country. Instead, he suggested they focus on the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which he believes is adequate at this stage.

Meanwhile, there are expectations that Turkey will lift the restrictions it placed on the charter to resist the main elements of decentralization.

Not surprisingly, many Western capitals, including Washington, have been following the peace process very closely. Among them is the European Parliament. Helene Flautre, a member to the European Parliament and co-chair of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, which met last week in Ankara, told me in an interview that in this newly initiated process, all actors involved have left the impression that they are serious in the continuation of peace talks despite the risks they carry, such as the execution of three PKK women in Paris in early January.

The Turkish public's reaction to this incident clearly demonstrated that the peace process has found a wide support from all segments of society in Turkey, she asserted.

Advising Öcalan to conduct the process very carefully and sensitively, Flautre also stated that he must be provided with adequate conditions in prison so as to handle this process in the best way possible, including the ability to talk with all Kurdish groups -- even those in Europe. However, she declined to answer my question over whether Öcalan should be transferred to house arrest to fulfill his functions more efficiently. Instead, Flautre stated that if Öcalan is provided with the conditions to better manage the process, the fact that he is in prison would not constitute a problem.

“As you know, there are many people who wrote their best books in jail,” Flautre recalled.

In the final analysis, the majority of the actors in this peace process are believed to be of the opinion that this is an irreversible process and that the alternative to the current effort to find a peaceful solution to the terrorism problem would only be catastrophe.

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