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February 19, 2013, Tuesday

A challenging process

The general impression is that most people in Turkey agree with having negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to stop the bloodbath. People have really had enough of the ongoing armed conflict and they simply don't want more people to die. We ignore exactly what is being negotiated during these talks and, in fact, for the sake of the negotiations, we don't really need to know every tiny detail.

The public opinion is, at the moment, preoccupied with the composition of the team that will go to İmralı Island, where PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan is jailed. The problem is which members of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) will go there to meet him. The prime minister has said he will make the final decision and the BDP deputies are wondering why he is the one to make the decision.

As a matter of fact, it is not really important who will travel to İmralı because the messages Öcalan wants to transmit will be transmitted no matter who goes. However, the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is worried about the public's reaction. It is already under heavy pressure from nationalist and Kemalist circles, who claim that talking to the terrorists is no less than treason. This pressure makes the government particularly worried about public opinion and perceptions of the negotiations and therefore it wants the most moderate and peaceful people from the BDP to remain at the forefront. The BDP, too, would prefer to send the most moderate among them. The leaders of the party have already declared that they hope this process will be a success and that they will not allow anyone to sabotage it.

There is no need to emphasize how this cease-fire is beneficial for the country. However, the process has just begun and the utmost caution is necessary to transform these talks into a genuine peace process.

A number of elections are scheduled for the next two years. The AK Party wants to win the local elections in cities with a Kurdish majority while the BDP is trying not to lose them. In the general elections, the AK Party wants to win enough seats to be able to modify the Constitution alone; while the BDP wants to win seats from the western regions of the country. All this, and I haven't even mentioned the presidential elections and the ongoing debate on the presidential system.

In this context, it is obvious that the bargain between the AK Party and the BDP cannot be limited only to the İmralı process. The two parties will have to talk about everything else as well and, after all, this is good for the sake of our democracy. However, if the two parties decide to look for a deal only about the presidential system or the outcome of the next presidential elections and they prefer not to talk about how to improve human rights and liberties, then it will be difficult to reach a genuine peace.

During an election campaign, given the tension that may arise from the political struggle, it may be hard to find compromises. Besides, some third parties may try by any and all means, including the use of violence, to prevent any agreement between the AK Party and the BDP. And, one mustn't think that these third parties are only in Turkey; one must never forget about international players.

The talks with Öcalan can only be successful with an agreement between the AK Party and the BDP, and this can only be possible if one of the two sides doesn't try to put pressure on the other. Given these circumstances, the fact that the prime minister has announced that he is against all kinds of nationalism is important. He has thus criticized both Turkish and Kurdish nationalists.

This process is a particularly sensitive one. For example, one mustn't suggest to those who feel Kurdish above all else that they should feel more pious. In other words, the bargain must have democracy at its core and it must help to improve the human rights, liberties and equality of all citizens.

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