Johan Galtung, the founding father of peace and conflict studies, has pointed to the shared religious values between Kurds and Turks in Turkey and suggested that civil society should form channels between the two groups, giving a strong role to Sunni religious leaders in order to resolve the decades-old Kurdish issue.
Over the last month, Turkey has witnessed significant developments in the quest for a way to open dialogue regarding the Kurdish question. The leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, came together with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to submit his party’s proposals for resolution, which was the first attempt to jointly discuss the Kurdish issue.
Later, Leyla Zana, an independent pro-Kurdish deputy from Diyarbakır, met with Erdoğan, who she believes can find a viable solution to the decades-old problem, despite harsh criticism from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
“The common Sunni element should be stressed, as well as Islam, which is the religion of peace and submission,” the Norwegian sociologist said in an email interview with Sunday’s Zaman, commenting on the unique characteristic of the Kurdish conflict, which is the shared religion as a major binding societal factor. But he also warned that merely having the same religious values is not enough for a peaceful, long-lasting settlement and emphasized the importance of fair distribution of economic and political power, saying: “A culturally shared faith is not enough. A political solution for sharing power is also needed, as is economic cooperation on equal terms.”
Galtung compared the situation to the role of the clergy in the resolution of the Northern Ireland dispute. “The negotiations ought to encourage civil society to have direct contacts, maybe like in Northern Ireland, facilitated by clergy,” he remarked.
In Northern Ireland, Ken Newell, a Presbyterian, talked secretly with leaders of the Catholic Irish Republican Army. Those meetings helped to convince the gunmen to stop fighting and find their way to a cease-fire.
Galtung characterized the long-running nature of the Kurdish question as the “lack of a vision of what a solution might look like, including steps in that direction.” He continued: “There was for a long time in Turkey a denial of any Kurdish identity. ‘Mountain Turks’ was heard, and from the Kurds, a Kurdistan as an independent state. There is much distance between the views. The confederation of autonomies is an effort to bridge that gap. Add to that the military factor: When a conflict turns violent, even into war, the goal of winning, victory, disregarding solutions, enters.” He believes that in order to break the deadlock in this decades-old problem no peaceful road should be closed.
In this regard, when reminded of the talks between the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Oslo, Galtung’s hometown, the veteran academic commented that negotiations should be revived. He added, however, that the political context of the Kurdish issue is at present determining the fate of possible meetings. “The negotiations could continue. But such talks tend to focus on a monitored cease-fire, and cease-fires without any political solution in sight tend to be broken. Who will lay down their arms with no acceptable solution on the horizon? But the government of a democratic country like Turkey should reduce its violence and negotiate with democratic parties using ideas and words, like the BDP, not bullets and threats, like the PKK,” he said.
The Oslo talks were meetings between some senior PKK operatives and MIT officials aiming to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem. In September 2011, an almost 50-minute-long voice recording revealed the secret talks sparked debates amongst the public.
Regarding the CHP’s recent move to initiate talks with the ruling party about a possible solution, Galtung believes that process should continue. He advises, however, that it is not political parties but influential individuals who are most effective in generating creative, peaceful solutions. “It may be wise at this stage to use individuals more than parties. Parties are less independent than individuals, and less able to be creative. What is needed at this point is creative solutions, and for that a commission of wise men and women who can have dialogues with the actors in the conflict without committing parties, or even governments, may be the better way out,” he noted.
Commenting on the nature of participants in such a commission, the 82-year-old academic suggested “Sunni religious leaders, academics, retired politicians and judges, civil society leaders and businessmen, who are often very creative.” He also drew attention to the role of the media and called for a cooperative stance with it “to present the events in an undistorted way for public debate.”
Evaluating Turkey’s progress against PKK terrorism, Galtung compared Turkey with Spain, stating: “Turkey has already taken important steps. The PKK may now be lagging behind, like the ETA [armed nationalist and separatist organization Basque Homeland and Freedom] was for a long time. Like in Turkey, in Spain democracy brought with it more openness in the Basque question; like in Turkey, nonviolent, democratic forces had to emerge, and like in Turkey there was much suspicion of their ‘contacts.’ There is Kurdish unity and division, like for the Basques. So have dialogue with all, but some are more promising than others.”
Founder of the Peace Research Institute, Galtung believes priority should be given to finding a “third way” for a novel solution. “The drive for consensus may come too soon and kill the creativity. Sooner or later there has to be a consensus sufficient for action. But that consensus should preferably not be a compromise between existing positions, but bring in something new. Thus, in the conflict between Ecuador and Peru over a contested area in the Andes I suggested in 1995 joint rule of a two-state zone, not a compromise border. That became the 1998 solution, even if it had never had been on the agenda,” he said.