Upon being close to solve its age-old problem, Turkey welcomes the promise of peace and society's commitment to the process represents a strong message for Ankara
Future generations will remember Feb. 28, 2015 as a historic day for the people of Turkey. Holding a joint press conference, Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan, Interior Minister Efkan Ala, Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) whips Pervin Buldan and İdris Baluken appeared before the cameras while Istanbul deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder read a lengthy message by Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK's imprisoned leader, for disarmament. "The problem had always been the dominant way of thinking within the state," the letter read. "We have a historic responsibility not only to our peoples but the region and the world."
The call for disarmament came over two years after then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unveiled the Kurdish reconciliation process. The Justice and Development Party government had, surely enough, enacted a number of reforms to facilitate and promote the use of the long-banned Kurdish language by establishing the first Kurdish-language public television among others. Holding direct talks with one of the most notorious figures in the country's history, however, was a whole different ball game and nothing short of political suicide. The people could not possibly give their blessing to dialogue between the Turkish authorities and the PKK, whose violent campaign resulted in over 40,000 casualties over the past 30 years - or such was the reasoning behind the opposition's negative response.
The people of Turkey, however, have acted responsibly. Even though holding direct talks with Abdullah Öcalan would have hardly been anyone's top choice, the fact that a series of military campaigns between the failed Oslo talks and Erdoğan's December 2012 announcement did little to restore peace and order was telling. As such, the people decided to give peace a chance - even though it had to be conceived through less-than-ideal solutions. The idea of holding direct talks was such a game-changer that even the Republican People's Party (CHP) leadership showed initial interest in the project. "We extend a line of credit to the government," CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu famously said in response to the news of direct talks. Although his enthusiasm eventually died down due to objections from party executives and grassroots organizations alike, it was important that the government had come up with such an exciting project that they could impress one of their most vocal critics.
The past two years have not been a walk in the park, of course. In more than one occasion, Kurdish politicians publicly complained about the authorities. Most recently, HDP parliamentarians assumed prominent roles in the struggle against the controversial Domestic Security reform package which, among other things, expands the national police's mandate. Government officials, in turn, were frustrated with HDP support for street violence during the 2013 Gezi Park protests and last October's demonstrations over the situation in Kobani - Sırrı Süreyya Önder, who read the statement on Saturday, was the first politician on the ground when the 2013 protests began.
Ahead of the 2015 parliamentary elections, the joint press conference showcased the state of Turkish politics today: A responsible government willing to take risks and invest in peace instead of jumping in the kill-'em-all bandwagon, and an opposition party which makes up for its size in its effectiveness. Here's a quick litmus test: The people were not interested in what the Republicans or the Turkish Nationalist had to say about the joint press conference. The AK Party and HDP, in turn, represent political movements with a strategy - which crowned 26 months of dialogue and non-violence with a concrete outcome.
It remains to be seen, of course, how effectively PKK militants on the ground - in particular, young radicals seeking to make their own memories of war - will put Abdullah Öcalan's instructions to practice. Nonetheless, it is important to note the country had never come so close to peace before. The promise of peace in a society that buried thousands upon thousands represents a strong message for the people. The opposition parties are left with no option but to (literally) stick to their guns, but each step in the right direction will hurt their interests.