The future of Turkey’s reconciliation process

Published 06.11.2014 02:15

The Oct. 6-7 protests, which began with a call to action from the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and claimed nearly 40 lives, has sparked intense public debate about the future of the Kurdish reconciliation process and caused concern among the public. In the aftermath of the mass demonstrations, military personnel and members of law enforcement became the target of three attacks in Bingöl, Hakkari and Diyarbakır. Acts of looting, lynching and violence during the protests and the ambushing of security forces in residential areas have since raised questions about the Kurdish political movement, which operates as an intermediary with the PKK, which the government engaged with in the context of the Kurdish reconciliation process. The most recent developments, which did not fit into the framework of the ongoing talks between the Turkish authorities and the PKK leadership, naturally gave rise to a number of questions about the future of efforts for dialogue.

Thus far the PKK and the HDP have sought to justify their actions with reference a range of issues including the developments in Kobani, Syria, Turkey's alleged support for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and reluctance to assist the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). It is impossible, however, to legitimize the acts of violence that PKK and HDP members perpetrated since October 6 citing Turkey's position on the reconciliation process. It is therefore necessary to account for such activities that clearly violate the principles whereupon the reconciliation process rests with reference to other dynamics.

The driving force behind the Kurdish reconciliation process has been the PKK's understanding that armed struggle was no longer meaningful and that the movement could pursue its goals through political means. In other words, the reconciliation process was made possible by the organization's willingness to turn away from violence and opt for political struggle and dialogue.

First, the state abandoned the quarter-century-old security paradigm and, in line with the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) struggle against the guardianship regime, turned to civilian politics with regard to the anti-PKK fight and the resolution of the Kurdish question. The replacement of security with politics effectively led to major changes in Ankara's approach to the Kurdish question and anti-PKK struggle as well as the instruments to which it resorted within this context.

In 2005, then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the first Turkish leader to acknowledge the Kurdish question and pledged to tackle the issue through political and democratic means. Four years later, the AK Party government launched the Democratic Opening to democratize the notion of citizenship and use political channels and dialogue to initiate direct talks with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and the organization's operational leadership in the Qandil Mountains in Iraq with an eye on disarmament.

Throughout this period, the PKK's operational strategy and political discourse remained geared toward the Turkish government of the 1990s. While the state parted ways with policies of denial and assimilation and regarded the security approach as a remnant of authoritarianism, the organization assumed these policies were still in place and stuck to frequent references to destruction and genocide while resuming its violent campaign. Moreover, the PKK often sided with the guardianship regime instead of lending support to the anti-guardianship efforts, which eventually empowered civilian politics and helped establish that the Kurdish question would be resolved through civilian and democratic steps. In 2005, the organization responded to the AK Party's landmark announcement by ending the cease-fire that had held since 1999. Four years later, the Democratic Opening fell prey to a series of PKK attacks against military outposts. Again in 2011, the Oslo Process, which was on the brink of producing concrete results, came to an abrupt end when PKK militants killed 13 soldiers near Silvan, Diyarbakır.

In this sense, the reconciliation process began only after the PKK leadership decided to settle for the civilian and democratic perspective that the government had been promoting for some time. In other words, the authorities initiated talks with Öcalan when the organization pledged to end its violent campaign and opted for civilian politics and dialogue.

The Oct. 6-7 protests and their aftermath indicate that the organization is looking for a way to withdraw its promises. The use of firearms, bloodshed and a number of attacks against security forces has effectively violated the core principle of the talks - the principle of bringing an end to violence. Although it remains difficult to claim that the PKK has reached a final decision, it is quite clear that the organization and the broader movement are engaging in an internal review.

Over the next few weeks we will continue to discuss what exactly prompted this internal debate and where these developments will take the country.

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