Turkey's efforts to settle its vexed Kurdish issues is making important headways. As the democratic space widens for all citizens and Kurds across the country enjoy the benefits of political stability, economic development and social mobility, Turkey is getting closer to a comprehensive and long-term resolution of the Kurdish problem.
In their new roles, both President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu underscored their commitment to settling the Kurdish issue. Both will follow-up on what has been achieved so far. And what has been achieved is significant: a radical drop in terrorist attacks, comprehensive political talks, passing of legislation that protects the settlement process, major economic investments in the Kurdishpopulated areas and the overall support of the public for resolving the Kurdish issue.
Since March 21, 2013, when Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK, made a call from his cell for the PKK to end its armed struggle, the Kurdish issue entered a new phase. 'Political struggle' rather than 'armed struggle' has been embraced as the only way forward.
Öcalan's call for the disarmament of the PKK was a first in Turkey's 30-year struggle. It serves well to remember that the PKK has fought a bitter and bloody war against Turkey since 1984, killed over 40,000 people, wounded thousands and cost the country billions of dollars. But more dangerously, it created a psychological wall of separation between the Turks and Kurds, forcing them to believe that they cannot live together in peace and prosperity.
The failed policies of the Turkish state in the past have much to blame for this precarious situation. Policies of denial, assimilation and collective punishment have served as a breeding ground for the PKK.
More PKK attacks have led to more anger and hatred towards the Kurds. Weak governments failed to address the core issues for fear of the army generals and the nationalist public. The result has been bloody fighting, economic destruction and deep social and psychological trauma.
President Erdoğan was the first prime minister to address the Kurdish issue in a way that challenged and changed the state paradigm. In Diyarbakır in 2005, he became the first Turkish prime minister to officially acknowledge the existence of the 'Kurdish problem.' He followed a twopronged approach since then: while addressing the identity-based grievances of the Kurds, he also implemented a robust politics of services. He invested billions of dollars in infrastructure, agriculture, transportation and education in the Kurdish- populated areas. New roads, airports and universities have allowed a greater degree of social mobility for all citizens in the east and southeast regions.
Despite the fierce opposition of the secular Republican People›s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Erdoğan made important headways. His politically-sensitive initiative was fully supported by the former President Abdullah Gül who as president, acknowledged the reality of the Kurdish problem and encouraged political dialogue. Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay coordinated the work of the various state offices to ensure stability and coherence. Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkish intelligence, has been playing a key role in the execution of the current policy including direct talks with Öcalan.
All of this has created a new political space to save the Kurdish issue from the tutelage and subversion of armed struggle. Politics rather than weapons are being allowed to speak. As part of this process, restrictions on the use of Kurdish language in prisons, media outlets, political campaigns, public speeches, et cetera have been lifted. Optional Kurdish language courses have been introduced in schools. TV6, a state TV channel, broadcasts in Kurdish 24/7. Kurdish print and Internet media is available in various forms. Artists now sing in two languages and perform together. None of these were even imaginable until a few years ago.
Looking forward, five key areas remain important. At the political level, the current initiative will continue. The political process rather than armed struggle is the key to success. Last month, the government passed an important legislation that will protect the Kurdish process from any legal
The second issue is related to the first one: the PKK's disarmament. As long as the PKK presents itself as a terrorist alternative and subjugates Kurdish politicians, political initiatives will remain weak and ineffective. A full and transparent disarmament will give more weight and efficacy to the political process.
The third is the socio-economic conditions under which the Kurdish citizens live. They have been improving vastly, but there is still more work to do. The government continues to invest and lower unemployment in the Kurdish-populated areas. But this cannot be done by the state alone. Local businessmen, entrepreneurs, investors, mayors and politicians have to support this.
The fourth is the psychological climate in which the Kurdish issue is discussed. Like the new socio-economic opportunities, this has changed deeply over the last decade. The bogeymen of the 'bad Kurd' versus the 'cruel state' have been left behind. The large majority of the Turkish public supports the Kurdish process and wants to see all citizens enjoying equal rights.
The fifth and the final area is the regional context of the Kurdish issue. With the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the Kurdish issue has once again become a regional issue especially with the fighting going on in Rojawa in Syria. The Kurdistan Regional Government has faced a serious challenge too, but they seem to have overcome the initial shock of the ISIS advance.
Undoubtedly, resolving the Kurdish issue will be one of the most important achievements of the new Turkey.
About the author
Presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey