The riots and demonstrations that took place on Oct. 6-7 in some cities and the political escalation in its aftermath made many observers of the Kurdish question in Turkey extremely pessimistic in regard to the future of the reconciliation process. There were even those who argued that the reconciliation process is over and the "table of negotiations" has collapsed.
Almost a month after these incidents, when looked back upon, there was several alarming developments for the people in the region. On the one hand, the extent of the events shocked the residents of the cities. Nobody was expecting such a degree of violence, especially after the second day. It was not the first time that the Democratic Peoples' Party (HDP) had called people to the streets, and each and every time the number of demonstrators who joined the rallies was limited. Other than some clashes with security forces, the events never turned into communal violence like those in early October. This situation created a major wave of fear for those in their mid-30s and older who believed that these events could take Turkey back to the 1990s. On the other hand, those who believe that the process is over think that what complicates the situation in the aftermath of these events will be the potential involvement of external actors in the process. Especially after the Kobani protests, these feelings gained new momentum. In fact, some segments of the population are seriously disturbed because of the potential negative impacts of these external actors on the process, such as completely derailing it and using Kurdish groups for the interests of the other countries.
However, these concerns did not seem to end the process for the people in the region. More significantly, there is a psychological incentive, and a threshold was reached in the region for the necessity to end the armed conflict. Yes, some in the region believed that the demonstrations made Turkey change its position, but at the same time they did not want the repetition of these incidents. Secondly, although there are cultural and political demands of the groups, there are also social and economic expectations. The reconciliation process had different meanings for different people. The most important dimension of this is to stop armed conflicts, but the stability of the region, government, private investments, individual wealth and empowerment are also significant parts of it. The recent economic development in Turkey also increased the expectations of the population and has strengthened public opinion as well. Under current circumstances, the people of the region consider the reconciliation process and democratization as the only solution to these complicated and multidimensional problems in the region as well as the hegemony of the different groups. Because of these two reasons people in the region see the process as the best possible way out of this deadlock.
In order to reboot the process, certain steps were recently taken by the parties and a new road map was announced. In addition to this there are certain steps that were expected by the people who support the process in the region and in the country as a whole. First of all, there is a growing concern among the citizens of Turkey in general in regard to public order. The government is taking the necessary steps to provide order, but at the same time, through strategic public diplomacy, it needs to communicate clearly that it will make sure there will be a balance between freedoms and security and respond to the emerging concerns in the region about going back to a more securitized approach in the resolution process. Of course, in the process one of the "musts" for Ankara has been the disarmament of the PKK. To have an armed group operating within Turkey will not allow the development of reconciliation, will force the government to take more forceful national security measures and will lower the overall public support for the process. Public in the region also seems to be extremely disturbed by the use of violence in early October. Under these circumstances, public opinion in the region and the political actors in the Kurdish movements need to pressure for disarmament, which is a significant precondition of Ankara and part of the trust-building measures of the process. Finally, the discourse of the political actors needs to be congruent with their final goal and public opinion, which is to reach a final and sustainable reconciliation. In crisis situations, the impact of statements can be taken out of context and might be instrumental for the spoilers of peace.
About the author
Kılıç Buğra Kanat is Research Director at SETA Foundation at Washington, D.C. He is an assistant professor of Political Science at Penn State University, Erie.