In the wake of the ISIS threat, the Turkish Parliament recently adopted a motion for troop deployment that combines previous motions focusing on Iraq and Syria, and re-evaluated its contents according to the most recent developments that place international peace at risk. Making references to U.N. resolutions and invoking the right to self-defense, the document not only creates the legal basis of Turkey's participation in the international coalition but also allows the authorities to take necessary precautions with an eye on future threats to the nation's security and the reconciliation process associated with ISIS violence and its ramifications.
Recent developments, of course, raise questions about the effects of this mandate on the reconciliation process. After all, the PKK, a Kurdish nationalist movement whose militants represent the primary security threat for Turkey in the region, happens to be party to the ongoing talks. The reconciliation process, though, predates the negotiations as the civilian government took various steps to ensure the free exercise of citizens' liberties. As the guardianship regime gradually lost its influence in the political arena, the government recognized the Kurdish community's rights, that they had been deprived for a century, while expanding the domain of civilian politics. During this period, the authorities eliminated a range of hurdles that discouraged diversity, cultural activities, the free use of native languages and political organizations - all of whom helped pave the way for the reconciliation process. With the restoration of a functioning democracy and the military's diminishing influence over civilian politics, the violent campaign of the PKK, which claims to fight for the Kurdish community's rights, has lost all legitimacy. The most recent developments, which arose against the backdrop of the ISIS siege on Kobani, however, seem to complicate the picture.
As a matter of fact, the PKK and its political wing insist that the Turkish government assists ISIS militants and therefore claims that the mandate to deploy troops actually serves as a pretext to target the PKK. When one mistakes the small piece of land over which the organization exercises some level of control with the center of the world and consequently approaches all phenomena with reference to this point, of course, it becomes quite difficult to think about the situation in any other way. Analyses become irrational as this political movement loses its ability to engage in self-criticism. Absolute confidence, coupled with a centralized organizational structure, shapes notions of friendship and hostility and becomes the only way to distinguish good from bad.
At the end of the day, the organization no longer seems to serve as an instrument to defend the Kurdish community's rights but effectively becomes the end goal itself. Over the course of this transformation, responsible and constructive steps become increasingly difficult to encounter. As such, even the slightest disagreement tends to spark acts of violence. Vandalism, murder, kidnapping and other transgressions rapidly become the order of the day. The problems that the movement causes in Turkey today with reference to the ongoing siege of Kobani, like the wave of violence they seek to spread across the country, hurts none but the Kurdish community itself. After all, such acts prevent normalization, liberalization and political participation - which the Kurds desperately need - while placing democratic reforms at risk. Not only does the movement make room for the anti-democratic front in the country but also these activities trigger nationalist reactions.
The PKK-oriented perspective at work today makes it impossible for the organization's membership to accurately interpret historical developments and political realities while causing great harm to the very people whose rights they claim to defend. Unfortunately, demagogues and smooth talkers cannot help the movement avoid its responsibilities. The Kurdish nationalist movement currently faces a decision between assuming a historic role in the history of the Kurdish people and harming the Kurds for its own gain. The mandate, indeed, has created a golden opportunity to foster the reconciliation process. And it only takes a quick switch from a PKK-oriented approach to a new perspective that remains in touch with popular sentiments to seize it.
About the author
Osman Can is a Law Professor and Reporting Judge at the Turkish Constitutional Court. He holds a PhD from the University of Cologne, Germany.