UTSAM director Özkan: PKK more disposed to reconciliation if weakened
by Ali Ünal
ANKARASep 14, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Ali Ünal
Sep 14, 2015 12:00 am
As the PKK weakens, it will become more disposed to the resolution of the issue, says UTSAM director Mehmet Özkan. ‘While casualties seem to have embittered the PKK for the time being, I believe this will change when negotiations restart'
Terrorist activities increased last month with attacks by three terrorist organizations: the PKK, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). Ankara has intensified security measures to fight terror. Daily Sabah spoke with Dr. Mehmet Özkan, the director of the International Center for Terrorism and Transnational Crime (UTSAM), about the increased terrorist attacks and the future of Turkey's reconciliation process.
Özkan finds the claims that Turkey is returning to the 1990s very assertive and says the recent events have made the PKK a real subject of terrorism. According to Özkan, when terror and its social base are disintegrated, we will be seeing the fight much more clearly. Regarding the future of the reconciliation process, he believes that these processes do not have a linear progression, that the parameters will be reset after the Nov. 1 elections and other experiences should be considered while they are being reset. Underlining that as Kurdish politics are unable to utilize new discourses, Özkan said the only exit for the PKK seems to be its own disarmament.
DS: The PKK attacks over the last week caused a severe reaction in Turkey and led to many protests. How do you evaluate these protests? In your opinion, can the PKK cause a conflict between Turks and Kurds?
Actually, the PKK's aim was to create a conflict between Turks and Kurds. The campaign by both local and foreign media supported this conflict as well. However, with these actions, the PKK is committing suicide in a political sense. The return to arms of a movement that achieved its political apex harmed their own credibility and political base. It can be said that Kurdish politics became a victim of its own success. The only exit for the PKK seems to be its own disarmament as Kurdish politics is unable to utilize new discourses.
DS: On the other hand, we have witnessed the almost-coordinated actions of ISIS, the DHKP-C and PKK during the last month. How do you regard this?
The DHKP-C and PKK are different from each other, but they have many aspects in common such as their political tendencies. They implicitly support each other. These two organizations are on the move against the political power and stability of Turkey. While the PKK is an extensive organization with political ties, the DHKP-C is a smaller, yet effective terrorist organization. We can observe some cooperation between these two terrorist organizations. In this manner, I do not see any difference between them. Ultimately, they are both organizations that pose a threat to the country's security. Turkey's fight against these organizations, however, differs in a strategic sense, but the aim is the same, to prevent both of them.
ISIS on the other hand, is not just a security threat to Turkey, but also a social, political and religious one. Turkey is a Muslim country and ISIS recruits from Muslim countries. Socially, Turkey regards ISIS as a threat to its public base. ISIS's use of Islam creates the issue's religious aspect while its threat to the region constitutes the political part of the issue. Therefore, ISIS is not only a security issue, as the West tends to see it. It is more than just a security issue. This indicates that a more comprehensive strategy against ISIS is needed. The applications such as the controls conducted at airports and the prevention of foreign fighters had already been implemented. I regard the latest report from the Presidency of Religious Affairs on ISIS as crucial. On the other hand, regarding the social aspect of the issue, the phone lines to report people who want to join the ISIS are active.
In the last two months many crucial operations against ISIS were launched in Turkey. Many of the terrorist cells were disrupted. There were many developments regarding joint operations against ISIS with the U.S. However, all of these aim to contain ISIS rather than destroy it. A comprehensive solution is not possible yet due to the discord in the international community. The only point of accord is the fact that something must be done to stop ISIS.
DS: With the increasing frequency of terrorist attacks, there are claims that Turkey is returning to the 1990s. How do you evaluate this?
I think that these statements are very assertive. Firstly, Turkey's fight against terror in the 1990s should be questioned on the premise of whether it was a real fight or not. Was Turkey fighting against an ethnic group or a region, or was it only a defensive approach against those who question the nation-state identity – these should be answered. The recent events have made the PKK a real subject of terrorism. Reward for those who report the leaders of the PKK is being discussed. For the first time I believe that there is disintegration between the organization and its social base. The social base says that it does not want this conflict and Turkey has based its fight on terror on this base. In my opinion, Turkey is realizing its fight against terror for the first time.
I believe that the previous instances were done out of nation-state reflexes and there was not a distinction made between Kurdish citizens and terror. It is possible to talk about an all-out fight in the 1990s, and this is a mistake of the state. Some politicians have acknowledged it as a mistake. Now, the state is bringing investment and service to east and southeastern Anatolia, seeing it as an inseparable part of Turkey.
DS: We are seeing indications that the fight against the PKK, which previously took place in rural areas, has shifted to the cities. How do you regard this?
As the PKK started to lose its social base it started to try to establish its own authority in cities. Currently, the PKK is forcing the social base to support itself. Establishing courts and forced recruitment are indicators of this. It also reveals that the PKK is weakened.
I think that the state's emphasis on public order is crucial. The PKK has become only a terrorist organization, ceasing to be a representative of the Kurdish population and their issues. This is also connected with shifting Kurdish politics. The Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has 80 seats in Parliament. Therefore, you are represented with 80 deputies and, simultaneously, there is a reconciliation process conducted by the political power. The only thing the PKK can do is to resort to violence and try to subdue the social base. The urban organization of the PKK should be regarded in this manner.
The state has seen the PKK's moves and is trying to consolidate public order in the region as a counter measure. The discussions regarding the safety of the elections are a part of this. When terror and it social base are disintegrated, we will see the fight much more clearly.
DS: There are many statements from the government that they have not ended the reconciliation process, but will not negotiate until the PKK disarms and withdraws from Turkey. On the other hand, the reconciliation process had started because the 30 years of armed struggle did not yield any satisfactory results. What has changed?
The actors and the factors were different when the reconciliation process started in 2012. There was a weak Kurdish political party in Parliament. Currently, there is a stronger Kurdish political party that is on its way to becoming a broad-based movement. Therefore, the actors have changed. Regarding the factors, ISIS was nonexistent in 2012. Therefore, the view that both sides would benefit from reconciliation was dominant. This has also changed. The parameters should be reset to start the reconciliation again due to these changes.
The cease-fire in 2012 was introduced as a partial reconciliation process and the people accepted it this way. There were many suspicions and criticism of the reconciliation. However, from 2012 onward it was seen that the people were supporting the process. When the process was seen as it would be in effect regardless of what was to come and the PKK did not hold onto its promises to disarm and withdraw, so the parameters became invalid. From this point on, I think that Turkey may employ some parameters derived from the Colombian experience.
There are currently there reconciliation processes in the world, one in Colombia, another in the Philippines and the one here in Turkey. If we are to talk about Colombia, the negotiating parties first agreed that a cease-fire does not mean the end of conflict. Therefore, during the negotiations, the state is allowed to launch operations. The second clause foresees that nothing is determined until everything is agreed on. They have realized three stages of this six-stage plan in Colombia. Colombia can launch operations during negotiations, which cause a one month halt, but it continues afterward. We could not implement these parameters completely. Therefore, we have to reset the parameters and mutually agree. The process may be halted until it is resolved as these processes do not have a linear progression; these should be clarified. In my opinion, the parameters will be reset after the Nov. 1 elections and other experiences should be considered while they are being reset.
DS: There are intermediary countries in many of the reconciliation processes throughout the world. Turkey is one of the intermediaries in the process in the Philippines. However, Turkey regards an intermediary negatively regarding the process with the PKK. What is your opinion on this subject?
The West has always been indecisive in Turkey's fight against the PKK. While it supported one side with statements, it has supported the other with actions. Therefore, this has created distrust, which makes Turkey reject any intermediaries.
The process in the Philippines is different. The most significant success of the process there is that the parties hold onto their promises. If the PKK had done what it promised, the process would be progressing without the need for an intermediary. If the intermediary has the duty to carry a message, it is unnecessary, as there is a political party with 80 seats in Parliament. The negotiations are already there, which renders an intermediary invalid. What will the intermediary observe? The PKK's disarmament? The PKK has disrupted the process and now wants it to continue. However, they do not know how to do it so they are demanding an intermediary.
DS: Do civilian Kurdish politics not want peace? Or are they unable to create a discourse for peace? What is your opinion?
Much of its leverage was taken from it. They are not clear about their or the PKK's aims in Turkey. There are talks about autonomy, but there are not any concrete details about its extent or characteristics. Therefore, we are observing that the PKK is becoming poorer regarding political discourse. There is a state that is trying to resolve the issue and wants a political offer. Previously, rights and the region's economic development and democratization were talked about. These have all been achieved. When you do not have any political offers left, you do not have any other alternative than violence. I regard the increasing frequency of violence in this manner. They do not have any other methods to motivate their militants. Their militants will also start to question this situation.
Regarding autonomy, we are currently in a discussion about the political system. The consolidation of local administrations is a widely supported topic. It is acknowledged that everything should not be administered from the center. There are many works on reforming local administrations. Therefore, especially for the PKK, it can be talked about a serious deprivation of political discourse regarding Kurdish politics. Their efforts to reestablish their authority in cities as a result of this disappointment only wounds the civilian political wing of the movement. This indicates that they are at a crossroads. They have to decide between violence and politics.
I think that this will be determined after the Nov. 1 elections. Whatever their decision will be, I do not think they will abandon the reconciliation process. However, after the elections, the responsibility of Kurdish political actors will be tested.
DS: There was progress and steps back when in the process with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Basque National Liberation Movement (ETA). Is Turkey going through a similar stage?
The reconciliation process has been halted temporarily. We can call it a setback phase, but the process is being maintained in general, as the social base supports it. It is quite challenging to compare it with other examples. We are talking about an issue that has ethnic, geographic and social layers. It also has connections with how the nation-state of Turkey was established. It may be partially compared with the situation in the Philippines, but the structure is different. Therefore, it is a specific and multilayered issue. There are regional dynamics to the Kurdish issue that also concerns Iran, Iraq and Syria. While many states have a one dimensional issue with terrorist organizations, Turkey has a multidimensional one, which makes it hard to compare. Yet there are many things to learn from their experiences. We should not lose the social base. The essential element in preserving the connection with the social base will be the religious-cultural common ground. In a militaristic perspective, it is hard to progress if the PKK stands strong. As it weakens, it will become more disposed to the resolution of the issue. While casualties seem to have embittered the PKK for the time being, I believe this will change when negotiations restart. Peace is the only solution.
While it is a different experience for each of country, if the reconciliation process in Turkey is successful, in my opinion, it will become a crucial model for other countries.