The Turkish government has made a game-changing move on the country’s chronic Kurdish problem by letting two Kurdish-origin members of Parliament visit the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, at his İmralı island prison on Jan. 3 following a number of contacts with him by Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT).
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin told reporters that his ministry had decided to give a positive answer to the applications of the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to talk to Öcalan themselves instead of hearing what he says on the future of the Kurdish problem from government officials, lawyers or his relatives. Ergin justified this move, which is pushing the limits of the law, by saying they hoped it would be a contribution to ongoing efforts; the actual driving force and the decision maker in the process is, of course, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan.
Two members of Parliament were apparently taken to İmralı under the auspices of the Justice Ministry, Ayla Akat Ata and Ahmet Türk. The delegation is a carefully selected one. Türk, a Kurdish-origin veteran of Turkish politics is not a member of the BDP, mainly because of a legal ban on his being a party member. But he is well-respected not only among Kurds in Turkey but in Iraq and Syria as well. Ata, on the other hand, is the age of Türk’s daughter and represents a newer generation of Kurdish politics that grew up in a political atmosphere dominated by the actions of the PKK. Plus she is a member of the Constitution Conciliation Commission in Parliament, which is to write a new and hopefully more-democratic Constitution for Turkey.
There are two more reasons for not being so pessimistic this time, considering the failures of the recent past. The first and the most important one is the BDP’s full engagement in the process. The two co-chairs of the BDP, Gültan Kışanak and Selahattin Demirtaş, have split into two to convince, well, mainly the PKK, which shares the same grassroots with the BDP, according to Türk himself.
Demirtaş focused on Diyarbakır in southeast Turkey as the heartland of Kurdish nationalism. Kışanak flew to Brussels to meet ranking PKK officials there in order to convey the messages of Öcalan and also the government.
This is because the opposing voices from within the PKK system have already started. Zübeyr Aydar, the executive of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), said it would not be enough for the government to talk to Öcalan only. As a former member of the Turkish Parliament, Aydar had taken part in the failed Oslo talks between MİT and the PKK in 2009-2010.
Another uneasy voice came from the Kandil Mountains in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Murat Karayılan, as de facto leader of the PKK, said that laying down arms could not be the aim and constitutional recognition of political rights was needed to end violence. The first step according to both Karayılan and Yalçın Akdoğan, Erdoğan’s adviser on Kurdish and security-related issues could be the withdrawal of all PKK militants from Turkish borders.
But the laying down of arms is the most important aim according to Erdoğan. And there comes the second important reason to be not that pessimistic this time. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has given his blessing for the dialogue between the government and the PKK as long as it serves the laying down of arms and an end to violence.
The fact that the process has accelerated at a time when the parties in Parliament have agreed to accelerate the writing of the new Constitution makes Turkish politics more interesting to watch closely nowadays.
*This article was published in the Hurriyet Daily News on Jan. 5, 2013. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-makes-game-changing-move-on-kurdish-problem-.aspx?pageID=449&nID=38417&NewsCatID=409
Murat Yetkin is the current editor-in-chief of Hurriyet Daily News and a columnist for Radikal, a Turkish publication. He is a political commentator on Turkish and Middle Eastern affairs and has previously worked for BBC World Service and AFP. He can be found on Twitter: @MuratYetkin2.