Abraham Lincoln is one of few U.S. presidents that ordinary people outside the U.S. could recall immediately. And say a hundred years from now, other than the founding President George Washington, possibly Lincoln, John Kennedy and Barack Obama (and possibly the first Latin and first woman) will be recalled by those outside the U.S.A.
It was Lincoln who put an end to slavery and it was Kennedy who put an end to segregation between white and black. It is true that they both had tragic ends but that is not the issue here; the issue is that they are remembered for what they have done for the rights of people coming from birth. They were the ones to pave the way for Obama as the first African-American president of the U.S.A.
Erdogan and the Kurdish problem
Lincoln’s struggle to end slavery under the circumstances of a civil war is the theme of Steven Spielberg’s latest film ‘Lincoln’. It is surprising to see the similarities of the circumstances under which Lincoln had taken his steps to end slavery and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has been taking with the aim to find a political solution to Turkey’s chronic Kurdish problem.
There should be no room for misunderstanding: Kurds are among native peoples of this geography and Africans were taken to America by force and enslaved in sugar and cotton plantations; there is no similarity in that sense. The similarities are in the political circumstances and in parameters.
Lincoln was trying to get the Congress to approve a Constitutional amendment of regime changing qualities when the Civil War was getting more and more devastating.
Erdoğan is trying to find a political end to an armed conflict within the country and trying to get the Parliament approve a new Constitution of regime changing qualities.
In both cases the Constitutional process and the process to give an end to the conflict are closely related and converging.
Knowing that if the peace talks with the pro-slavery South will start officially, the House will leave the Constitution aside, Lincoln handled the processes simultaneously. Meanwhile he used occasional unethical methods to deceive some Democrat members and did not stop military campaign against the rebels, but without making a fuss about it.
He knew that people’s number one demand was to have an end to war which was taking their sons from their hands. Not peace necessarily, but to have an end to war, which are actually two different things.
Lincoln managed to instigate a perception that if slavery ends the war will end too.
Supporting peace talks
Erdoğan has to know in today’s Turkey that the silent and cautious support that he is getting from people for the dialogue process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party PKK (as an organization whose armed campaign has claimed 40 thousand lives in the last three decades) is not because people have complicated thoughts about peace, but simply to have an end to bloodshed and conflict. Regardless of being parents of soldiers or militants, the majority do not want to hear the death news of their children anymore.
This is a rare moment. Erdoğan has a bases when he says ‘War is easier, peace is difficult’ when he makes a call to Kurdish origin politicians to share the responsibility. He also has to know that to project this support for the Constitutional process in order to give more uncontrollable power to executive body and to use it as president might put the Kurdish solution process in jeopardy. He has to use this rare chance carefully.
If he can do this and convince people that a political solution to Kurdish problem is on track and the conflict is over, yes, there is a chance that Erdoğan can be the Lincoln of Turkey. And like Lincoln, perhaps be recalled as second to Turkey’s founding president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk for those looking from outside.
This article first appeared on Hurriyet Daily News on Feb.18, 2013.
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.