Missed opportunity

The Turkish public has been occupied with the word “process” over the past two years, or in other words, the “solution process” of the Kurdish problem.

The so-called problem was first associated with terrorism but the terrorists later came to be labelled “an ethnic group,” though no name was given. In fact, the origin of the problem was the denial of the existence of this ethnic group (Kurds) and the repression of their cultural demands. Finally, their name was acknowledged after long years of rebellion.

For decades the solution of the Kurdish problem was the military’s mission. Naturally, the military did the best it could by trying to eradicate the problem, which was to eradicate those associated with the problem.

This method turned the issue into low intensity warfare that depleted the valuable material and human resources of the country. Thousands of people vanished in covert operations against the “internal enemy” and the impunity of the assassins and their patrons truncated the legal system. Anti-terrorism laws and practices focused on the illegal drug and arms trade often involved officials and confidence in the political system grew thin. Few people dared to say this result was a deficiency of the exclusive and authoritarian system, rather than the making of the Kurds those that did were brutally repressed or liquidated.

In 2005, the failure to suppress the problem led to the search for a new approach. Political methods, rather than force and coercion were preferred and declared in the resolution of the National Security Council (MGK) held that year and so the military left the mission to the civilian authority after 11 governments had failed to solve the problem.

The Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) security approach had created a formidable problem: Reluctance to reconcile with the “enemy” that had killed soldiers (sons of many families) and wanted to divide the country. How could the people befriend a fatal foe that until yesterday was demonized? How could calls for revenge by the government be replaced with brotherly love in such a short time?

Without proper psychological preparation to transform an old foe into a new partner in peace, popular resistance to reconciliation with the enemy started to appear in public opinion polls.

Especially those families whose sons had fallen on the battleground loudly questioned what had obliged the government to make peace with the enemy. Was it the defeat of the mighty Turkish army or the capitulation of the government? Most of the people questioned the logic of bargaining with the terrorists for peace and all the reforms that were associated with it.

The AKP government, which drew most of its support from these families, could not come up with a plausible answer and started to retract from the peace process, reverting back to the enemy and terrorist rhetoric. It remained loyal to the security paradigm in explaining the nature of the Kurdish problem.

However, negotiations were underway with the armed-wing of the Kurds — the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — and its political affiliates. In order to ward of political criticism, the government never abandoned its top down attitude of slandering and demonizing its interlocutor. It did not give the Kurdish side a formal name or legal status, contrary to conflict resolution procedures. Yet at the same time, the government pushed the Kurds to abandon their arms without fulfilling its side of the bargain — democratization of the political system, developing a pluralist Constitution and multi-cultural public policy as well as decentralizing the authoritarian administrative system — things that should never be negotiated with any armed group.

Why did the AKP government give the impression that democratization and decentralization were a condition required for settlement with the Kurds? The AKP leadership never gave a plausible answer to this question.

The government’s reluctance to reconcile with the Kurdish political movement halted the government’s momentum in realizing comprehensive reform of the political system, holding that bargaining with an armed group for such civic duties was unnecessary. But the government fell into this trap. Now that the majority of people do not want any concessions given to the PKK, the government found it all too expedient to stop short of the mission with the excuse that people do not want a negotiated settlement with the terrorists. However, it is the people of Turkey who are losing their wish for a full-fledged democracy to the whims of the government, the democratic credentials of which do not go beyond a tutelary regime.