Turkey Pulse

Ocalan Negotiations Impact Future of Turkish Presidency

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s negotiations with Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), are not just over a peace agreement; they have implications for the future of the Turkish presidency, writes Kadri Gursel.

Very interesting, moreover, very ironic.

One of them is a Kurdish leader sentenced to life and who has already spent 14 years in a special island prison in the Sea of Marmara, and the other is a prime minister who has been ruling Turkey for 10 years in an increasingly authoritarian fashion. And now the most powerful man in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is bargaining through intermediaries with the most famous prisoner in Turkey over the new regime to be set up in Turkey.

Three members of the parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) were permitted to visit Abdullah Ocalan in his prison on Feb. 23. The minutes of their meeting were published by the mainstream daily Milliyet last Thursday [Feb. 28]. We read through it and confirmed that the “presidency in return for peace” haggling we wrote about earlier was actually in progress.

According to the account in Milliyet, Ocalan told the visiting parliamentarians: “We can think of an executive presidential system. We will support Tayyip Bey’s presidency. We can go into a presidential alliance with the Justice and Development Party [AKP].” He then lists his conditions.

Erdogan wants to be an extremely powerful president. In the presidential regime of his dreams there is no separation of powers. In the proposal his party submitted to the parliamentary Constitutional Conciliation Commission, we saw that the president who will be the uncontested single ruler of the executive will also have substantial powers over the judiciary and legislative. Entire power will be in the hands of the president.

Erdogan’s AKP doesn’t control enough seats in the parliament to pass a constitutional draft that will deliver to their leader the presidency of his dreams. Therefore he needs outside support. The only party he can cooperate with to get that support is the BDP.

Fine, but quid pro quo?

The formula for cooperation goes like this: In return for the support for the presidency Erdogan wants, the Constitution will be primed for a solution to the Kurdish issue. Stipulations that introduce neutral citizenships without ethnic or national references, mother-tongue education and autonomy for local administrations will be in the constitution.

But an “authoritarian presidency” is not the precondition for peace in Turkey. A presidential regime has no relevance to peace. On the contrary, a peace without such a presidency would be more just and lasting.

How did Turkey reach this point? Let’s briefly remember: Turkey’s founding fathers in the 1920s and '30s, while laying the foundation of the modern Turkish Republic they planned as secular nation-state, did not seek the blessings of two segments of the population: The religious conservatives and the Kurds. 

The secular Turkish Republic ruptured all ties with the Ottoman legacy and started to build a new, secular Turkish national identity. This secular state took historical and radical steps aiming at secularizing the conservative subjects of the Ottoman legacy.

The new nation-state took radical steps to create a Turkish nation from the Ottoman remnants of the population. To assimilate the Kurds, that is, efforts to make them Turks, went on until the beginning of the 2000s, despite everything.

The modern Turkish Republic could only partially succeed in its goal of creating a secular nation from Ottoman subjects.

Those who could not be secularized or be ''Turkified'' confronted the secular republic with issues of religious conservatism and Kurds. We went through account settling.

The 2009/2010 period was the turning point of the struggle by Islamists and Kurds against the power centers that represent the basic philosophy of the secular Turkish nation-state.

In those two years, the neo-Islamist elite in the government routed the Kemalist, republican military-bureaucratic tutelage forces and thus became the new masters of the state. These new masters of the state also inherited the war the state was waging against the armed Kurdish movement. The neo-Islamists belatedly realized that this conflict could not be resolved through military means and began to search for a peaceful settlement.

The internal and regional circumstances of Turkey were also demanding a political solution to the Kurdish issue.

Look at Ocalan’s historical awareness when talking to the visiting parliamentarians:

“Old habits must be disowned altogether. Why? Because this will be a change of regime. It will be much more important than Tanzimat and Mesrutiyet [1839, 1876 and 1908 Ottoman administrative and constitutional reforms]; from the [declaration of] republic and transition to multi-party life in 1950. It will be more profound than all those. If we succeed, there will be a brand new republic … radical democracy, full democracy, full democratization of Anatolia and Mesopotamia. These are what I am preparing for.”

If we assume for a moment that Ocalan’s intention is really “full democratization,” we clearly see from his party’s constitutional amendment proposals that Erdogan wants to be an “elected sultan.’’

Perhaps Ocalan wasn’t all that pleased with the presidential regime imposed on him. Look what he had to say: "The presidency should be like the US one, with a senate as a state assembly. Second, there should be an assembly of the people. This you can call the democratic assembly, like the House of Representatives in the US.”

The bargaining process between the neo-Islamists and the Kurdish movement over a new regime in Turkey signifies a historical turning point, no matter what its outcome may be.

Kadri Gürsel is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse and has written a column for the Turkish daily Milliyet since 2007. He focuses primarily on Turkish foreign policy, international affairs and Turkey’s Kurdish question, as well as Turkey’s evolving political Islam. He joined the Milliyet publishing group in 1997 as vice editor-in-chief of a newly launched weekly news magazine, Artı-Haber, and was Milliyet’s foreign news editor from 1999 until 2008. Gürsel was also a correspondent for Agence France-Presse between 1993 and 1997, and in 1995 was kidnapped by the PKK, an experience he recounted in his book Dağdakiler (Those of the Mountains), published in 1996. He is also chairman of the Turkish National Committee of the International Press Institute.

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נמצא ב: turkey, pkk, human rights in turkey, bdp, akp

קאדרי גורסל הוא בעל טור בטורקיה פולס של של-מוניטור, ובשנים 2007 עד יולי 2015 היה גם בעל טור ביומון הטורקי Milliyet. הוא מתמקד בעיקר במדיניות החוץ של טורקיה, ביחסים בינלאומיים ובשאלת הכורדים, וכן בהתפתחות האיסלאם הפוליטי בטורקיה. תמצאו אותו בטוויטר: @KadriGursel

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