DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — Turkish President Abdullah Gul told journalists in 2009, “Some great things are going to happen on the Kurdish problem soon.”
Everyone was excited by what appeared to be a door finally opening to resolving Turkey's volatile relationship with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and the United States. Four years later, a message from PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan from Imrali prison to mass crowds at Nowruz celebrations amplified hopes when he sensationally called for giving up guns and pursuing a political solution. Ocalan is serving a life sentence for treason.
Then an unexpected accord was reached in February 2015 at Istanbul’s Dolmabahce Palace between the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) and government officials. The deal generated widespread optimism that a solution was imminent. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced he would not recognize the Dolmabahce Accord one month later. Now the resumption of clashes, trench warfare in towns and Erdogan's declaration of a state of emergency have wiped out any hope for a solution.
The prevailing opinion was that Erdogan's softening Kurdish policy was causing him to lose support in parts of western Turkey where anti-Kurdish sentiment ran high, and that's why he reverted to a policy of force. The government, which kept saying it was in a struggle against terror, resisted any opening to possibly solving the Kurdish issue and even discarded what minor progress had been made. It seemed the Kurdish issue could no longer be even mentioned.
Debates eventually resumed just prior to the elections held last month. At that time, one of two outcomes seemed likely: The government would change or Erdogan would be re-elected, become even stronger and solve the issue. Erdogan did win and Kurds again turned their attention toward Ankara, wondering if any solution was in the making. But discussions were quickly shelved when the hard-line interior minister was reappointed and a hawkish senior general was named as the new defense minister.
“If there had been changes in these two ministries and the language of war, threats and insults had been abandoned, there could have been hope for a solution," but that can't happen with the same people in charge and the same forces at work, Diyarbakir citizen Kadir Karagoz told Al-Monitor.
Ayhan Bilgen, a parliament member and HDP deputy who won 52% of the votes in the mainly Kurdish southeast, said finding a resolution is essential, but there is not enough political will for it. He told Al-Monitor, "Turkey may delay the Kurdish issue, but that will make the issue even more complicated, more bloody. There is no other way but to solve this problem [quickly].”
Bayram Bozyel, deputy secretary-general of the Kurdistan Socialist Party, also believes the new administration has no intention of solving the problem peacefully. He said the appointment of hard-liners to the new Cabinet — including Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, a former chief of staff — proves his point.
“The current interior minister is a politician who made his career by opposing the Kurds. To reappoint him as the minister of interior in the new Cabinet tells us that the new government approves the current policy and wants to continue with it,” Bozyel told Al-Monitor.
"The president immediately mobilized his new powers after the elections, which means he is after absolute power, immune to audit by the legislature, the judiciary and the media. These are signs that the situation can only get worse for the Kurds,” he added.
Mehmet Vural, chairman of Dicle Social Research Center in Diyarbakir, is also among the pessimists, but he said the new administration can't just ignore the situation. He told Al-Monitor, “Today’s regime is far from a solution," but that it must end its intransigence over the Kurdish issue. "There is no other way out. How long can they delay a solution?”
Vural went on, “There are no Kurds in the government, [only a] minor presence in the parliament. The current regime doesn’t have the will or the intention to tackle the issue. Kurds are citizens and partners in this country. No matter how hard the regime resists, the Kurdish issue won’t go away."
Like the others, Vural is even more pessimistic when he looks at the Kurd-free Cabinet. “There is no one who identifies himself as a Kurd. To the contrary, there are members known to be hostile to Kurds who see the issue only in terms of terror. If you ask me, the current government doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of the issue, never mind searching for a solution.”
Until now, the government has blamed the delays in resolving the Kurdish issue to the PKK’s violence, repeating, “A solution can't be discussed with guns in their hands.” But even though over the past couple of years, the PKK has suffered military setbacks that have left it no other option than to seek a political solution, one is no closer to materializing.
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly