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Not enough is publicized to know in detail what has and is going on between the Turkish state and PKK. As in all such processes there are leaks to media, circulation of rumors, and some confirmed facts available for those who want to get a better understanding of the negotiations. The following analysis are based on interviews, media reports, and academic studies.
The secret and direct talks with PKK and their imprisoned leader Öcalan in late 2012 opened up for a possible ceasefire. This was a wise and brave step for all involved. After years of military confrontation a window of opportunity became available through these talks. A possible withdrawal of PKK troops to Northern Iraq (despite opposition to these plans from the leadership in Baghdad) could make it easier for other issues to be discussed.
There are several parallels in recent decades to these negotiations; and at the same time they are of course unique. Both the conflicts Northern Ireland, in Corsica, and the Basque ones have similarities. What are Kurdish/Turkish lessons to be learned so far from these other cases?
First and most important is that no complex conflicts have military solutions. There are no empirical evidence that military forces will solve problems. Troops are trained, equipped, and best at killing people. This goes for state armies as well as guerrillas and networks of violent political fighters. Solutions are found around negotiating tables and not on the battlefields. The ongoing confrontations between PKK fighters and state troops are neither efficient not helpful for the necessary political solutions.
Another lesson is that divided stakeholders have very small chances to achieve their goals. The Kurdish population are weak mainly due to all the division lines within the population. This goes for Kurds in Turkey, but also in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and the Diaspora. Without a better unity they will have slight possibilities for progress in achieving their goals. Such unity can only be The division lines within the Turkish political elite (both government and Parliament) is a serious obstacle for developing a broad and sustainable strategy in any future negotiations with PKK and other Kurdish stakeholders.
Experiences from successful peace-building processes tells us that it is crucial to include all main stakeholders. They all have an “ownership-relation” to the conflicts that affect them. Many stakeholders not invited will see the exclusion as a theft or robbery. “Don’t steal my conflict; it is about my future”. That is not to says that they all shall sit around the same table on day one, but their voices, opinions, and not least ideas must be fed into the discussions. More participants, means more ideas on the table! The Council of Elders and their travels around in Turkey was obviously a step in the right direction. The composition of the Council has been criticized (with many different arguments), and it could obviously have had a broader base. More important would have been to have a similar Council established by prominent and respected Kurdish leaders from different segments of the Kurdish population. That would have been a way to get a more balanced input into the public debate and many more ideas about how to solve the present problems and those ahead.
Two events that took place in and around Turkey during the negotiations had enormous impacts on the talks with PKK. The escalating civil war (with international influences) in Syria and the protests that spread from Istanbul to many cities during 2013 dethroned the Kurdish talks from the top of the political agenda. The government had serious emergencies to handle and none of them were easy to manage. The positive international reactions on the negotiations with PKK turned into a harsh criticism of how Erdogan dealt with internal demonstrations. EU and many other important international actors “forgot” the positive development around the Kurdish issue and saw only brutal police forces using teargas on unarmed civilians. When the ongoing, and extreme complex, situation in Syria had several spillovers into Turkish territory, the government had to focus on how to prevent the violence to escalate on Turkish territory.
As an additional element the Kurds fighting against the government in Syria have an agenda about a Kurd controlled territory. This could develop into an important factor for the Kurds in fighting for autonomy and/or independence in Turkey.
Conclusions: For the relations between the Turkish state and major Kurdish groups to improve there is a crucial that both main sides are able to be more united. Those division lines in both “camps” that exist today will make it impossible for any peace-building processes to be anything more than short lived symbolic actions. More voices must be included in the peace efforts and the process will not achieve the stated goals without more transparency and a broader participation. There are no short cuts to a sustainable and solid peace; this will and must be allowed to take time.
Include people with experiences from similar processes as consultants, engage academics in research and studies, religious communities in reconciliation processes, and more broad based “Council of Wise People”. All these three points are not only important but necessary for a reduction of the level of violence in the conflict(-) between Turkey and armed Kurdish units.
The “Kurdish Issue” deserves high priority even in times of internal riots and civil wars in the neighborhoods! It is of crucial importance for all peoople living in Turkey!