Only one in power can resolve Turkey Kurdish question, expert tells KurdPress

Only one person at the head of the Turkish government can solve the Kurdish problem, and now Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and to some extent Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) jailed Leader, Abdullah Ocalan, can put an end to the problem in Turkey, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs told KurdPress in an interview.

The Kurdish issue in Turkey has always been one of the most controversial and one of the most important issues in this country. One of the important aspects of the issue is the different definitions of the Kurdish issue in this country, which is why different approaches and political and military strategies to solve this issue have been adopted by both the Kurds and the central government. These include the peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK, which ended in 2015, or the ongoing military conflict between the government and the PKK.

Answering the question that who can bring an end to the Kurdish question in Turkey, Dr. Salim Cevik stated that "for anyone to solve the Kurdish problem, he has to be in power. So, to discuss any person other than Erdogan would be hypothetical. Erdogan could have solved the problem in the past and he did actually take concrete steps, but later backed down. There is one immediate reason and another deeper reason for the failure of Erdogan’s previous attempts to solve the Kurdish question. The immediate reason is related to electoral politics. Erdogan’s upmost priority is winning elections; not pursuing an ideology or implementing a certain policy. He initiated the peace process with the apparent expectation that he would get the support of Kurdish political movement in his bid to be a president with unchecked powers. He was also expecting that a significant chunk of the HDP voters would tilt towards the AKP due to AKP’s Kurdish friendly policies. When it became clear that neither expectation would materialize, he abruptly ended the peace process,"

"The deeper reason for the failure of peace process is due to a divergence on the definition of the Kurdish problem. For Erdogan and for most of the state elite that supported the peace process, Kurdish question is one of a human rights problem. If the state stops repressing the Kurds, and removes the bans on public expressions of Kurdish identity, then that would be the end of Kurdish problem. Thus, removing the bans on the public usage of Kurdish language and Kurdish language broadcasting is considered sufficient as a solution to the Kurdish question. In contrast, according to the Kurdish political movement, Kurdish question is a matter of identity politics and its solution entails the official recognition of Kurds as a collective identity. Such a solution would involve attributing an official status to the Kurdish language and some form of power sharing through greater devolution of power to the local governance structures. Given that upmost priority of Erdogan is concentrating power in his own hands, often at the expense of his long-time comrades, such a devolution of power is something Erdogan would never accept. Therefore, Erdogan might re-consider a Kurdish peace process but his attempts would always be bound to fail as long as he is not ready to share his power," he said about the main reason behind failures to resolve the issue.

About the inclination of some Turkish party leaders, including Future Part Leader and Former Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and Former Deputy PM and AK Party Leading official, Ali Babacan, for resolving the Kurdish question in Turkey, Dr. Cevik said: "with regard to Babacan and Davutoglu, neither seems to be a key player in Turkish politics in the near future. However, Babacan has better chances to appease the Kurds and currently he is more popular amongst the Kurdish voters. In contrast, Davutoglu is remembered by the repressive policies through his tenure as the prime minister. Therefore, Babacan has better credibility here. However, to solve the Kurdish question, one needs to be in a ruling position."

"Regarding Ocalan, he is more intent on a solution compared to the current leadership of the PKK. This is understandable as Ocalan is in prison and he has nothing to lose and everything to gain from any form of solution. However, despite the high stature he holds and the fact that he is deeply respected amongst the Kurdish political sphere, he is merely a figurehead and doesn’t have the sole power to decide on the future actions of the PKK. Thus, his power to be part of a solution to the Kurdish problem is quite limited. On occasion the government wants to make use of Ocalan’s stature to send a message to the Kurdish electorate sympathetic to the PKK, but it no longer works. It is the PKK leadership in Qandil that matters, not Ocalan. However, the recent history shows us that the PKK leadership in Qandil works as an obstacle to a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem. In contrast Selahattin Demirtas, former leader of the HDP, whose political appeal extends beyond the Kurdish political movement, could play a significant role in a future solution of the Kurdish problem. But as a quick answer to your question, no single individual can solve the Kurdish problem, it requires an understanding amongst the major political figures and groups in Turkey," the expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs told KurdPress about the role of the PKK leader in resolving the question.

Biden's help to resolve Kurdish question in Turkey

About US President Joe Biden's support to finding a solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey, Dr. Cevik said: "Biden is expected to support the YPG in Syria. I am not an expert on American politics, but that seems to be a likely proposition. However, would such a support mean a solution to the Kurdish problem? That is a totally different story. Biden would be more attentive to human rights violations in Turkey and might not endorse Turkey’s expansion of control on Syrian soil in the way Trump has done. Moreover, he would also support Kurdish presence in the negotiations for the future of Syria. Thus, he might be helpful in solving the Kurdish problem in Syria, but this doesn’t mean the solution of Kurdish problem in Turkey or in any other regional countries."

Erdogan attacks against the PKK and oppressing Kurdish activists

About Erdogan's success in attacking the PKK and oppressing Kurdish activists in Turkey, he stated that "He [Erdogan] has managed to militarily contain the PKK in Syria and Iraq. The gist of Turkey’s current success is to push the military conflict with the PKK from Turkish soil to the Syrian and Iraqi territories by creating defacto control zones in northern Syria and northern Iraq. Also, recent upgrades in the military technology and the effective use of military drones changed the military balance. In that sense, we can talk about a military success against the PKK. However, success against the Kurdish political movement is a different thing. Here Erdogan regime is more repressive than any former civilian government in Turkish history. All the elected mayors of the HDP are removed from office and the majority of them are arrested. Also, several MPs and senior members including Selahattin Demirtas, former party leader, is in prison with trump up charges. By this level of repression Erdogan managed to immobilize the HDP, but this could be a pyrrhic victory. The level of oppression against the Kurdish political movement pushes Kurdish electorates to an informal alliance with other opposition parties. We have seen that most recently in the 2019 municipal elections where opposition candidates won in Istanbul, Ankara and most other big cities due to votes coming from the Kurdish electorates."

"Moreover, the Kurdish AKP electorate is also becoming increasingly reluctant to support the AKP. In the 2019 Istanbul municipal elections, AKP‘s vote declined most clearly in the Kurdish populated neighbourhoods. So, we can say that the level of oppression Erdogan utilizes has become a threat to AKP’s electoral fortunes. Erdogan is aware of this fact, but he is unable to back down due to fear of losing Turkish nationalist votes. Thus, he is in a rock and hard position," he said about the situation of the Turkish president.

Is there any hope for a new Peace process in Turkey?

About possible resumption of the halted Kurdish peace process in Turkey, Dr. Cevik said: "Erdogan is an extremely flexible and pragmatic politician. If he decides that a new peace process would bring him the votes that he desperately needs now, he wouldn’t hesitate to start a new peace process. As I explained above, he needs the Kurdish votes and thus considers to start a new peace process. However, there are certain obstacles."

"First of all, he tied himself too much to the far-right Turkish nationalist agenda. He stays in power only by the support of the ultranationalist MHP. Without the backing of the MHP, he wouldn’t have reached the 50 percent votes necessary for the presidential election and also the AKP wouldn’t have been able to form the majority in the parliament. Therefore, along with some minor far right political parties the AKP and MHP has formed the People’s Alliance. For a new Kurdish opening to happen, Erdogan would have to either convince his partners in the alliance or he would risk breaking the current alliance. The second option seems very unlikely. Over the last few years a symbiosis emerged between the two parties and the AKP electorate also shifted towards Turkish nationalism as a result of heavy government and state propaganda. It would be politically too risky to shift that position once again and revert back to a peace process," he said about the hurdles on resolving the decades-long question in Turkey.

About possible Erdogan pre-conditions for resuming and returning to the peace process, the expert stated that "Erdogan would initiate a new process only if he can convince his allies on the necessity of such a process and if he can get their approval and support. While this is not entirely impossible, it is unlikely to happen in the near future. Instead, in the short run, Erdogan would probably orchestrate the formation of new Kurdish political parties. These parties would object to the ultranationalist policies followed by the current government yet they will remain in the People’s Alliance. Thus, Erdogan will try to keep both Turkish nationalists and Kurdish nationalists under his People’s Alliance. These parties could be an address for the disillusioned Kurdish electorate of the AKP. At least that seems to be Erdogan’s game plan."

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