ANKARA: Amid the political quakes currently rocking Turkey, one relatively “quiet” appointment to a key post could turn out to have a major impact on the country’s approach to its decades-long unresolved Kurdish conflict.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday appointed former Interior Minister Efkan Ala as deputy leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) responsible for foreign affairs.
According to experts, this appointment, if supported by practical reforms, could signal a softer and more conciliatory tone in Turkey with regard to its Kurdish community.
Ala’s appointment followed in the wake of ex-finance minister, Naci Agbal, moving to replace Murat Uysal as head of the central bank, and Lutfi Elvan taking over as minister of treasury and finance from Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak who resigned from the post on Sunday.
Ala, who served as Turkey’s interior minister for three years before quitting just after the failed coup attempt in July 2016, was elected deputy in the 2018 parliamentary elections. His ministerial post was taken up by the controversial figure, Suleyman Soylu, until now.
One of Ala’s most spectacular initiatives as minister was his support for the peace process between the country and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Born in the northeastern province of Erzurum, Ala also served as governor of the southeastern provinces of Batman and Diyarbakir between 2003 and 2007 – a period when the conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK reached its peak.
He was among the team that carried out peace negotiations on behalf of the government during the failed resolution process. He also spoke to PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan who has been held at the Imrali island prison since 1999.
Ala also conducted talks with Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies in February 2015 to outline the steps required to ensure a cease-fire between the Turkish state and the PKK. The 10-point declaration that ensued from the negotiations five months later was never endorsed by Erdogan who even said he did not accept the reconciliatory content of the roadmap which was shared jointly by the HDP and AKP deputies at that time.
“Ala is such a figure that he may act as a bridge between the ruling government and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party to reach a peace process. He is known as a bureaucrat who has held communication channels always open,” Roj Girasun, the head of Diyarbakir-based Rawest Research Center, told Arab News.
He said that Ala had the backing of the Kurdish political elite, including HDP-linked local authorities and politicians, support that no other AKP official had previously benefited from.
The HDP is currently the largest party represented in the Turkish parliament. During local elections in March last year, the party won 65 municipalities, but six mayors were never given their mandates and the rest were gradually dismissed over terror-related charges and replaced by government appointees. As of November, the HDP had six district municipalities.
Burak Bilgehan Ozpek, an Ankara-based political analyst, told Arab News that the latest assignments of the government hinted at a period of political pragmatism.
“Rather than imposing policies built on national security and nationalism paradigms from top-down, as it has so far, the government appears to be starting to develop grassroots policies by listening out to the local level,” he said.
He pointed out that the government may take steps to launch dialogue with its Kurdish citizens by using a softer and pragmatic tone of nationalism.
“This call won’t be immediately reciprocated at the HDP voter base but may find some positive reaction from a Kurdish constituency who develop emotional ties with the state.
“However, it is likely that such appointments may be conceived as cosmetic steps if they are not supported by a reform wave such as appointing a Kurdish-origin minister and decreasing the nationalistic reflexes of the ruling government,” Ozpek added.
Some politicians remain skeptical about how far Ala’s appointment will go in leading to much-awaited peace with the country’s Kurdish community, that makes up about one-fifth of the population.
On Nov. 9, at least 10 people, including HDP Cizre district co-chair, Guler Tunc, and the HDP’s dismissed Cizre co-mayor, Berivan Kutlu, were taken into custody in Cizre following house raids carried out in the Kurdish-majority Sirnak province.
Tulay Hatimogullari, the HDP’s lawmaker from the southern province of Adana, said: “We are ready to do our share to bring the Kurdish peace process back on track, but the government doesn’t send us strong signals for its own commitment. The Kurdish population, whose elected mayors are dismissed and who face daily discrimination and political crackdown, has its trust undermined seriously.
“At least one member of each Kurdish family in the southeastern provinces has recently been jailed for political reasons. The mayors they elected are also imprisoned.
“Many concrete steps should be taken in order to gain back their trust since the negotiations with the HDP and the PKK abruptly ended. All parties should gather around a table rather than taking cosmetic steps,” she added.
Several dozen AKP parliamentarians were recently rumored to be preparing to defect to the breakaway DEVA and Future parties.
Hatimogullari said: “Ala was involved in the peace process at all stages. There might be a concern that Ala makes public some confidential details of these negotiations.
“Amid the deteriorating economic conditions and increasing complaints about poverty, some core figures in the party may try to leave the sinking ship earlier,” she added.