ANKARA: The debate around peace between Turkey and its Kurdish minority has re-surfaced, hinting at possible preparations by both sides to find middle ground to restart negotiations.
Political changes, shifting voting intentions and trouble along the southern border with Iraq and Syria, experts suggest, might all be playing a part in moves by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to alter his stance on issues surrounding the country’s largest ethnic minority group.
The peace process between Ankara and the Kurds ended in July 2015 after the killing of two policemen in the southeastern province of Ceylanpinar, leading to the resumption of the decades-old Kurdish-Turkish conflict.
During elections in June 2015, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) passed the 10 percent threshold to become the first pro-Kurdish party to win seats in Parliament.
Part of the thinking behind a possible thaw in tensions comes from Ankara’s concern that the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — which it considers a terror group linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in Turkey — might encourage Turkey’s Kurds to try to decentralize power and create a Kurdish state along its southern border.
The PKK has fought a nearly four-decade-long war for autonomy against Turkey. Kurds make up 20 percent of Turkey’s population, and such a move would have serious repercussions for Ankara were it to come to pass. Turkey has been targeting Kurdish forces in Syria and neighboring Iraq for some time in light of fears over Kurdish separatism.
Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, told Arab News: “In spite of ideological divergences amongst Kurdish communities, peace negotiations between Turkey and the HDP could result in a period of Turkish restraint towards Kurdish communities in Syria and Iraq.
“Erdogan has warned about potentially launching another offensive against Kurdish militias in northern Syria, and Joe Biden’s victory in the US elections has caused some to suggest that might occur before January,” he added.
“Turkey has also stepped up strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan. As the HDP broke with the Turkish political consensus by opposing Operation Peace Spring in October 2019 and endorsed Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence referendum, Erdogan will be cautious not to step on the HDP’s toes while negotiations are underway,” Ramani said.
In the long-run, Ramani thinks that the HDP will have to accommodate Erdogan’s military operations in Syria and Iraq, and weigh whether such actions might constitute a sufficient breach to derail a peace agreement.
Experts note that Erdogan may also be trying to chart a new direction as a result of growing discord among his own voter base, with recent polling suggesting that opposition parties now enjoyed over 50 percent of popular support.
A political reshuffle is already underway; the country’s finance minister resigned on Nov. 8, a day after the central bank governor was suddenly replaced by presidential decree.
The new period may see liberal figures returning to the political scene, as with the appointment of Lutfi Elvan to the Finance Ministry.
Yet elsewhere, problems between the Kurds and Turkish authorities abound. After a book titled “Devran,” penned by Selahattin Demirtas, the former co-chair of the HDP, was branded a “terrorist document,” by a Turkish prosecutor, it led to the arrest of a man named Necmettin Islek in the southeastern province of Bitlis.
On Sept. 30, a Kurdish villager, Servet Turgut, died from injuries incurred while he was in military custody, allegedly after being thrown from a helicopter, according to witness statements.
Demirtas himself, meanwhile, has been imprisoned since Nov. 4, 2016, with his attorneys recently taking his case to Turkey’s top court after the country rejected to implement a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling.
Necdet Ipekyuz, the HDP deputy for southeastern province of Batman, said despite myriad issues, nothing was off the table when it came to the peace process.
“Considering the ongoing developments in our region, the decision-makers in Ankara should have recognized that security-oriented paradigms remain inefficient to resolve the Kurdish issue. There is a need for confidence-building measures to put the resolution back on track,” he told Arab News.
Ipekyuz, who was involved in the last peace process, said decision-makers should learn from previous mistakes.
“I want to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is like changing the wheel of a heavy-laden truck. Kurdish people are now afraid of being involved in politics. The state authorities should win back their hearts and minds with positive steps like backing away from appointing trustees to the Kurdish-majority towns or opening more space for freedom of speech.”