Could Turkey’s Kurdish peace process be back on track?

Could Turkey’s Kurdish peace process be back on track?
Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters, mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, take part in a military parade marking the graduation of a new batch of cadets and attended by officials from the Turkey-backed opposition in the town of Jindayris, in the Afrin region of the northern Syrian rebel-held province of Aleppo, on November 14, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 17 November 2020

Could Turkey’s Kurdish peace process be back on track?

Could Turkey’s Kurdish peace process be back on track?
  • 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

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.

HIGHLIGHT

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.

“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.”

 


Kuwait parliamentary race kicks off under shadow of pandemic

Updated 05 December 2020

Kuwait parliamentary race kicks off under shadow of pandemic

Kuwait parliamentary race kicks off under shadow of pandemic
  • More than 567,000 voters will be eligible to choose among the 326 candidates contesting the vote
  • Kuwait has a lively political life with a parliament elected for four-year terms

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait is holding parliamentary elections Saturday under the shadow of Covid-19, with facilities laid on for citizens infected with the disease to vote in special polling stations.
The oil-rich country has enforced some of the strictest regulations in the Gulf to combat the spread of the coronavirus, imposing a months-long nationwide lockdown earlier this year.
But while some curbs have eased, over-the-top election events that traditionally draw thousands for lavish banquets are out, masks remain mandatory and temperature checks are routine when venturing outdoors.
Infected people or those under mandatory quarantine are usually confined to home, with electronic wristbands monitoring their movements.
But in an effort to include all constituents, authorities have designated five schools — one in each electoral district — where they can vote, among the 102 polling stations across the country.
Election officials are expected to be in full personal protective equipment.
Kuwait has a lively political life with a parliament elected for four-year terms that enjoys wide legislative powers.
Political disputes are often fought out in the open.
Parties are neither banned nor recognized, but many groups — including Islamists — operate freely as de facto parties.
But with more than 143,917 coronavirus cases to date, including 886 deaths, the election campaign has been toned down this year.

A worker cleans desks at a polling station ahead of parliamentary elections in Abdullah Salem, Kuwait, on December 3, 2020. (REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee)

The polls, which open at 8:00 a.m. (0500 GMT), will be the first since the new emir, Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, took office in September following the death of his half-brother, 91-year-old Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
But with the opposition weakened in recent years, no major political shifts are expected.
A few electoral banners dotted through the streets have been the only reminder of the nation’s political calendar.
Instead, this year’s campaign has mainly been fought on social networks and in the media.
More than 567,000 Kuwaiti voters will be eligible to choose among the 326 candidates contesting the vote, including 29 women.
Ahmad Deyain, secretary general of the opposition group Kuwaiti Progressive Movement, said he expected a lower voter turnout than previous years after the dulled-down campaign.
The usual themes are a constant though, from promises to fight corruption and plans to address youth employment, to freedom of expression, housing, education and the thorny issue of the “bidoon,” Kuwait’s stateless minority.
From 2009 to 2013, and especially after the Arab Spring revolts of 2011, the country went through a period of political turmoil, with parliament and cabinets dissolved several times after disputes between lawmakers and the ruling family-led government.
“Kuwait is still undergoing a political crisis since 2011, and that page has not yet turned,” Deyain told AFP.
“There are still disputes over the electoral system and mismanagement of state funds.
Deyain said he expected some parliamentarians in the new National Assembly to be “more dynamic” in trying to resolve some issues.
Kuwait was the first Gulf Arab state to adopt a parliamentary system in 1962, and women in 2005 won the right to vote and to stand for election.