The dramatic escalation of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) violence and its emotional aftermath has changed the country’s priorities.
The graph of optimism, expectations and openness related to the Kurdish initiative has been constantly downhill since late last autumn.
All the parties involved have their share of blame for the situation today:
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government for its failure to prepare a clear roadmap and for the lack of not being (able to be) inclusive of the (high) judiciary in the agreement it has reached with the top command on various aspects of the initiative.
The local bureaucracy for its slow and uncoordinated efforts to engage Kurds in various provinces in dialogue and debate.
The army for not making it fully clear that it will not be “too enthusiastic” in sweep operations unless there are provocations.
The prosecutors and judges for acting as if the Kurdish initiative had not been launched and for ignoring the fact that extreme interpretations of the law which aim to prosecute local Kurdish personalities and semi-legal networks work against it. And, last but not the least, the legal political parties and their leadership (the Democratic Society Party [DTP] and the Peace and Democracy Party [BDP]) as well as Kurdish NGOs and intellectuals for resorting to acts and words in praise or open support of the PKK, which infuriates the Turkish segments of society.
The Kurdish initiative is now firmly nailed in its coffin, with little hope of revival. Not all is lost, but for the government, already under strain due to huge tensions with the high judiciary and the opposition and on the international scene, the work will be much harder, the risks much higher.
The mindset of the PKK is one of victory. In recent interviews with Cemil Bayık, a leading figure (“field commander”) in the organization, published by the Fırat news agency, one can easily detect a sense that things are developing to a point at which the PKK will be much more strongly in control of the process. Making more arguments on the PKK’s side, Bayık moves ahead to the apparent widespread disappointment amongst the Kurds and openly issues threats of going further ahead with declaring a “democratic confederal autonomy” -- a murky term signaling a separation of BDP-run municipalities away from the administrative network of Ankara. At the same time, he leaves the doors open for negotiations with the PKK. The upper hand which the “commanders” in the Kandil Mountains think they now have also means that the influence of the elected BDP has decreased, forcing it into subordination.
The declaration by the prime minister on continued engagement with the Kurdish initiative may be less convincing with regard to the new parameters the escalation pushed forth. Yet it should be fully supported by the civilian society and the media.
But the priority has shifted to the dimension of security. The government is at the same crossroads as its predecessors in the ‘90s. Hardening the fight against terror at this stage will certainly strengthen the position of the PKK and may also lead to more intense unease in the mainly Kurdish provinces. Even if increased military pressure on northern Iraq and a greater flow of intelligence by the Americans and local Iraqi sources may help, the domestic scene is a different story altogether. The widespread sympathy for the PKK among the rural and urban Kurds has solidified even further and opened paths to all sorts of actions with the aim of provoking large-scale social unrest.
The second, more moderate path for Erdoğan to choose would be seeking new means of silencing the weapons and bombs -- at least temporarily. If the Kurdish initiative has to be reset, breathing room is necessary. A (temporary) cease-fire can only be achieved if the army and security forces call off the operations from the mountains and remote villages and if the PKK is persuaded to do the same, with direct or indirect contacts. This is a tough task, if chosen, because trust has been damaged and because of the legal actions taken against the local Kurdish figures and those who returned unarmed from the PKK camps to Turkey.
Once the guns are silent again, the next step should be to establish a national consulting process with the participation of all the parties in Parliament -- the presence of the pro-Kurdish BDP is a must in this context -- and full-scale engagement of NGOs, experts, academics and opinion leaders into the process. A precondition for even limited success is whether the (high) judiciary will stop acting as a stumbling block or not.