North Africa, West Asia

Comparing the Colombian and Turkish peace processes


The Colombian conflict has more factions, presenting a complex relationship between ideology, land issues and the drug industry, while the Kurdish question concerns national identity and cultural rights. So, why is the Colombian peace process more likely to succeed?

Ali Gokpinar
3 December 2013

Fluctuations in negotiation processes are normal since in discussion, people's support for peace initiatives influence each other on a daily basis. The Turkish and Colombian cases are no different in this regard, but it seems the Colombian peace process has a higher chance of success.  

The official and direct talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group and the Santos government started in November 2012. The almost 50-year-old bloody conflict has cost more than 200,000 lives and forcibly displaced 4 million Colombians. Official talks between the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) were announced in late December 2012. The Kurdish question dates back to the late Ottoman period, although the Kurdish insurgency began in 1984. The Kurdish question has neither lasted as long the Colombian conflict nor have the human costs been as high. So, why is the Colombian peace process more likely to succeed?

First, the Colombian peace negotiations have been more participatory thanks to the public forums held in Bogota and regional peace tables around the country. Colombians were able to discuss the peace process with experts and directly submitted questions to negotiators through online platforms. The negotiations are based on the principle of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” and the final agreement will be ratified by the Colombian people. In the Kurdish negotiations, however, there has not been adequate participation from civil society since no mechanism was provided for this and the AKP government did not respond to calls for the creation of such mechanisms. One can argue that the Wise People Councils functioned as a participatory mechanism, but it is unclear whether these councils reached out to enough people or indeed whether the recommendations of these councils will be implemented.

Second, international players play important roles in making progress in the Colombian peace process whereas the Turkish government rejects, at least publicly, such a role for third parties. Of course, third parties are not a sine qua non of a peace process and there are successful local peace initiatives. The Colombian authorities asked Chile, Norway, Venezuela and Cuba to facilitate the peace talks, verify disputants' actions and oversee implementation of decisions taken at the negotiation table. The rationale is that disputants cannot overcome deep-seated fears and distrust and therefore fear taking unilateral action that might be costly if the other party does not reciprocate. The lack of a third party that will verify implementation of decisions has slowed down the Kurdish negotiation process. Take the example of the PKK's withdrawal, which began in May 2013. That there were no guarantees that the Turkish military will not attack the PKK together with the Turkish government's decision to build new police stations immediately rendered the peace process fragile. A third party might have prevented such problems and helped make swift progress, which is necessary given the approaching election year.

Third: implementation. The Colombian government has been determined to introduce new laws that will address the problems on the ground and has shown its seriousness in resolving the conflict. In particular, the Santos government enacted the Victims and Land Restitution Law (Ley de Víctimas y Restitución de Tierras, Law 1448) to restitute millions of hectares of land abandoned or stolen as a result of human rights violations. The law provides for comprehensive reparations for some survivors of the human rights violations committed during the armed conflict and contains measures to return stolen or abandoned lands to their rightful owners. FARC and the Santos government also agreed on FARC's demobilization and political participation in legal politics although the content of the agreement remains secret. Of course problems such as how the Land Restitution Law will be implemented in practice remain, but progressive actions have been a major impetus for taking the peace process to the next level.

In the Turkish case, the AKP government has taken important steps such as apologizing to the Kurds for the Dersim massacre in 1938 and introducing a “yes but not enough” democratization package. Although the Kurds' identity is partially recognized, the new democratization package allowed instruction of Kurdish only in private schools, removed the ban on propaganda in languages other than Turkish and offered new options for the electoral system that might benefit the Kurdish political parties in the future. The parallel constitution-drafting process, however, has simply failed, leaving key aspects of the peace process such as a new definition of citizenship in limbo. Given the dire need for a new constitution and Kurds' demands for the use of Kurdish in public schools, the new democratization package has contributed little to the peace process. Thus, the AKP government's reluctance to meet expectations has put progress in the peace process at risk and failed to counter growing discontent and criticism.

The fluctuations in both peace processes demonstrate that rhetoric is not enough for success: implementation and inclusiveness might be critical for making progress. Yet in both countries, authoritarian leaders have been adamant in advocating policies that might bring a peace that might be instrumental in consolidating their own authoritarian power. Thus, a major question emerges: How do we ensure that peace does not come at the expense of democracy?


This article was first published on Today's Zaman on 3 December 2013.

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