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Peace negotiations 2.0

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Overall, Turkey is experiencing a hot summer what with the ongoing Gezi Parki protests, peace negotiations and the Syrian civil war.

Ali Gokpinar
25 June 2013

The Gezi Parkı protests and government repression have posed many questions as to whether the AKP government and the Kurdish parties will be able to find a durable solution to the protracted low intensity conflict. Although the government and the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) have held their first meeting of the second phase, the discourse of both government officials and Kurdish leaders reveal that the negotiations are fragile thanks to various challenges.

The negotiation process comprises three phases;

  1. Ceasefire and PKK’s withdrawal from Turkish territories
  2. Democratization process - drafting the new constitution
  3. Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR).

Both Ocalan and the AKP government announced that the first phase was over as more than 600 guerillas withdrew from Turkish territories and these guerillas have been gathering in the Qandil Mountains, the base of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).  However, this is problematic because there are 1400 more guerillas remaining on Turkish soil - either already withdrawing or preparing to withdraw.

Full withdrawal of the guerillas depends on the steps the AKP government is going to take in the coming two weeks. This reveals that the first and second phases are not clear cut and both parties do not trust each other. Indeed, the peace negotiations were designed as a step by step approach in order to build trust among the stakeholders. While Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay stated that the Kurds have cooperated perfectly so far, the Kurds criticized the government overtly.  The AKP government has tried to have full control over the process through determining which BDP deputies will visit PKK’s imprisoned leader Ocalan in Imrali Island, giving a limited role to the BDP. Further, they could not meet BDP expectations regarding the release of Kurdish Union Committee (KCK) members.

What is most worrying for BDP is the AKP Government’s use of excessive violence against peaceful protests. This is important because Kurds fear that the government might use similar extreme measures if they protest against the government. Although the Kurds did not participate fully in the Gezi Parki protests and remained silent for the most part, they have important grievances against the government particularly when it comes to Turkey’s bleeding wound: justice. Court decisions regarding the KCK members’ release do not follow a consistent pattern and hundreds of Kurdish civilian politicians remain in jail. While some conspiracy theories argue that the Gulen movement is in control of the judiciary, there is no tangible evidence for such claims. It is true, however, that the Turkish judiciary is dysfunctional and decisions are routinely delayed.

If KCK detainees are released any time soon, this will increase the trust between the negotiating parties and accelerate the second phase. Nevertheless, a recent court decision to punish the families of Uludere massacre victims has again undermined the trust of Kurdish civilians in the AKP government and Turkish state. The civilian court handed the Uludere case to the military, leaving military officers unpunished. Another court verdict deemed it a crime to visit the scene of the accident and fined the families of victims up to 3000 Turkish Liras. The nexus between justice and peace negotiations is the most fragile terrain and is likely to create more problems in the near future if the government does not take major steps for reconciliation.

Although the new constitution is supposed to be completed in the second phase, it is unclear if it will be drafted because core problems regarding notions of state, nation and citizenship remain contested. The Republican People’s Party and Nationalist Movement Party have been irreconcilable and the BDP has important reservations regarding AKP’s proposals on the draft constitution. Perhaps the government will take action through reform packages which will amend laws regarding terrorism, freedom of speech and the election threshold.  These measures might push the process on a step further but the rallies of Prime Minister Erdogan strongly suggest that he is already preparing for the coming elections in 2014. Political prospects for the peace negotiations and a new Turkey largely depend on the AKP government’s future plans regarding the new constitution, language and cultural rights.

Overall, Turkey is experiencing a hot summer, what with the ongoing Gezi Parki protests, peace negotiations and the Syrian civil war. But although there are significant challenges to peace, there is good reason to be cautiously optimistic. Indeed, the Gezi Parki protests provide a great opportunity to define what is political and so redesign the politics of Turkey.

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