In a major step forward on Friday the Kurdish issue was openly debated in the Turkish parliament. It was a turbulent parliamentary session in which the AKP offered the first concrete details of measures it plans to implement to bring an end to more than 25 years of fighting.
Interior Minister Beşir Atalay announced to the parliament that he intended to permanently end the conflict with the PKK in an open-ended process that would end terrorism and raise Turkey’s level of democracy. The campaign’s slogan, he said, is ‘more freedom for everybody.’
There are several measures in the AKP initiative, including:
- changing names of towns and cities back to their original Kurdish names (Will they allow Şırnak to become Şirnex even with an ‘x’ on the end?),
- lifting the restrictions on Kurdish in political campaigning,
- allowing prisoners to speak Kurdish in prison with visiting relatives,
- lifting a ban on private television channels broadcasting in Kurdish, and
- creating an independent commission to prevent discrimination and torture.
While this may be an historic move and a courageous, if not politically hazardous, step for the AKP, it seems to be attracting more criticism than praise. While Kurds may find hope in the proposed reforms, Turkish nationalists are less than pleased with Erdoğan’s ‘democratic opening.’
CHP (People’s Republic Party/ Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) leader Deniz Baykal said Erdoğan’s reforms threaten Turkey’s unity. He said that granting the right of education in languages other than Turkish would lead to division.
Commenting on DTP-leader Ahmet Türk’s proposal that the government establish a parliamentary commission to investigate historical mistakes made by past governments (e.g the assimilation policies), Baykal said, ‘It is no use to go back to the past. Whatever happened, happened in the past. We should live together from now on.’
Baykal went on to accuse Erdoğan of instituting a ‘plan to destroy and split Turkey.’
Erdoğan replied, ‘There are some people who want martyrs so they can better exploit this.’ With that, Baykal and his CHP MPs walked out of the parliamentary session.
The leader of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party/ Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi), Devlet Bahçeli said the AKP’s initiative is a ‘PKK initiative’ and charged that the government was negotiating and making deals with terrorists. He also said that the plan was drafted as part of a greater global plot by certain world powers to take control of water and energy resources in the region.
The opposition parties have some red lines which they say may not be crossed. A few of the CHP’s red lines are: 1) No constitutional amendment can be made on an ethnic basis, 2) There will be no education in the Kurdish language, and 3) Counter-terrorism efforts must not be abandoned.
Thus Erdoğan and Atalay will be balancing the management of the initiative with an eye on party constituents to ensure the AKP does not lose votes amongst its own core. Nationalists and conservatives will surely rally voters against the AKP.
The PKK yesterday criticised the proposed measures as ‘superficial’ and ‘claptrap.’ In a statement announced by the Firat New Agency, they said ‘the Kurdish question cannot be resolved without recognising the will of the Kurdish people and holding dialogue with its interlocutors.’ The PKK also wants official recognition of the Kurds included in Turkey’s constitution.
Atalay said that Turkey needs a new, libertarian constitution as the current one does not meet Turkey’s needs. But it is doubtful that the AKP would be able to get the necessary 367 votes in the 550-seat parliament to change the constitution. As any constitutional change would cross a ‘red line’ drawn by the opposition, the AKP would not be able to get opposition support.
Aydinli, Pinar. Turkey unveils reform steps for Kurdish minority. Reuters, 13 November 2009.
Birch, Nicholas. Turkey is to allow Kurdish television as peace process gathers pace. Times Online, 14 November 2009.
Culpan, Hande. Turkey risks pleasing no one with Kurdish peace plan: analysts. AFP, 14 November 2009.
Opposition critical of government’s road map, offers its own measures. Hürriyet Daily News, 13 November 2009.
Türköne, Mümtazer. ‘Red lines’ of the democratic initiative. Today’s Zaman, 14 November 2009.