The Republican People’s Party’s (CHP), the staunchly secular, centre-left party headed by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (since 22 May 2010), has announced that it has formed a seven-member commission to study the Kurdish issue. The CHP said the commission would visit the Kurdish regions of Turkey to ‘form an official party stance on a range of issues involving the Kurdish problem.’ The announcement has been cautiously welcomed by experts, and is a major shift in policy from the CHP position under the former leadership of Deniz Baykal. The CHP under Baykal had ‘fallen into a rejectionist rut coloured with a streak of nationalism, standing for little beyond being against whatever the AKP was for, even if that included liberalising reforms.’
It seems now the CHP has begun its political machinations to position itself for next year’s elections. This move to form a commission says that the CHP believes the current party in power, the AKP, has failed in its efforts to resolve the Kurdish issue. Kılıçdaroğlu is a seasoned public servant and politician, and also an Alevi Kurd. He is most certainly trying to re-brand the party to garner Kurdish votes. Erdoğan has dismissed Kılıçdaroğlu’s popular reformist image saying he is nothing more than a ‘product of media headlines.’
Sezgin Tanrıkulu, former chair of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, said the CHP’s decision to review its Kurdish policy is an important step by itself. ‘The CHP is an important actor [in working] for a solution. Their discourse was an exclusionary one and they paid for it in the elections. Their policy must change and they should act bravely.’
Former CHP leader Deniz Baykal had said that Prime Minister Erdoğan’s Kurdish Opening threatened ‘to destroy and split Turkey.’ He said that granting the right of education in languages other than Turkish would lead to division. In a parliamentary session last November, Baykal and his CHP MPs walked out after heated words with Erdoğan about the proposed reforms.
The CHP at that time announced some red lines, which they said may not be crossed. One of the CHP’s red lines was that there would be no education in the Kurdish language. However, twenty-one years ago, the CHP prepared a Kurdish report in which it suggested that the obstacles to using the Kurdish language in every field, including education, should be removed and that Kurdish language departments should be established at universities. The report was later taken off the party’s website and the CHP’s leadership shied way from supporting government efforts advocating similar resolutions. What place will education in Kurdish have in the CHP’s new report? Public education in Kurdish is currently forbidden in Turkey and has long been a demand by the Kurds. Ahmet Türk, former head of the now-defunct pro-Kurdish DTP, said last year that ‘[w]ithout mother-tongue education, there will be no solution to ongoing problems.’
Haluk Koç, the chairman of the newly-announced commission, said the commission wants ‘to hear criticism as well as suggestions for composing a detailed policy which will be submitted to the decision-making bodies of the party. We are planning to form a policy which is not hostage to ethnicity or [religious] beliefs.’
Conservative Kurdish intellectual Altan Tan is cautiously optimistic about the work of the commission. He told Today’s Zaman that the CHP’s decision is a positive step, but it is too early to pass judgment. ‘If the CHP continues to act with its fascist mentality of the 1930s, instead of adopting a contemporary social democratic approach, then nothing positive will come of this effort. When I take into consideration the CHP’s performance until now, I am not very hopeful, but even to take a decision like this is a sign of a softening in its position,’ he said.
He added that there are some people within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who have the same ‘fascist mentality,’ but despite their presence in the party, some segments of Kurdish society have still given credit to the AK Party.
Tan had said in a November 2008 interview published in Today’s Zaman that the ‘AK Party is not the same AK Party that the Kurds fell in love with. Kurds also face the dilemma of not having an alternative.’ Could the CHP be an alternative? Perhaps, as latest polls show that the CHP under Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership could garner 32% of the vote. Erdoğan will certainly be ramping up his criticism of Kılıçdaroğlu and the CHP in the coming months as the elections draw closer.
Karabat, Ayşe. CHP decision to study Kurdish problem positive step, experts say. Today’s Zaman, 15 July 2010.
Toxic Blame Game Spiralling Out of Control. Kurdistan Commentary, 09 July 2010.
Schleifer, Yigal. Turkey’s ‘Gandhi’ Gets Tough with Governing Party. EurasiaNet, 27 May 2010.
Matur, Bejan. Kılıçdaroğlu’s Kurdish and Alevi identity. Today’s Zaman, 27 May 2010.
AKP’s Kurdish Initiative. Kurdistan Commentary, 15 November 2009.
Doğan, Yonca. Altan Tan: Kurds’ love affair with AK Party ending. Today’s Zaman, 18 November 2008.