Wednesday, 13 February 2013

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

The emerging alliance of interests between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has led several Turkish commentators to express the worry that the solution of the Kurdish problem – unexpectedly – might go hand in hand with the imposition of an authoritarian system. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that his party is prepared to act together with the BDP in order to put a new constitution (that would introduce a presidential system and simultaneously expand Kurdish rights) to a referendum, while the BDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş has stated that the AKP is the party that is closest to the BDP. Meanwhile, the focus of the debate over the Kurdish issue has started to shift to the question of the Turkish identity. Mümtaz’er Türköne, a leading Turkish nationalist intellectual, has stirred a major debate, including drawing a wave of reactions in social media, after a series of columns in which he has declared that Turkish nationalism as fulfilled its historic mission and has to be abandoned.


Kadri Gürsel in Milliyet writes that the proposed constitutional bargain between the AKP and the BDP would express the support of the BDP for the presidential system that Prime Minister Erdogan wants, while the AKP would give its consent to a document that satisfies the Kurdish demands regarding the definition of citizenship, language and autonomy. This cooperation will be a historic turning point that will put to the test the assumption made so far unquestionably by democrats that a solution of the Kurdish problem would automatically bring about the democratization of Turkey. Yet if this grand bargain is struck, the ethnic problem will very well be solved in a peaceful manner, but this solution would not raise any obstacles to the introduction of an authoritarian system in which all power is concentrated into the hands of one man. There is only one dynamic that can ensure that the AKP-BDP cooperation is secured to the dock of democracy, and that is Turkey’s EU perspective. If the EU does not weigh in on the AKP-BDP equation, a Middle Eastern despotic regime that has integrated the Kurds but which has strayed away from democracy is what Turkey is going to end up with.

Nuray Mert in Birgün notes that there is a concern that peace with the Kurds might come at the expense of democracy. However, it would be good to understand that the peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question cannot be attained through such a bargain; that is not only unprincipled and unethical, it is also unrealistic. This is a dead end, not only for those who worry about the prospects of democracy, but also for the Kurdish political movement, as well as for the governing party. Because, any Kurdish gains in a Turkey that has become more authoritarian, through the introduction of a presidential system instead of more democratic will ultimately be bereft of all guarantees. I am certain that the BDP is well aware of this. The fact that the government is seeking the support of the BDP for a new constitution instead of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) is in itself a hopeful development; but as long as the governing party has not abandoned the goal to enshrine its unchecked power, such explorations of alliances will not yield any results other than exhausting both sides. The bargain between the government and the BDP will only be secure if both sides pay the necessary attention to the wider democratization of Turkey.

Hilal Kaplan in Yeni Şafak writes that the BDP is trying hard to present itself as a “partner of peace”, approvingly relating, as an example, how the BDP co-leader Gültan Kışanak at a recent party gathering interrupted her speech while a Turkish flag that adorned the wall and which had started to fall off was hung back. The BDP is close to the AK Party both in its views of basic rights and freedoms, and in its views of the structure of the state. The AK Party government is soon expected to adhere to the norms of the European Union regarding the autonomy of local governments. And Prime Minister Erdoğan has earlier stated that governors are going to be popularly elected in a presidential system; indeed, Ahmet Türk (a veteran of the Kurdish movement and a leading Kurdish parliamentarian) a year ago said that such a provision would be necessary if a presidential system is to be accepted. The most problematic but crucial issue is education in the mother tongue (Kurdish as the medium of education), but it should nonetheless be remembered that the AK Party has suggested a constitutional amendment that would remove the obstacle for the exercise of this right in due time.

Etyen Mahçupyan in Zaman writes that the AKP has separated the ”Kurdish problem” from the ”Kurdish issue”. The “Kurdish problem” is about violence and the future of the PKK, and its solution implies the cessation of violence, and enabling the return of the PKK members to civilian life through different means. The “Kurdish issue,” meanwhile, is about education in the mother tongue, the possibilities of the decentralized exercise of power and the question of an official status (for the Kurds). Things that fall under the fundamental rights are going to be solved together with the “Kurdish problem”. Thus, Kurdish language education, the restoration of Kurdish village and city names, the use of Kurdish in the judiciary and bureaucracy, steps to adapt local administration to the European charter and a constitutional amendment that redefines citizenship, ceasing to emphasize the Turkish identity are changes that are relatively soon going to be enacted. But those other changes that have to do with the “Kurdish issue” are going to be left to the future by the AKP; their realization will depend on the ability of the Kurdish political movement to persuade the Turkish public. While there is widespread support among the public, even among the nationalist base, for taking the steps to solve the “Kurdish problem”, the wider implications of addressing the “Kurdish issue” are far from having been internalized. Steps taken in that direction have a significant potential of costing the AKP votes, and no one should expect the AKP to make up for the deficits of the Kurdish movement. By solving the “Kurdish problem”, the AKP is opening up for the way that leads to the solution of the “Kurdish issue”; but there are no guarantees for what may follow. The Kurds need to settle with this, become more adept in the art of proper politics and develop an ability to speak to the whole of society.

Mümtaz’er Türköne in Zaman notes that Prime Minister Erdoğan recently declared that ”We are opposed to Kurdish as well as Turkish nationalism. We are inviting everyone to unite around the shared identity of citizenship of the republic of Turkey”. If you ask me, I am emotionally and politically a Turkish nationalist. Yet the Turkish nationalism has fulfilled its historic mission as an idea, a movement and as an ideology. We Turkish nationalists need to sincerely ask ourselves if Turkish nationalism is serving its purported mission, if it is lending glory to the Turkish nation, if it is addressing the problem of shoring up the Turkish state. Is it assuring the unity and integrity of the republic of Turkey? Yesterday, Turkish nationalism provided the rampart of defense against imperialism, the Balkan nations and the Russians. It was only possible to arise from the ashes of empire by becoming a nation. All the Muslim nations of Anatolia lent support to this endeavor. But since then a lot has happened. Today, Turkish nationalism is only reigning as the antagonist of Kurdish nationalism. Turkish nationalism is dividing the country, just like Kurdish nationalism. Turkish nationalism has honorably fulfilled its mission. What’s up to us is to show proper respect for its historical legacy and ensure the unity and integrity of this country around the concept of the “citizenship of the republic of Turkey”.

Read 6192 times Last modified on Wednesday, 12 June 2013

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The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.


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