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Turkey: Little Optimism Over Kurdish Rebel Negotiations

Last week the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signalled the start of much-needed negotiations between the PKK (Kurdistan Worker's Party) and the government. In the past Kurdish rebels have often called for negotiations, and in light of the recent escalation of violence, the need for negotiation is becoming increasingly pressing.

The news was not met with optimism, because successive Turkish governments have a history of broken promises towards the Kurdish people.

According to one Kurd in Chicago, the promise of negotiations is a new tactic adopted by PM Erdoğan in hope of securing his position in the next general elections. As Osman Ates points out, the Turkish government and Gulen movement both believe in the assimilation of Kurdish people.

@osman_ates: The point is Turkish government and Gulen movement believe that the Kurds will be assimilated sooner or later. [Note: The Gulen movement secularises the Kurdish question, and within school establishment they promote a Turkish narrative of history, which often excludes Kurdish people and their struggles]

Kurds hold banners and flags against the President of Turkey in Rome, Italy. Image by Stefano Montesi, copyright Demotix (08/05/12).

Kurds hold banners and flags against the President of Turkey in Rome, Italy. Image by Stefano Montesi, copyright Demotix (08/05/12).

Political prisoners

What is often overlooked is the number of Kurdish political prisoners within Turkey, and Kurdish politicians who continue to be threatened with the lifting of their parliamentary immunity.

The Peace and Democracy (BDP) party's co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş has said in a recent statement to Hurriyet Daily News that “such a thing [lifting immunity] will kill any possible negotiation process.” He added:

Six BDP deputies are still behind bars, and the government has not lifted a finger for their release. In addition to that, another nine of our deputies will be thrown in front of the judiciary, and we will be cheated by the prime minister to restart the negotiation process. That’s not going to happen.

There are legitimate concerns from Kurdish activists regarding the restarting of the negotiation process, and whether it is simply to buy more time for the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The answer is not clear, but on Sunday October 11, 2012, the answer will be evident at the AKP convention, where Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will speak at length about Turkey's accession to the European Union, economic problems that have strained Turkey, increasing violence from Kurdish rebels and new policies towards neighbouring countries.

The convention speech might answer some of Demirtaş’ concerns about the Turkish Prime Minister's negotiation plans, who said the following in a recent interview:

I am not so sure whether he [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] wants to commence a new process or to gain some time to get through his party’s convention. If he wants to launch a process, the government should have a plan outlining the legal and constitutional steps to be taken. Swearing and slamming his Kurdish counterparts are not the language of peace and finding a solution. This shows the flippancy of the government. They should overcome this dilemma.

Not long ago, Gülten Kışanak, co-chair of Peace and Democracy (BDP) party said:

Violence dominates now from the Kurdish side and is also defining state policy. Let’s return to the path of dialogue and negotiations and lessen the war. We need to focus on policies for peace and establish a climate of peace. Otherwise it’s insincere to work on a constitution while people are dying and blood is being spilt.

It is unreasonable for the Turkish government to consider negotiations with rebels, when it imprisons Kurdish politicians and threatens them with the lifting of parliamentary immunity. Pro-Kurdish politicians are often censored or put on trial, despite being voted for democratically.

In reality if politicians and activists are being imprisoned simply for advocating different political views, there is little hope for serious negotiation with rebels.

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