Resolution of Turkey’s Kurdish question has been the subject of much debate. Today, there is more hope about the prospects of success than ever before with the ongoing peace talks with Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This latest attempt comes after previous initiatives such as the so-called “Democratic Opening” of 2009 and the following secret talks dubbed the “Oslo Process.” In the wake of heightened stakes in the Middle East, a possible end to PKK violence and resolution of the Kurdish question through democratic means could have dramatic implications for regional security and Turkey’s democratization. What are the possibilities and limits of finally resolving the Kurdish question?
Speakers: Henri Barkey (Lehigh University), Erol Cebeci (SETA DC)
Moderator: Kilic Kanat (SETA DC)
by Madeline Wolfson
Henri Barkey discussed Turkey’s most recent attempt to solve the Kurdish question with optimism, seeing the issue as the most fundamental to Turkey. He considered the AKP’s negotiations with Ocalan and ceasefire agreement to be the beginning of the most promising attempt at resolution since 1993. He highlighted constitutional reform as a critical step for lasting change, and believed that the AKP will successfully redefine Turkish citizenship to include minority ethnic expression. He argued that Erdogan’s peace plan is not spontaneous and that he had been working since 2005 to solve the issue on the AKP’s terms.
Erol Cebeci presented a historical perspective of how the Turkish government has approached the Kurdish question. The definition of the problem has shifted over the last few decades from an economic issue in the 1980s, a security issues in the 1990s, and an identity issue in the 2000s. The AKP, he said, understands that complexity of the issue which influences all spheres of policy making. If solved, Cebeci expects the AKP to be able to increase democratic reforms without the old security concerns. He too was optimistic, explaining that the AKP’s effort is motivated, not only by short term political gains, but by long term benefits. Both Cebeci and Barkey agreed that spoilers will arise on both sides of the issue but that the elimination of military tutelage had removed the greatest obstacle. Despite nationalist resistance on either side, they agreed that if the AKP remains resolute and violence ends, the process can shift the mood in the country.
The Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) at Washington, D.C. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. dedicated to innovative studies on national, regional, and international issues concerning Turkey and US-Turkey relations.