[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers's comments]
Sebahat Tuncel, a Kurdish member of the Turkish Parliament, had an interesting piece in the New York Times last week, titled “Arab Spring, Kurdish Summer.” Most of what she wrote was commonsense; that Turkey needs more reform on its vital “Kurdish question” and more steps to take it to a non-violent phase. But Ms. Tuncel also had a few misleading remarks and a total negligence of the problems on the side of her own party, the corrections of which are crucial to get the “Kurdish summer” right.
First, the misleading remarks. The first of these was that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, abandoned its 2009 reform initiative “despite the Turkish public’s approval of the opening.” I don’t know which “Turkish public” Ms. Tuncel was speaking about here, but the only one I know has actually responded quite negatively to the “opening” in question.
The opening’s closure
Especially the welcoming of several guerrillas of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, to Turkey from the Iraqi border, as the beginning of a would-be “disarmament process,” created a great uproar in mainstream Turkish media. For the majority of Turks see the PKK guerillas as ruthless terrorists who killed their sons and any amnesty for these militants is a very hard sell for any Turkish government. In fact, polls clearly have shown that the AKP had a significant decline in its popularity at the very peak of the “opening,” and is probably why Erdoğan backpedalled from that in the wake of the general elections of this month.
In other words, instead of showing the AKP government as a dishonest, cunning actor who only faked the “Kurdish opening,” Ms. Tuncel and her friends must face the fact that their beloved PKK is not popular at all among the Turkish public.
The second misleading remark by Ms. Tuncel was that after the initial steps of the “opening,” the AKP changed its course and “stepped up military operations, banned the leading Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party, or DTP, and arrested Kurdish politicians.” The first and the third of these missteps (military operations and arrests) are factually true, although Ms. Tuncel fails to mention that they were responses to the continued violence on the PKK side.
What is factually untrue is her claim that the AKP “banned the leading Kurdish party.” That is flatly wrong, because it was the Constitutional Court that really banned the party in question, the DTP, in late 2009. Notably, this is the same Constitutional Court that also punished the AKP a year before for “violating secularism.” Besides, the AKP voiced criticism to the Court’s decision to ban the DTP and even tried to pass a constitutional amendment in 2010, which would make such party closures much more difficult. Ms. Tuncel would do us a great favor if she also explained why her party refused to support this amendment and helped it fail, if that has any reason other than protesting everything the AKP does.
Here is the problem I see in the rhetoric of Ms. Tuncel and her friends: They have a zealous attitude against the AKP, which is, like it or not, the most reform-minded party in near history on the Kurdish issue. Yes, the AKP’s reformism is not enough from an idealistic perspective, but this is due to the fact the party has to cater to the nationalism of the Turkish majority as well.
The deeper problem is that Ms. Tuncel and her friends see the AKP as their only political rival, as Erdoğan is still able to win half of the Kurdish vote. This refutes the claim of the PKK, and its political wing, to be the only representative of the Kurds – and therefore the sole beneficiary of “the collective rights of the Kurdish people” that Ms. Tuncel claims. Therefore, instead of seeking ways to work with the AKP government, they only bash it, and put the blame of even the Kemalist establishment, such as the Constitutional Court, on the AKP.
But that rejectionist attitude is going to help neither the Kurds nor the rest of Turkey. To move on, we need an “opening” on not just the Turkish side, but also among the Kurdish nationalists that Ms. Tuncel’s party represents.