ANKARA: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reaffirmed his commitment to a full reconciliation with Turkey’s estimated 15 million Kurds, but events of recent weeks suggest the peace process may already be unravelling.
Since the streets of Istanbul erupted on May 31, swiftly followed by other Turkish cities, the process that began with the ceasefire declared by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on March 21 has faded into the background.
On July 2, Erdogan called for patience and restated his commitment to the peace process, vowing that “nothing” would stop him from seeing it through.
The prime minister has failed to quell discontent over his increasingly autocratic style among Turks, and the country’s Kurds are also growing tired of vague promises and a failure to implement demands for greater recognition.
Promises were made to strengthen “individual liberties,” but the government has so far failed to respond to Kurds’ demands for recognition in the constitution and to allow the Kurdish language to be taught in state schools.
Mustafa Sentop, president of the cross-party constitution conciliation commission, said just a third of the proposals could be accepted by his Justice and Development party (AKP), of which Erdogan is the leader.
“This isn’t moving forward,” Sentop said.
For Cengiz Aktar, professor of politics at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, the protests of recent weeks will make the Kurds’ demands ever harder to attain.
“The Turkish government’s capacity to complete the peace process with the Kurds has been sorely tested by the protests,” he said.
“Someone who cannot allow peaceful demonstrations cannot offer a democratic solution,” he added, saying he believed a political solution was now “less likely” than before.
Erdogan’s recent comments came in the wake of the death of a young Kurdish man during a protest against the construction of a police station on June 28 in the southeastern town of Lice, near Diyarbakir, which triggered a day of rallies in the region organized by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
The prime minister claimed the protests were organized by PKK members, unhappy that a supply route for alleged drug trafficking would be threatened by an increased police presence in the area.
And on June 21, shots were fired at an army helicopter in the region, an attack which authorities also claimed was the work of the PKK.
Abdullah Ocalan, their imprisoned leader, declared a historic ceasefire in March after months of clandestine negotiations with the Turkish secret service with an ultimate goal of disarming the rebel fighters.
As part of the truce, Ocalan’s PKK, labelled as a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies, agreed to withdraw its estimated 2,000 fighters from Turkey to their bases in northern Iraq.
Muammer Guler, Erdogan’s interior minister, said there would be no progress until all PKK fighters were gone.
“The conditions required to begin the second phase of negotiations have not been met,” he said, adding he believed PKK militants were still in Turkey despite the ceasefire.