Between the island, mountains and the capital

The release of eight Turkish public officials who had been held hostage for 19 months by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) came not only as a relief for their families but also is the most concrete step so far in the Kurdish process. Scenes of emotional parents hugging their young sons were aired widely in the media, and served their purpose to further assure the public that the talks will indeed bear fruit.


In Stockholm, President Abdullah Gül in his address to the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) expressed also relief and emphasized the importance of talking in a “different language.” He meant that the discourse must no longer include arms if politics is to be normalized. Gül’s visit to Sweden has exposed the vital link between the process and the fundamental political reform, as well as the irreversible direction towards EU membership.

The visit followed an unexpected meeting between him and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), during which the latter allegedly questioned the legitimacy of the talks between the state and Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK. But, following the meeting, Kılıçdaroğlu did not have anything tangible to say about where now he and his party stand vis-à-vis the process itself. One could see it coming: The deeper and more productive the process, the weaker and more shaken the main opposition. The CHP, which defiantly keeps sending one “friendship delegation” after another to Bashar al-Assad while remaining indifferent to peace talks on İmralı Island, is already in profound trouble, destined for even worse.

No one should be in denial that the mutual understanding that was reached between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Öcalan is to push through for a solution in the context of democratization, of changing the paradigm of the rigid republic and grant rights and freedoms. But only time will reveal the details. After the release as the first confidence building measure, it is now time for Parliament to pass the fourth judiciary package, already marked by most of us as “insufficient, but progress nevertheless.” A third BDP delegation will carry the responses from the military and diaspora wings of the PKK to Öcalan and, if all goes well, we will witness a declaration of a unilateral cease-fire, followed by a withdrawal, as soon as next week.

From then on, the authority of Öcalan — now recognized by the state — will come under a tough test. Will he be able to deliver? The Turkish media present the course of events as “take and take” for Ankara, but Öcalan knows that he will need to convince the armed wings and the Kurdish voters of the BDP in general that “he is not selling them out.”

What does it take from Ankara to also help drag Kurds in general behind a peaceful solution?

It would be worthwhile to read the notes by Didem Collinsworth, an expert on Turkey with the International Crisis Group (ICG) who took part in a conference in Switzerland, where Kurds cautiously sympathetic with the PKK expressed their expectations. Reading her notes it is rather clear that the general mood is pro-solution, that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s assessment on Öcalan’s will to stop fighting was correct, though he does not have the ability to make everyone in the PKK obey his orders, that much depended on Ankara, to strengthen his persuasive skills.

“I realized once again” Collinsworth concludes in her notes, “that to attain sustainable peace, both sides would have to overcome a deep lack of trust. After years of unfulfilled promises, Kurds are highly suspicious of the intentions of the ruling AKP in the talks and accuse it of employing stalling tactics. … I left Switzerland feeling that most Kurds, including the hardliners, would back the latest peace efforts if there is an open process supported by real reforms from Ankara and combined with Öcalan’s power of persuasion over his base.”



About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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