Turkey’s Kurdish spring: historic day full of hope, doubts


On Thursday, as the spring festival Nevruz was celebrated in Diyarbakır, its historic significance was far beyond the typical joy of jumping over fires.



For the Kurds of Turkey, it promises to go down in history as a powerful momentum, a memorable threshold towards the end of a decades-old oppression, severe denial and, most important of all, an endless wave of violence which generations of Kurds and Turks turned into an ethnic vendetta.

If anything, the bonfires just symbolize the evil, vicious circle of death and destruction. A lot of the answers to questions about the process will be found, and whether the mass jumping over the bonfires will truly mean bringing “peace at last” to this country in transition is to be seen. Diyarbakır’s cheerful crowds, the hundreds of thousands of Kurds gathered under the (symbolic) sunshine, were keen on supporting all the civilian efforts to end the language of weapons.

It inevitably has to do with Turkey’s efforts to bring closure to the denial of their identity, of their never-ending quest for being treated as equal citizens, of their cry for freedom to speak in their native tongue and to have a voice in the joint future of the country.

In a bigger context, this is the most important part of a repressive state finally attempting to strike peace with its citizens. It was at war — of a different sort, from massacres and obstinate denial to fruitless assimilation — with them decade after decade. But the Turkish glasnost meant that it has lost the war; “win-lose” should be over and it should be time for “win-win.”

From another vantage point, with yesterday’s scene in Diyarbakır, Turkey has once again demonstrated a striking paradox in a regional context.

While its southern neighborhood is entangled in nasty ethnic strife to varying degrees, again with Kurds as a focal point, Ankara has plunged into a civilian path, leaving aside the military solution, which if successful will set an example that might very well integrate the entire region’s Kurdish hopes for a peaceful and prosperous future. This dimension is one of the issues that Ankara, Arbil and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan have come to agree broadly upon.

That all this took place as the EU process is stagnating and as the US is more or less clueless about the significance of 2013 as the “year of the Kurds” also adds to the paradoxes.

Many observers have missed a key point in Turkey’s Kurdish policies. It has been marked until recently by pulled brakes and reverse (due to the military and nothing else) moves. But in sync with pushing the “hawkish elite” into a corner, the policy in the past decade has changed its nature: It is proceeding forward by shifting gears and applying “stop and go” manners.

Every move — big or small — helped to “normalize” the perceptions of the nation and assisted in a “wake-up call” from an ultranationalist hypnosis. Each and every step made the progress irreversible.

But the question is how the key players will deal with the opportunity that history is offering them. There is good reason for skepticism along with the joy of bonfires. There may be a broad agreement and a rough roadmap but traps and risks are many.

On his side Öcalan has to deal with controlling the overenthusiastic-revanchist group of his supporters as well as the warmongers amongst the rebel commanders. He has much to do to convince them to a civilian, restrained language and behavior. He has to steer the correct course towards disarmament, a farewell to arms. Otherwise, not only he but also Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani will lose their futures.

On his side, Erdoğan, who is still surfing on 50 percent voter support and every second citizen’s backing of the process, has a long way to go in building trust, showing that he means business by a full democratization process, thereby also meeting Kurds’ demands and letting go of punitive measures on free speech and legitimate activism. He must also seek full legitimacy through Parliament for a PKK pull-out of Turkish soil and reconciliation. He has the political mandate for doing that.

So, Diyarbakır’s people jumped over a fire and welcomed the Kurdish spring. The real process begins from now on. If the negotiators really mean “win-win,” even more than for themselves but for the good of Turkey, to set a fine example, the time to do so will come soon.

A hill is climbed before a mountain.

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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