home Middle East, Politics The Promise of a Kurdish-Turkish Peace Agreement

The Promise of a Kurdish-Turkish Peace Agreement

Given the horribly violent conflicts which have ravaged many countries throughout the volatile Middle East as of late one could hardly be blamed for having very little optimism regarding peace prospects. After all just in the past three-years we have seen a highly destructive civil war ravage the state of Syria which persists despite numerous United Nations efforts to end it. In addition we have also seen two sharp escalations in clashes between Israel and Hamas and, of course, the now infamous Islamic State (IS) group violently capitalizing on instability in Iraq, Syria and beyond.

Yet in the midst of this comes the questionable prospect of an end to another conflict which has been ongoing for just under three decades. The conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The former of which has launched a protracted armed campaign against the latter in a bid to establish either substantial autonomy for the Kurds of Southeast Turkey or a full-fledged independent Kurdish state there – however in more recent years given the changing atmosphere in the state and society (some more on that in a minute) many of Turkey’s 15 million Kurds are satisfied with increased cultural and political equality in their homeland, which mostly conforms to Turkey’s southeast. This conflict has taken its toll on many innocences in the Turkish republic. Given the methods it has used in the past the PKK was designated a terrorist organization by both the European Union and the United States.

However in early 2013 both sides agreed to talk peace, since that time the conflict has been in ceasefire-mode. After nearly three-decades of a protracted campaign, which has cost approximately 40,000 lives, it was time to reach an agreeable compromise to bring an end to the violence. Even since early 2013 quite a lot has happened in the region and the threat of a resurgence in violence has been simmering under the surface. As 2014 came to a close Turkey’s deployment of its military forces on the Turkish frontier with Syria’s, now autonomous, Kurdish region inflamed many Kurds who were prevented from crossing the Turkey-Syria frontier to join their Syrian Kurdish brethren fending off the Islamic States’ siege of Kobani. Clashes between Kurdish protesters and police in that area were a worrying sight since they could well have intensified and seen to the peace talks breakdown amidst renewed antagonism and ill-feeling on both sides of this contentious conflict.

Nevertheless the jailed leader of the PKK Abdullah Ocalan has been optimistic that a comprehensive peace deal is on the horizon that may even see to the PKK lay down their weapons. Many of the PKK’s fighters have already withdrawn into Northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region and are now fighting IS there. This writer has wondered whether or not the fact that the PKK and its Syrian affiliate, the PYD, are fighting IS head-on will see to the U.S. and the E.U. revise its stance on that Kurdish group if that groups proves to be a valuable ally in the fight against IS (especially in Syria, where the U.S. have no allies fighting that group on the ground and where they have already air-dropped some small arms to besieged Syrian Kurds earnestly fighting Islamic State onslaughts into their homeland) and renounces their “armed struggle” against Ankara and reach an accord with the Turkish state in good faith.

It is possible and one is hearing positive talk from both sides which one hopes isn’t merely face saving rhetoric of the kind that have led to so many broken promises and failed political solutions to destructive conflicts in that region. Nevertheless one is cautiously optimistic about the prospect of “perpetual peace” between Turkey and various political Kurdish groups in Turkey. After all, what if it does actually work?

Culturally and societally Turkey has changed very considerably in the past decade or so alone. While the divisive figure that is the present President Tayyip Recep Erdogan has made many international observers feel weary of Turkey and the direction in which it is going there are many positive changes in the zeitgeist which should be factored into account. One story from mid-2013 serves as an apt microcosm of these fundamental changes. It concerned a case which was upheld in Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals.

It all began two years before when a district court in southeastern Turkey ruled (after receiving a complaint from a local civil registry) that a Kurdish couple could not name their baby daughter ‘Kurdistan’ on the basis that would “offend the society.” The family appealed to the Supreme Appeals Court and the court overruled the district courts ruling. Certainly a landmark cultural case which will likely be a noteworthy one in future history’s of this decades-old conflict. And just to think 11-years before that case it was illegal for Kurds in Turkey to speak their own languages or teach them in schools to Kurdish children. If that isn’t progress and a sign of increased concordance between the peoples of the Turkish republic then one certainly doesn’t know what constitutes progress.

This, among other reasons, is why one is cautiously optimistic that there is a resolution to this conflict within reach. Tensions may be high and politics may continue to be divisive. Nevertheless attitudes and perceptions have tangibly and verifiably changed substantially within Turkey politically and societally since that horrible conflict began back in the 1980’s. Since those days it has become increasingly clear on both sides that ultimately they are going to have to live together. In order to do so considerable compromise is necessary. In the long run that will likely be much better than continued and endless conflict and strife.