Return to Kurdish peace process in Turkey unlikely: Experts

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Pro-PKK Kurds celebrate Newroz and flash victory signs in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, in southern Turkey. File photo: AFP

ARA News

Experts told ARA News that a return to peace talks between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is unlikely, after rumours that peace talks could re-start in Turkey. The Turkish government could need more stability before the planned presidential referendum planned in April.

Hurriyet columnist Ahu Özyurt wrote that Turkish officials hint at the possibility of returning to the peace talks that fell apart in July 2015.

İlnur Çevik, advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said Turkey may start looking at the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) from a different perspective.

Meral Akşener, a former interior minister and an opponent of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), hinted a couple of times that there are talks going on between PKK leader Ocalan and Ankara.

Moreover, Cevat Öneş, a former Deputy Undersecretary of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT), said there is a need to revive the peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurds.

However, analysts suggest it’s unlikely that there would be a return to the peace process.

“In view of the bitterness of the constitutional fight, the dragnet of Kurdish politicians, academics and activists and especially the effort to erase the gains Kurds made in the last few years along cultural lines, I find it impossible that the peace process will restart,” Dr. Henri J. Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars told ARA News.

“Erdogan has committed himself to a hardline policy; he will change assuming he stays on as president for sometime to come, but it will not be soon,” he said.

“First of all, we need to define what Erdogan means when he talks about a peace process,” said Amberin Zaman, a Public Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“Is it about imposing his vision of what that is: cultural and linguistic rights say like private Kurdish language education, publications  and allowing Kurdish parties which have no known connections to the PKK to operate freely,” she told ARA News. “Or is it getting back to the table with Ocalan and the PKK and making the sorts of constitutional changes and striking the kinds of deals that would give Turkey’s Kurds confidence that they will henceforth have constitutionally enshrined rights that are no longer hostage to the whims of this or that Turkish leader,” she added.

Therefore, she said it’s hard to imagine a return to the peace process.

“Judging by the developments that have unfolded since the June 2015 election, it is very hard to imagine the latter scenario coming into play. After the referendum Erdogan may well make some gestures to the Kurds but they will be to the strict exclusion of the PKK-inspired groups and organizations,” Zaman said.

“Unless Ocalan agrees to getting his men to unilaterally withdraw from Turkey leaving their weapons behind, and for the YPG to confine itself strictly to the east of the Euphrates [in northern Syria] it seems unlikely he would be willing to engage with him. But in the end we are talking about a leader who can make U turns when needed as witnessed in relations with Israel and with Russia,” she added.

Nevertheless, the relations between Turkey’s Kurds and the government are also related to the developments on the ground in northern Syria, where there is competition between Turkish-led forces and the Syrian Kurds over al-Bab and Raqqa.

“Quite a bit will depend also on whether the United States remains on the ground in northern Syria and Rojava and embarks on post ISIS stabilization and thus in effect provide a de facto security umbrella for the Syrian Kurds,” Zaman told ARA News.

“This could be an opportunity for the United States to use its leverage to bring the sides to the table, but it remains unclear whether the Trump Administration has either the political will or vision to do so and whether it would regard this to be in the United States’ strategic interest,” she argued.

James F. Jeffrey, the former US ambassador in Ankara, suggested during a congressional hearing in Washington that Turkey might be more flexible after the presidential referendum planned for 16 April, and not before this.

“Once that is behind him, he may be more flexible with the PKK and YPG, as he was before summer 2015,” he said. “The YPG, in turn, would require assurances that its core Kurdish territory would not be pressured by Turkey,” he said.

Currently, the Turkish president needs the support of Turkish nationalists to win a yes vote.

“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hostility toward the PKK and thus YPG stems from the political alliance he has formed in order to win an early April constitutional amendment referendum,” he added.

“I believe its terribly reductionist on the part of Turkey and the Syrian Kurds to see the Raqqa campaign as an expression of US preferences in the matter. What is of real significance is what the United States decides to do after,” analyst Amberin Zaman concluded.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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