EVENT : 9th Annual EU Turkey Civic Commission Conference

To Meet at EU Parliament Brussels

The 9th Annual EUTCC International Conference will meet on 5-6 December 2012. A number of focused papers will be presented on the Conference’s theme:

“The Kurdish Question in Turkey: Time to Renew the Dialogue and Resume Direct Negotiations.” Prominent participants presenting talks at the conference include include Members of the European Parliament of different political groups ; Walter Schwimmer, the former Secretary-General of the Council of Europe; Saleh Muslim Mohammed, the leader of the (Kurdish) Democratic Union Party of Syria; Ofra Bengio, the leading Israeli scholar on the Kurds; among numerous others. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, the famous Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from South Africa, will participate via a video message.

All of the presentations papers will elaborate on the findings of the European Commission’s most recent (2012) Progress Report on Turkey’s EU accession process that “The Kurdish issue and options for a solution were widely discussed; however, the 2009 democratic opening aimed at addressing amongst others the Kurdish issue was not followed through. . . . Overall, there was no progress towards a solution as regards the Kurdish issue.”

What is going on in Turkey today appears to be an attempt to stifle Kurdish voices and impose a unilateral Turkish solution to fundamental issues of security and the future of the country. The KCK/PKK arrests in particular look less like a war on terror and more like one on dissent.

Furthermore, supposed Turkish reforms have been too little and too late. For example, the Turkish government’s announcement in June 2012 about initiating elective Kurdish language classes and the opposition CHP’s announced willingness to discuss the Kurdish problem with the government, do not impress disaffected disaffected Kurds very much. Private Kurdish language classes supposedly were made possible several years ago, and why should the CHP not discuss the Kurdish problem?

More importantly, however, still lacking is the willingness to negotiate genuinely with the PKK. Unilateral Turkish attempts to solve the Kurdish problem with minor unsatisfactory gestures while ignoring or even trying to eliminate the other side which is the PKK will not work.

Although you may have some of Ankara’s, Brussels’s, and Washington’s policy communities impressed by these supposedly new Turkish gestures, their approval amounts to little more than wishful group think and is not going to solve the Kurdish question.

In other words, until the Turkish government truly accepts the PKK as a legitimate negotiating partner—along the lines of what Britain successfully did with Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the 1990s—it is doubtful whether a political solution to this continuing crisis can be reached.

The EUTCC takes note that the recent hunger strike by more than 1,500 imprisoned, non-violent Kurdish dissidents (the so-called KCK arrests and trials) was only successfully concluded when the Turkish government finally turned to negotiating with Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader. Surely if Ocalan can help end the dangerous hunger strike that was challenging Turkish authority and stability, it would behoove Turkey to renew discreet negotiations with him and other senior PKK leaders that were broken off in 2011.

Thus the EUTCC calls for the resumption of the Oslo Process of direct talks between Turkey and the PKK with the intention of instituting Turkey’s full respect for the fundamental democratic rights of all its citizens. Specifically we call for civic rather than ethnic Turkish citizenship, mother-tongue education, and meaningful decentralization, among other necessary reforms, that can be best implemented by writing and ratifying a new civilian and democratic constitution to replace the statist military one imposed in 1982, by the military coup of 1980.

Professor Michael Gunter / Kariane Westrheim / Hans Branscheidt

EUTCC Board of Directors