Gov’t reshuffle linked to Kurdish peace push

ANKARA – Hürriyet – 26.1.2013 – Recent replacements to Turkey’s Cabinet are said to be linked to the ongoing peace process, particularly after the removal of controversial interior minister.

The partial Cabinet reshuffle is a clear indicator of the government’s willingness to solve the Kurdish question and end terrorism, according to senior officials from the ruling party who noted the significance of the much-criticized interior minister’s replacement as Kurdish politicians expressed cautious optimism.

“This reshuffle should be evaluated as a political step taken by the government in the direction of solving the problem,” ruling AKP officials said Jan. 25.

As part of the reshuffle, Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin was replaced by Muammer Güler, Education Minister Ömer Dinçer will see Habi Avcı take his spot, Health Minister Recep Akdağ will be exchanged for Mehmet Müezzinoğlu and Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay by Ömer Çelik. A Cabinet reshuffle was long expected, but despite initial predictions it involved only four ministers. The move came just weeks after the government launched a new initiative to solve the Kurdish issue by entering into dialogue with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Nationalists have strongly opposed the process, which they see as a very strong concession against terrorists and a risky move for the country’s unity. Şahin, known for his ultranationalist statements, could pose an obstacle to the government’s efforts in this end. AKP officials cited this view as well in their comments on the Cabinet changes and said Şahin’s successor would likely contribute more positively to the process. Echoing this view, Güler diffused an air of optimism in his first message given Jan. 25 saying, “We will make peace doves fly over Southeast Anatolia. We’ll continue our work to let everybody live in happiness, security and prosperity.” A deputy from Mardin in the southeastern Anatolia region, Güler is expected to reflect his constituency’s feelings and opinions to Ankara and vice versa. Likewise Çelik’s promotion to the Cabinet will also be an important development as he is known to be a prominent architect of the party’s Kurdish opening. Although he will serve as the culture minister, Çelik’s influence is expected to extend beyond his area of responsibility.

BDP cautiously optimistic

Şahin’s dismissal from the government did not create “a festival” or “great excitement” in the Kurdish issue-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), although some of its representatives welcomed his replacement by Güler. While they have evaluated Güler’s appointment as interior minister as a goodwill gesture, his background as a former governor and police chief have caused doubts to form in their minds. Güler was the governor of Istanbul when the police used disproportionate force against participants in May Day celebrations. He also drew reactions due to his reluctance to investigate the murder of Hrant Dink in 2007.

However, for the BDP the policies the AKP implements will be much more important than the figures it appoints as ministers or high-level bureaucrats.

“Güler has to pass the test in this process. Everyone should play their own role in the process. We want a process without pepper spray, bombs or police intervention. A process in which lawmakers will not be beaten; journalists, lawyers and students will not be arrested and civil society will not be oppressed will bring good points for Güler,” Pervin Buldan, the BDP’s deputy parliamentary group leader said Jan. 25. “İdris Naim Şahin is the worst disaster and trouble that could befall Turkey. We are grateful to be getting rid of him. God forbid we see his face again,” she said. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç also praised Güler. “He is a good-humored person. He has civic relations,” he said.