Crying “Wolf”: Why Turkish Fears Need Not Block Kurdish Reform  / International Crisis Group (ICG)

Istanbul/Brussels, 7 October 2013: Turkey’s government needs to recover lost momentum, press forward with democratic reforms and constitutional revision, and recognise that steps that benefit the country’s Kurds must be decoupled from disarmament talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

In its latest report, Crying “Wolf”: Why Turkish Fears Need Not Block Kurdish Reform, the International Crisis Group examines the current state of Turkey’s peace process with the Kurdish insurgency. The report argues that the government can do more to capitalise on the willingness of Kurds to live inside a democratising Turkey, the readiness of mainstream Turks to move beyond decades of conflict and the relative weakness of Turkish nationalist opposition to Kurdish reforms.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

Peace talks between Ankara and the PKK have stalled amid a heightening of hostile rhetoric on both sides. The PKK needs to do more to convince Turks it wants a compromise peace; the government needs to spell out a comprehensive conflict-resolution strategy, including democratic reforms, not as a concession to insurgents but because reforms would both satisfy Kurds’ demands and benefit everyone in the country.

Turkish politicians use fear of a nationalist backlash to justify their hesitation to address some of Turkey’s Kurds’ main grievances. In fact, the government’s previous steps on linguistic and cultural rights for Kurds faced minimal public reaction. Despite the hardline discourse of the political opposition, most mainstream Turks can embrace democratic reforms.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has broken taboos in its outreach to Turkey’s Kurds, but it needs to recommit to a new constitution and laws that eliminate all ethnic bias, to full education in mother languages, to lowering the 10 per cent electoral threshold, to strengthening local government and to changing anti-terror laws to decriminalise non-violent dissent.

The Kurdish national movement, including the PKK and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), needs to stop issuing threats that fuel Turkish fears of Kurdish secession or a resurgence of violence; to denounce parallel state formations inside Turkey, including local militias; and to maintain commitment to the existing ceasefire.

“Most Kurds still want a settlement inside Turkey as equal citizens, and the government must take urgent steps to get the majority on its side”, says Didem Collinsworth, Crisis Group’s Turkey Analyst. “The greatest risk for the AKP is not a possible loss of marginal votes, but that the process fails and the fighting rolls on into a fourth decade”.

“Turkish leaders should explain to the public the advantages of the road to an enduring peace and refrain from a mission impossible of outflanking Turkish ultra-nationalists with moves to the right and anti-Kurdish-movement rhetoric”, Hugh Pope, Crisis Group’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia. “The need to cater to an implacable ‘grey wolf’ of Turkish nationalism has become a fearful reflex among politicians but doesn’t reflect mainstream reality in the population at large”.

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