By Professor Michael Gunter
On 28 October 2013, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Representative Office in the United States, organized a one-day conference on “The Kurdish Role in the New Middle East” at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The primary concern of this conference was to analyze the current state of the foundering Turkish-Kurdish peace process. This brief report will detail some of the most important points made at this conference.
Cengiz Candar, a prominent Turkish journalist, argued that a neutral third party facilitator was needed, not a one-man show as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan currently appeared to be. At the present time the Turkish and Kurdish sides are finding it difficult to dialogue. Indeed, Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of the BDP, said that so far the peace process has seemed more like a monologue than a dialogue. Cengiz Candar also added that the following are necessary for the peace process to move forward: 1. Patience; 2. A vision for an end game; 3. Political courage; and 4. A procedure to follow facilitated by a third party.
David Philips, the Director of the Program on Peace-building at Columbia University, declared that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seems to have thought that the process itself was the goal, not any substantive results. Philips added that there was no strategy to reintegrate the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) into society. An amnesty plan to cover all PKK members was necessary, but lacking. No steps had been taken to lower the voting threshold for a political party to enter the Turkish parliament from the currently too high figure of 10 percent. He recommended a lower threshold of 5 percent, which was in line with modern European standards. Also lacking was any statement about devolving power to local governments. Articles 5 and 301 in the Turkish penal code currently restricting democracy should be abolished. Self-censorship in Turkey was a problem because people know their media outlets will be closed down or they themselves even imprisoned for unpopular things they might say. No steps had been taken to free the thousands of Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) members currently held in prison on charges of terrorism despite their not being involved in any violence.
Amberin Zaman, a columnist for the prestigious British weekly The Economist, gave maybe the most penetrating retort after her declaration that Turkey was giving aid to Al-Qaeda affiliated groups currently attacking the Kurds in Syria. A representative of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC, strongly denied this claim, but Zaman replied that if Turkey was not supporting these Al-Qaeda affiliates, she had been talking to a lot of liers. Zaman had gathered her information from dozens of captured Salafists in Syria.
Lincoln Davis, the former co-chair of the US Congressional Kurdish Caucus, declared that the United States should condemn the current Iranian executions of Kurds not guilty of violence. He also called for the United States to hold talks with Salih Muslim, the co-chair of the (Kurdish) Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria. Salih Muslim had been denied a US visa and so had to address the conference via Skype. James Jeffrey, the former US Ambassador to Turkey, explained that both Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq (KRG) had objected to Salih Muslim’s PYD. Therefore, said Jeffrey, the United States was unwilling to move forward on allowing Salih Muslim to obtain a visa and also would not meet with him. Michael Gunter, the Secretary-General of the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) and professor of political science at Tennessee Tech University, commented that the United States should not be so cautious, but rather take the lead on this issue and even delist the PKK from its terrorist list. After all, if Turkey was currently negotiating with the PKK, why should the United States keep the PKK on its terrorism list? What is more, of course, the PYD was not even on the US terrorist list. Indeed, the PYD was a secularly oriented, self-proclaimed admirer of the United States. However, as matters now stood, the United States and Turkey were in effect supporting Al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria against this potential Kurdish ally, an ironic situation indeed!