‘We are at the point of no return’ on Kurdish issue, says Davutoğlu

Hürriyet – 25.4.2013 – “It is like trying to swim across a river flowing wild,” was the metaphor used by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to describe the Kurdish solution process initiated by the government.

“Up until the halfway point, you have the option to turn back; it would be shorter anyway. But once you make it halfway, you want to reach the other bank no matter what it takes, turning back would both take longer and be riskier.”

On board the plane carrying him from the NATO meetings in Brussels back to Ankara on the evening of April 23, Davutoğlu pointed out that “the risk” was not only for the government but for the “organization” as well – avoiding using the name of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is expected to make a statement on April 25 at its headquarters in Iraq’s Kandil Mountains regarding the pullout its estimated 1,500 militants from Turkey as a part of the dialogue process that started late in 2012. “On what grounds will the organization say it is abandoning the process?” Davutoğlu asked. “It is difficult to get armed again when the hopes of peace have been cultivated across society. Of course, no one can expect this process to be smooth. But if you have the capacity to see the difficulties, then you have the capability to prevent those. The psychological threshold, which in my view is 60 percent of the difficulties, has been exceeded. The withdrawal and laying down of arms are the stages related with the implementation of the process. I can see the light in the eyes of the people I talked to in Diyarbakır, Manisa and other places I visited for this purpose. The cost of abandoning the process now would be too high for everyone.”

Davutoğlu is among a few people in the close circle of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan who actually knows what is going on. It is also evident from the self-criticism regarding the first attempt in 2009-2010 by the government to have talks, the Oslo talks with the PKK representatives, with the help of the good offices of a Western NGO. Back in 2009, the first party of eight unarmed militants had turned back from their mountain bases to Turkey from Habur border gate with Iraq. They were not only greeted by tens and thousands of PKK sympathizers, which turned into demonstration of victory, but also ended up with their arrests by the courts; Erdoğan himself later admitted that the first process had collapsed in Habur actually.

“We took our lessons from Habur,” Davutoğlu says. “Then we had tried a shortcut solution with no psychological preparation of society. Now there is a process getting ripe step by step for months. There are advantages to having direct talks; both the BDP (the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party) and the Intelligence (MİT) officers are talking (to Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK) directly. Barring a big provocative act, God forbid, I don’t see any reason for turning back. That is why the rhetoric of Devlet Bahçeli (the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party –MHP) is dangerous.”

Davutoğlu added that the Turkish government had been having encouraging support from the European Union and the U.S. regarding the process. Is it becoming a part of official talks between him and his counterparts? “No,” replies Davutoğlu. “I am not talking about the process except chatting about the known facts. One guest foreign minister asked us to make it an item of the joint agenda, and I refused. We are talking the crime side of it with counterparts. An exemption could be the Kurdish officials in North Iraq, who can actually contribute to the process. Otherwise, this is a family matter. We’d like to solve it within the family.”