Turkey raises hopes of peace with Kurds

The Guardian

Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is likely to use his sweeping election victory to open a dialogue with his country’s Kurdish insurgents, according to Turkish and Kurdish experts.

He is also expected to oppose an invasion of Kurdish northern Iraq and has invited the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to Ankara for talks that would include US officials.

Mr Erdogan is in a strong position to dismiss military pressure for a cross-border crackdown on PKK Kurdish guerrillas based in northern Iraq and to extract concessions on the Kurdish conflict from the Americans and Kurdish leaders.

Turkey has massed tens of thousands of troops on the Iraqi border in recent weeks, with hawks in the high command pressing for an invasion. Mr Erdogan has resisted. Thrust into an unassailable position by a landslide election victory on Sunday, he now looks better placed to push a new political initiative on the Kurdish issue rather than opt for military action.

“Invasion is off the agenda now, there’s a new momentum,” said Cengiz Candar, a Turkish analyst.

As well as securing a national victory on Sunday, Mr Erdogan scored a remarkable triumph in the Kurdish south-east, doubling the vote of his AKP or Justice and Development party in mainly Kurdish areas to win an absolute majority of the vote with 52%.

“The AKP beat us. The government now has complete power and legitimacy,” said a Kurdish official in the regional capital of Diyarbakir.

Having received such a vote of confidence from the Kurds, Mr Erdogan is unlikely to alienate them by invading. The Americans are fiercely opposed to a Turkish incursion into Kurdistan, the only bit of Iraq that is relatively stable and successful.

At the weekend, the British ambassador in Ankara said he could not see what Turkey had to gain from invading northern Iraq. Government officials and diplomats agree.

One former Turkish ambassador said Turkish forces would get bogged down “in a quagmire” in the guerrilla territory of mountainous northern Iraq.

An aide to Mr Erdogan said: “There’s been 26 cross-border operations in 30 years. If Turkey had the feeling that a 27th would put an end to the PKK, it would not blink.”

In addition to the AKP’s electoral success in the Kurdish areas, the main Kurdish party in Turkey, the DTP, took 23 seats, putting it in the new parliament for the first time since 1994. The DTP is seen as the political wing of the PKK. The Turkish election system is stacked against it by setting a 10% national threshold for representation in parliament. The DTP beat the system by running candidates as independents.

“That will make a difference,” said Hizsar Ozsoy, a Kurdish analyst in Diyarbakir. “There’s definitely a chance for a political opening.”

The Erdogan camp has been trying to open political channels to the Kurdish leadership in Iraq for months, but has been stymied by the military top brass and the outgoing hostile president of Turkey.

When Mr Erdogan wanted to invite the Iraqi president and Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani, to Ankara, Turkey’s president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, vetoed the move.

In Istanbul and Ankara, the military pressure for an invasion was also seen as a warning to the Erdogan government against dialogue with the Kurdish leadership.

Turkey has been at war with the PKK for 30 years in a conflict that has taken almost 40,000 lives. At least 70 Turkish security forces have been killed this year. Turkey is home to around 15 million Kurds, by far the biggest of the Kurdish populations also native to Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Officially, Turkey does not recognise the regional government of Kurdistan led by Massoud Barzani. But, sources say, there were attempts several months ago to set up a secret meeting between the Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, and Mr Barzani, who, when leading the Kurdish insurgency against Saddam Hussein, travelled on a Turkish diplomatic passport.

“If there’s an improvement in contacts with Kurdistan and with Barzani, that will be good for the Turkish Kurds,” said the Kurdish official.

The key to any breakthrough, said the Erdogan aide, was a clear signal on “terrorism” from Mr Barzani.

July 25, 2007 | Comments Off on Turkey raises hopes of peace with Kurds

Subscribe to Israpundit Daily Digest