The Conditions for Peace
Ferhat Kentel (Sehir University, Istanbul), interviewed by Nicola Mirenzi 30 November 2011

“The Kurdish issue is an ancient one, dating back at least to the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923,” Kentel explained. “The Turkish state has never recognized the Kurds as a specific minority belonging to the national population. This issue became radicalized above all after the 1980 coup d’état, when the torture and abuse suffered by Kurds resulted in the PKK’s taking up arms. For this reason,” said Kentel, “I believe that a great deal depends on the state’s policies. When the state becomes more intransigent, then so does the Kurdish movement. The point today is to understand whether this conflict will have a political outcome or continue on the path of violence.”

Kentel’s impression, however was that “the AKP government wishes to impose a unilateral solution,” which would make this problem “even more insoluble. I am pessimistic about the near future,” he confessed, “but optimistic for the long-term, because I believe that Turkish society has the ability to absorb conflicts and find ways to coexist.”

The Erdoğan government – now serving its third term – had openly envisaged the possibility of a pacification of the Kurdish conflict with the so-called “democratic initiative.” This raised hope, but also many concerns. And now, that reformist spirit no longer seems present. This is also perhaps the most unsuitable time for a loss of faith, just when Turkey is preparing to rewrite its constitution.

“The AKP’s attitude,” explained Kentel, “has changed radically since 34 PKK militants returned home in October 2009, a passage agreed upon with the government to mark the beginning of a peace process. But these militants, after crossing the Turkish-Iraqi border in Habur, were welcomed as heroes by thousands of Kurds, and the Turkish nationalist core reacted very harshly. The nationalists said that the PKK was celebrating its victory because of Erdoğan and that what was taking place was a real humiliation for the Turkish Republic. This rejection of the democratic option has led the AKP government to step back from its readiness for the peace process, and since then I believe there has been further change. The AKP was afraid and did not have the strength to continue on its path, and so the state’s traditional mentality re-emerged within the AKP. From then on, the AKP has tried to corner the PKK, attempting to force it to surrender. It is very unlikely that this will happen, since the PKK does not consider surrender an option. And that is where we stand today. There is still room for some manoeuvring, but one cannot say whether peace or war will prevail.”

According to Kentel, the process set in motion around the drafting of the new constitution may have beneficial effects both for Turkish democracy in general, and at a later date for resolving the Kurdish issue. “For the first time in Turkish history, people, groups, civil society, are all openly debating how the constitution should be changed. The fundamental charter has really become a social issue, while until now it had always been reserved to juridical circles, to lawyers, to people belonging to the state’s upper echelons. Today the constitution has become a social heritage. It is society that debates it, and this makes me optimistic. If the idea of a more advanced constitution with greater freedom and rights, which is more useful to all people, takes root in society, this will create the conditions for really resolving the Kurdish issue.”

Translated by Francesca Simmons