Jun 21, 2011

AK Party won, now Kurds win; here’s why

The Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) landslide victory by almost 50 percent of the vote once more raises the long-standing Kurdish question.
Cities in Turkey’s Southeast, which are mostly inhabited by Kurds, sent a clear message to the victorious prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, by mainly voting for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Even though the AK Party secured around 30 seats in predominantly Kurdish cities, close to the BDP’s 36 seats, this result is still considered a weak performance by the AK Party compared to previous results, especially in the conservative city of Diyarbakır, the biggest in the Southeast. However, expectations are high for solving the Kurdish issue through a reform of the Constitution and economic benefits for the region.
The AK Party government started a so-called “democratization process,” which mainly was an opening process toward Kurds and other minorities through raising democratic standards. During the AK Party era ascendant steps have been taken; yet many more steps should follow for a radical solution of the decades-long Kurdish issue. Undoubtedly, the prime minister’s steps paved the way for Kurdish rights — reflected in liberal policies and infrastructure improvement in Kurdish cities. However, when some bigoted nationalists tried to provoke the process, Prime Minister Erdoğan pushed to halt the process.
After the AK Party’s historic victory, some real challenges face Erdoğan — especially preparing a new constitution. The Kurdish issue is expected to top the agenda, and this issue will collide with Turkish nationalists’ fierce rejection. Yet, we should be sanguine about expectations on the Kurdish question because during his nine years of rule, Erdoğan has proceeded with some resolute steps with unprecedented fortitude such as liberalizing policies and opening a round-the-clock Kurdish TV channel. The new AK Party-led government is trying to solve the most sensitive issue in modern Turkish history gradually and smoothly. Any provocation may get Turkish nationalists angry, aggravate the situation and lead to a stalemate. Additionally, despite all the challenging obstacles, there are signals for a more Kurdish-friendly constitution to end the bloody conflict in southeastern Turkey. Below, I will present short and simple but realistic reasons why I’m optimistic about the AK Party’s solution for the Kurdish question.
At the top of Erdoğan’s agenda for the next period is the new, promised civilian constitution. The most challenging matter to tackle is clearly going to be the Kurdish question — the issue Mr. Erdoğan always wanted to see addressed peacefully. Kurds will get their cultural and political rights with the new constitution. Mr. Erdoğan promised to write a more democratic and liberal constitution — and Kurds are going to be the main beneficiaries of this. Also, there will be exclusive and radical changes in the new constitution for the sake of Kurds and other minorities. The first beneficiaries of individual rights are going to be Kurds and other minorities. However, that’s not going to threaten Turkey’s unity because when Kurdish citizens feel they are equal with Turks and other citizens, they will be proud of their citizenship. Furthermore, as Turkish President Abdullah Gül has indicated on many occasions, diversity is a source of a richer Turkey and not vice versa; that’s what Turkish nationalists, if they really love Turkey, should understand — a more diverse Turkey means a richer Turkey. Moreover, Mr. Erdoğan’s plan for 2023 is very hard to achieve without Kurds because Kurds comprise at least 20 percent of Turkey’s population. So Mr. Erdoğan should consider Kurds as an important factor for his 2023 plan, and he has already done so. Mr. Erdoğan in his campaign rally in Ankara announced his plan for Diyarbakır, which will make this city a financial and tourism hub. Changing the constitution and implementing the “AK Party’s 2023 vision” will solve all political, cultural and economic issues.
These two radical reasons along with what was achieved previously through the “democratization process” and the AK Party leadership’s desire for a solution will put an end to the Kurdish issue, but the road won’t be straightforward, especially given the ultranationalists’ attempts to create problems along the way and depict the matter as grim or a taboo subject that will ruin Turkey’s national unity. However, in the end, wisdom, moderation and tolerance will win, and Mr. Erdoğan’s strong will will gently do away with the hurdles. The pro-Kurdish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-backed BDP should also avoid provocative methods that might gridlock the bleeding wound or damage all the steps that have been taken so far; if not, the BDP will only have itself to blame.

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