Resolving Turkey s K U R D I S H I S S U E

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1 Resolving Turkey s K U R D I S H I S S U E

2 Resolving Turkey s Kurdish Issue Turkey is in the midst of redrafting its constitution and the Kurdish issue appears to be the most challenging aspect of the process. The Rethink Institute, in line with its mission of understanding contemporary political and cultural challenges in realizing peace and justice around the world, brought together known experts to discuss every angle of the issue and thus contribute to its peaceful resolution. The one-day conference, which took place on May 22, 2012, at the Institute s Washington DC offices, featured panel discussions focusing on the status of the Kurdish citizens in Turkey and the new constitutional efforts, the PKK, the politics of the regional Kurds and the increasing complexity of the issue as the crisis in Syria unravels. The following are proceedings of the conference.



5 The Rethink Institute is a private, not-for-profit, nonpartisan research institution devoted to deepen our understanding of contemporary political and cultural challenges facing communities and societies around the world, in realizing peace and justice, broadly defined. The Institute pursues this mission by facilitating research on public policies and civic initiatives centering on dispute resolution, peace building, dialogue development, and education. Toward these goals, the Institute sponsors rigorous research and analysis, supports visiting scholar programs, and organizes workshops and conferences. Rethink Institute. All rights reserved ISBN: Printed in the United States of America Rethink Institute 750 First St., NE, Suite 1125 Washington, DC Phone: (202) Fax: (202) This publication can be downloaded at no cost at

6 Contents Abbreviations and Acronyms 1 Introduction 5 Contributors 9 Panel I Assessing the Kurdish Issue: Constitutional Politics, the AKP s Kurdish Policy, Demographic Challenges 34 Panel II The Actors of the Conflict: The Turkish Government, the PKK/KCK, Civil Society Efforts of Conflict Resolution 65 Panel III The Regional Dimensions of the Kurdish Issue: Turkey s Relations with Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Kurdistan Regional Government; Interactions between the Kurds in the Region

7 Abbreviations and Acronyms AKP BDP CHP DTK KCK KRG MHP PJAK PKK PYD SNC Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi [Justice and Development Party] Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi [Peace and Democracy Party] Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi [People s Republican Party] Demokratik Toplum Kongresi [Democratic People s Congress] Komo Civaken Kürdistan [Kurdistan Union of Communities] Kurdistan Regional Government [Northern Iraq] Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi [Nationalist Action Party] Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistan [Party of Free Life of Kurdistan] [Iran] Partiya Karkeren Kürdistan [Kurdistan Workers Party] Partiya Yekitiya Demokrat [Democratic Union Party] [Syria] Syrian National Council

8 Introduction Turkey s Kurdish problem is an increasingly complex, multifaceted issue. It is a political issue about democratization, basic rights and freedoms, and recognition of cultural rights. It is a conflict breeding violence, terrorism and brutality. It is a regional crisis, implicating the millions of Kurdish minorities living in the neighboring countries. A peaceful resolution of this protracted issue would require addressing its political, social, and regional aspects, all at once. By bringing together distinguished experts working on the issue, the Rethink Institute hopes to provide a roadmap for the peaceful resolution of the conflict and send a strong message of hope to the affected communities. It is critical that we take up this issue at a moment when Turkey is redrafting its constitution. The Kurdish issue has emerged at the forefront of the constitutional debate. The Kurdish citizens of Turkey demand a constitutional recognition, granting them the right to use the Kurdish language in educational and public institutions, and providing for some form of autonomy. The calls for an independent state have significantly subsided. According to surveys, the majority of the Turkish people do not oppose these demands, as long as they do not become a prelude to a process of secession. It is important to acknowledge that the Kurdish issue is larger than the PKK insurgency. The Kurdish issue is a protracted problem tracing back to 1850s when the Kurdish tribal leaders rebelled against the modernization and centralization attempts of the Ottoman government. The PKK, on the other hand, is an armed secessionist movement that emerged in the mid- 1980s and continues to be active to this day, drawing support from large segments of Kurdish communities and various international sponsors. During Turkey s war of liberation in the early 1920s Turks and Kurds fought the enemy together. The Kurdish tribal leaders were promised regional autonomy and recognition by the nascent republican government in Ankara. These promises were not kept, and the people in the Kurdish region revolted against the Ankara government in This uprising was violently suppressed, but no less than twenty similar revolts took place in the next fifteen years. The young republican government devised two types of responses to the Kurdish demands and insurgency. On one hand, Atatürk and his closest lieutenant İnonü embraced militaristic measures, such as declaring martial law in the region, forcefully relocating tens of thousands of Kurdish families to western Turkey, and launching a Turkification campaign towards the Kurdish communities. This approach peaked during the rule of the military junta in 1960 when the government declared a political war against those

9 Rethink Institute who think they are Kurds. On the other, the one-time prime minister and later the first president of the multi-party era, Celal Bayar, defended a civilian approach with emphasis on more moderate measures such as revising bad policies and attending the needs of citizens. This dualism in Turkey s Kurdish policy has continued to this day. During most of the history of the republic, however, the militaristic approach has prevailed. This was a result of the undue influence of the Turkish military on the political processes. The Turkish military defined the issue as a matter of national security and dealt with it accordingly while, the civilian governments quietly yield to it. In the peak years of military influence, it was literally impossible to discuss the issue without being branded a traitor or a terrorist. As the PKK intensified its operations in the 1990s, the armed forces were granted enormous amount of power and resources to battle the insurrection. This, in turn, weakened the hand of the elected governments, as well as the prospect for Turkish democracy. The AKP, which came to power in 2002 after five years of unchallenged military influence, took the issue seriously from the outset and lifted the state of emergency imposed on the region since the early days of the Republic. It further introduced Kurdish TV broadcasts and lifted the ban on use of Kurdish names for the places. In 2005, Prime Minister Erdoğan publicly acknowledged while in Diyarbakır, the largest city in the Kurdish region, that Turkey has a Kurdish issue, an unprecedented move by the highest government official. The AKP administration also introduced an unprecedented reconciliation campaign in 2009, which involved a program to integrate PKK militants to the society, The democratic opening campaign failed quickly as the parties of the conflict did not seem to be ready for peace. The military establishment, and Turkish nationalists, could not accept the possibility of an amnesty for PKK militants, while the PKK was not ready to give up the fight without being acknowledged as triumphant freedom fighters. The process was abruptly derailed in August 2007, after a PKK attack on a remote military post, which left seven Turkish soldiers dead. Turkey was first introduced to the PKK in 1984, when the organization launched its first attack against Turkish security forces. The organization was founded by Abdullah Öcalan in 1978 with the aim of creating an independent Kurdish state in eastern Turkey. In the years between its founding and the first attack, Öcalan and his friends were busy defining their strategy, recruiting militants, and eliminating rival Kurdish groups. In the meantime, the Turkish military staged a coup in 1980 and established martial law during which it arrested, prosecuted, and tortured thousands of individuals, including many Kurds. According to numerous personal accounts, memoirs, 2

10 Resolving Turkey s Kurdish Question and press reports, the brutality unleashed in the Diyarbakır prison during this time gave a big boost to recruiting efforts of the PKK. The PKK has remained to this day, a radical militant organization that does not refrain from using violence against not only Turkish security forces, government officials, and civilians, but also Kurdish civilians, intellectuals, or simply anybody who challenges it. Since the 1980s, the PKK has executed hundreds of its own militants for disobedience or operational failure. In addition, Öcalan has eliminated every possible challenger to his authority. The organization frequently resorts to forceful recruitment of underage kids from the Kurdish villages in southeastern Turkey as well as extortion from Kurdish businessmen in Turkey and Europe. These criminal tactics of the PKK have led to some analysts claiming that the Kurds in Turkey have a PKK problem. The PKK presents itself as the sole representative of the Kurds in Turkey. The BDP, the party that represents the Kurdish interest in Turkey, claims to be independent; but it is publicly known that their nominees for political offices are confirmed by the PKK leadership. In this respect, it is incredibly difficult for the Kurdish citizens to express their political will independently of the PKK. Despite the PKK s prevalence, however, not all Kurds appear to embrace its aspirations: During the last five elections, more than half of all the eligible Kurdish votes have been cast in favor of parties other than the BDP, mainly the AKP. After the capture of Öcalan in 1999, the PKK leadership publicly declared that they had abandoned the goal of independence and had instead focused on the concept of autonomy within a federal setting. The PKK also changed its name first to KADEK and then to KONGRA-GEL after being included in the list of terrorist organizations compiled by the United States and some European states. In 2007, Öcalan, who is in prison in Turkey but still manages to send messages to his comrades via his lawyers, declared a new organization called the KCK. The KCK was built to politically represent the Kurds not only in Turkey but also in the neighboring countries of Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It is intended be a political structure that would operate within the borders of these states. The organization was immediately declared illegal by the Turkish Government. On the 14 th of July 2011, the KCK representatives declared democratic autonomy in Turkey. On the same day, PKK militants attacked a platoon and killed 13 Turkish soldiers in Silvan, Diyarbakır. Thus, the Kurdish issue has taken a tragic turn. Lately, the conflict follows a certain pattern. It starts with the rise of a conciliatory mood in the society. When the majority starts to believe in the peaceful resolution of the conflict, there comes an unexpected but a major PKK attack that leaves many Turkish soldiers dead. The national mood swiftly turns sour, the airwaves fills with vows of vengeance. The Turkish security forces launch a retaliation 3

11 Rethink Institute campaign. After a while, all parties are invited to consider a ceasefire and calls for resumption of peace talks become more frequent. Subsequently, a conciliatory mood settles in society. Then a major PKK attack follows, and retaliation takes the place of negotiations. This pattern has been repeated over and over in the recent years, most recently on July 14, 2011, October 19, 2011, and June 19, It is difficult to talk about linguistic rights while blood continues to spill. After every such incident grief and anger takes over the political conversation. Since 1984, the conflict has cost Turkey no less than 50,000 lives, more than one million displaced persons, and $300 billion. What to do about it? How to defeat it? How to end the bloodshed? We have to address these questions, as we also need to continue the much needed conversation about improving basic rights and freedoms for the Kurdish citizens in Turkey. Fevzi Bilgin Executive Director Rethink Institute 4

12 Resolving Turkey s Kurdish Question Contributors TOZUN BAHCHELI is professor of political science at King's University College at Western University, London, Canada. He has written widely on ethnic conflict in Cyprus, secessionist conflicts in divided societies, Greek- Turkish relations and selected Turkish foreign policy issues. He is the author of Greek-Turkish Relations Since 1955 (Westview Press, 1990) and co-editor of De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty (Routledge, 2004). Among his recent publications is The Justice and Development Party and the Kurdish Question (co-authored with Sid Noel) in Nationalisms and Politics in Turkey; Political Islam, Kemalism and the Kurdish Issue, ed. Marlies Casier and Joost Jongerden (Routledge, 2010). BAYRAM BALCI is a visiting scholar in Carnegie s Middle East Program, where his research focuses on Turkey and Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. He is also with CERI Science Po, in Paris, France. As a research fellow at the French Institute for Anatolian Studies (IFEA) in Istanbul, Turkey, Balci established the Institute s office in Baku, Azerbaijan. From 2006 to 2010, he was the director of the French Institute for Central Asian Studies (IFEAC) in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. He is the author of Missionnaires de l'islam en Asie centrale: Les écoles turques de Fethullah Gülen (Maisonneuve & Larose, 2003) and recently co-edited China and India in Central Asia: A New "Great Game"? (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). FEVZI BILGIN is the executive director of the Rethink Institute. He has published on constitutional politics, religion and politics, and political liberalism, Turkish politics, and Middle Eastern politics. He received BA from Ankara University and PhD in political science from the University of Pittsburgh. He previously taught at Sakarya University and St. Mary's College of Maryland. His recent publications include Political Liberalism in Muslim Societies (Routledge, 2011) and Understanding Turkey s Kurdish Question (ed. forthcoming) JEFFREY C. DIXON is an Assistant Professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and formerly an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Koç University in Istanbul. He earned his PhD in Sociology from Indiana University-Bloomington in 2006, and his dissertation was entitled Where Does Turkey Belong? Examining Europeans' Attitudes and Liberal- Democratic Values in Turkey, the European Union, and the Muslim World. His current and future research includes a focus on Turkey and the European 5

13 Rethink Institute Union, minority rights in Turkey, as well as attitudes toward the Kurds. His research has appeared in such journals as The British Journal of Sociology, European Societies, Social Science Quarterly, and Contexts. NADER ENTASSAR is Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice at the University of South Alabama. He is the author of several books, journal articles, and book chapters on the politics of the Middle East, including Kurdish Ethnonationalism, and most recently Kurdish Politics in the Middle East. Dr. Entessar has been the recipient of Fulbright and National Endowment for the Humanities awards. DOGAN KOC is a research fellow at the Gulen Institute at the University of Houston. He received his PhD degree in Political Science from the University of Texas at Dallas. In his studies, he focuses on conflict resolution, international relations, and social movements. Recently, he has completed an extensive qualitative research on Turkey's Kurdish conflict. He analyzes the strategies of military, government and civil society applied in the resolution of the conflict. Dr. Koc is also the author Strategic Defamation of Fethullah Gulen: Turkish vs. English (University Press of America, 2012). F. STEPHEN LARRABEE holds the Distinguished Chair in European Security at the RAND Corporation. His articles include, Turkey s Kurdish Challenge, co-author with Gonul Tol (Survival, August/September 2011); Ukraine at the Crossroads (Washington Quarterly, Fall 2007); Turkey Rediscovers the Middle East (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2007); and Danger and Opportunity in Eastern Europe (Foreign Affairs, November/December 2006). Other recent publications include, Troubled Partnership: U.S.-Turkish Relations in an Era of Global Geopolitical Change; NATO s Eastern Agenda in a New Strategic Era; co-author with Ian Lesser of Turkish Foreign Policy in an Age of Uncertainty. ROBERT OLSON is Professor of Middle East History and Islamic History at the University of Kentucky where he is a University Research Professor. Professor Olson was selected as the Kirwan Memorial Prize University Professor in and Distinguished Professor of the College of Arts and Sciences in He is the author of many books including The Ba th and Syria: From the French Mandate to the Era of Hafiz al-asad (1982); The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism and the Sheikh Said Rebellion: (1989); The Kurdish Question and Turkish-Iranian Relations: From World War 1 to 1998 (1998); Turkey s Relations with Iran, Syria, Israel and Russia, (2001); The Goat and the Butcher: Nationalism and State 6

14 Resolving Turkey s Kurdish Question Formation in Kurdistan-Iraq since the Iraqi War (2005); Blood, Beliefs and Ballots: The Management of Kurdish Nationalism in Turkey: (2009). DAVID ROMANO holds the Thomas G. Strong Chair in Middle East Politics at Missouri State University. Some of his recent publications include The Kurdish Nationalist Movement (2006, Cambridge University Press Kürt Dirilişi: Olanak, Mobilizasyon ve Kimlik in 2010 Turkish translation with Vate Publishing); Turkish and Iranian efforts to deter Kurdish insurgent attacks, ( in Wenger, Andreas and Alex Wilner, Deterring Terrorism: Theory and Practice, 2012); The Struggle for Autonomy and Decentralization: Iraqi Kurdistan, (in Lamani, Mokhtar and Bessma Momani, eds., From Desolation to Reconstruction: Iraq s Troubled Journey, 2010); The Kurds and Contemporary Regional Political Dynamics (in Gareth Stansfield and Robert Lowe, eds., The Kurdish Policy Imperative, 2010); He writes a weekly political column for Rudaw, an Iraqi Kurdish newspaper, and has spent several years living and/or conducting field research in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Israel/Palestine. GUNES MURAT TEZCUR is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Chicago. He has received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in His work on democratization, political violence and ethnicity, Muslim political attitudes, judicial activism, and electoral politics has appeared in more than a dozen scholarly outlets in the last five years. He is also the author of Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey: The Paradox of Moderation (2010). He has conducted extensive field research in Kurdish inhabited areas of Turkey since His current project examines the conditions under which ordinary people take extraordinary risks and join insurgent movements. GONUL TOL is the founding director of the Middle East Institute s Center for Turkish Studies. She is also an adjunct professor at George Washington University s Institute for Middle East Studies. She received her Ph.D. degree in Political Science from Florida International University where she was a graduate fellow at the Middle East Studies Center. She previously worked at the U.S. Representative Office of the Turkish Industry and Business Association. (TUSIAD) She was also an adjunct professor at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University. BILAL WAHAB is from Iraqi Kurdistan, and is currently a doctoral student at George Mason University (GMU). He is also affiliated with GMU s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center. He served as the governance advisor for citizen participation in public decision-making at 7

15 Rethink Institute USAID's Local Governance Program in Iraq. Prior to that, he worked for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. In the run up to Iraq's first democratic elections, he worked for the International Republican Institute and the American Development Foundation, where he trained election candidates, monitors and journalists. AHMET YUKLEYEN is Croft Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Mississippi and a senior resident fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars for He received his Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Boston University in His dissertation research in Germany and the Netherlands in was funded by grants from Wenner Gren Foundation, United States Institute of Peace, and Dutch Council of Higher Education. His book titled Localizing Islam in Europe: Turkish Islamic Communities in Germany and the Netherlands is published by Syracuse University Press in He has published articles in journals such as Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Contemporary Islam, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Immigrants and Minorities, Public Choice, Insight Turkey, and Turkish Studies. His research interests include anthropology of religion, ethnicity, Muslims in Europe, Islamic movements, and multiculturalism. 8

16 Resolving Turkey s Kurdish Question PANEL I Assessing the Kurdish Issue: Constitutional Politics, the AKP's Kurdish Policy, Demographic Challenges Tozun Bahcheli, King's University College at Western University, Ontario, Canada David Romano, Missouri State University Jeffrey Dixon, College of the Holy Cross Fevzi Bilgin (Moderator), Rethink Institute 9

17 Rethink Institute FEVZI BILGIN: The panel discussion will proceed as follows. Every speaker will have 10 minutes to introduce his thesis and arguments and then I proceed with some follow up questions, and finally I take questions from the audience, and maybe we will have a second tour of discussion. So we are looking for a very interactive discussion here where everybody has a plenty of time to speak, and hopefully we will learn a lot. So let s start with Dr. Tozun Bahcheli. TOZUN BAHCHELI: Thank you very much. I want to express my gratitude to the Rethink Institute for inviting me to this event and issue of enormous importance for Turkey. I am delighted to be here not the least because I meet all friends, Bob and others. My presentation is going to be in two parts. In the first, I am going to highlight the reforms and changes related to the Kurdish issue in Turkey during the past decade and Dr. Bilgin actually has covered quite bit of it, in fact more than I might, and in the second I want to consider the principal demands of nationalist Kurds in Turkey. Now I underscore the nationalist Kurds in Turkey, because the Kurdish community in Turkey is not a monolith, there are varied opinions among the Turkish Kurds. But I think that the nationalist Kurds have a crucial role in the ultimate resolution. There is no doubt that since the AK Party has come to power, there have been great many changes that have improved the cultural and political status of Turkish-Kurds. Some of these reforms are actually continuations of policies that have started by the coalition government that was in office before the AKP came to power, such as lifting the state of emergency, granting partial amnesty and reductions in prison sentences for convicted PKK members, assisting internally displaced Kurds to return to their former homes and properties. Beyond these, the AKP has introduced a series of democratization packages that have improved human rights by broadening the scope of freedom of expression and association. Additional legislation introduced by the AKP permitted such things as limited Kurdish TV broadcasting, Kurdish language courses in private schools and further measures followed and perhaps the most dramatic one was the introduction of 24 hour national Kurdish TV broadcasting TRT 6 (TRT Şeş) in The introduction of Kurdish courses in several universities is starting with Bilgi University. The removal of the ban on the use of Kurdish in political campaigning and etc. All of these suddenly have raised expectations that there could be real progress towards the settlement of the Kurdish issue and all of these things have also won a substantial number of seats for the AKP. Now nationalist 10

18 Resolving Turkey s Kurdish Question Kurds and other critics have been unimpressed with these changes, they have, basically viewed them as paltry and begrudging concessions made by the government. Nevertheless, it is also true that no other party has done as much as the AKP to improve Kurdish rights in Turkey. That the AKP has achieved all of this, in spite of resistance by the opposition parties and the Kemalist establishments including the military, but also as the PKK insurgency sporadically continued, is I think quite remarkable. Whatever the shortcomings of the AKP s Kurdish policy, and there are many, it has changed Turkey s political culture in subtle ways. One area where changes are significant is in the nature of this course over Kurdish identity and rights. Once taboo subjects are now openly debated, I find it remarkable that the idea of an independent Kurdish state in Turkey is now freely debated much more in the media. After being officially forbidden for decades, the word Kurd is now freely used by government officials and the media alike. And once banned Kurdish language is now increasingly legitimate voice in the democratic arena. As impressive and welcome all of these are, as it is well known the AKP s much hyped Kurdish initiative have stalled in recent years. We can get into the reasons for this, the discussion that will follow. But one consequence of this is that few Kurds and few Turks, I think, now expect that the Kurdish issue can be settled anytime soon. I fear that whatever the expectations that adopting the new constitution will achieve real progress in tackling the Kurdish issue they will be disappointed. The problem essentially is the gap between the traditional Kurdish demands and what the AKP can or willing to deliver is seemingly unreachable. And this becomes apparent when we consider the principal demands as voiced by the Kurdish nationalist. The first and the most important is democratic autonomy. Now there is some ambivalence, there is some lack of clarity about what it actually constitutes and I m one of those who doesn t really fully understand this, when I pay careful attention to the content of this initiative or program. I see that it proposes for the creation of territorial autonomy within Turkey s highly centralized. But what is being called for is decentralization on a quite massive scale. I note that the Kurds carefully avoid, most of the time anyways, the f word, the word federal. I assumed that this is because of reactions by the Turkish authorities that federalism will pave the road to outright separation and so on. In any case what is being called for is the decentralization of the 11

19 Rethink Institute kind that would be very new to Turkey. Not that it would be a bad thing, quite the contrary, I think the Turkish state has been excessively centralized and some decentralization would be a desirable thing. There is fear that decentralization and autonomy would really pave the way with simply slope leading to outright separation. I think the AKP, and they are not necessarily wrong about this, also fear that any kind of autonomy that would be exercised in the Kurdish region would be dominated by the PKK. And you know the idea, that there would be autonomous Kurdish region side by side with merely independent Iraqi Kurdistan. I think that would cause for a lot of Turkish officials to lose sleep if not nightmares. And furthermore, I think one other factor to bear in mind is that most of the AKP members including Prime Minister Erdoğan, President Gül, and Bulent Arınç are nationalist Turks, who really resist the idea of creating an autonomous entity in the Turkish republic. Moving on to another core demand one that Dr. Bilgin referred, is education in Kurdish at all levels of schooling. Bulent Arinc recently made a very ill comment saying that Kurdish is not a civilizational language. That was really foolish in my opinion. In any case what is being offered by the government is not actually clear on how far exactly they will go on this, but what is on our the table now, is limited offerings in Kurdish alongside Turkish at special institutions and perhaps in public schools as well. Another issue, another demand revising the constitution again so that it would recognize the Kurdish identity. Preferably explicitly but perhaps if that is not achievable, implicitly. In other words, get away from the current constitution which states that everyone in Turkey is a Turk and replace the constitution with a civic document that will not be associated with one ethnicity. And two more demands. The Kurdish nationalist would want a blanket amnesty. The government has made it clear that they would not be in favor of that. And I can see huge problems with granting any kind of amnesty to Abdullah Öcalan. Finally, abolishing village guards is something that the Kurdish nationalist have demanded but all the government has said was that they would be willing to reform the institution. So in conclusion, having underscored the wide gap between the nationalist demands and how far I believe the AKP government or any Turkish government can go, I would come to the sad conclusion that in years to come, we are going to see more and more managing of the Kurdish issue rather than resolving it. I look forward to the discussion. 12

20 Resolving Turkey s Kurdish Question FEVZI BILGIN: Let me follow up with a quick question. Since we talk about redrafting of the constitution, the constitutional commission came up with the first article that the state must uphold human dignity. Do you think this is a good omen for the rest of the debate in terms of reaching these demands? TOZUN BAHCHELI: Now, that is kind of a motherhood statement you know and I honestly don t think that in itself really will justify a little hope. I talk to a number of friends who have far more knowledge about Turkish political developments and they rate the possibility of achieving consensus to rewrite the constitution as being very slim. As you know in the last election that the AKP hoped it would win enough votes to be able to draft a constitution and submit it to a referendum that would make its task much easier. One expert said to that the chances of getting a new Turkish constitution approved are no better than 20 percent. Again you know I defer to those who are more knowledgeable than me. FEVZI BILGIN: For those who are not closely following the constitutional process, Turkey has now an inter-party commission that is redrafting the new constitution. The problem is that four parties are represented in the commission and the voting is by unanimity. So every article must be agreed unanimously and that s a kind of problem in the sense that you know you have in one room AKP representatives, BDP representatives, nationalist, MHP representatives and the CHP. They have been listening to people s proposals so far and they have just started to draft it so we will see how the process goes. So now we will switch to Dr. Romano for his introductory talk. DAVID ROMANO: I would like to thank the Rethink Institute for inviting me to speak here, it is always an honor and a pleasure to get to discuss these things and I hope to, as usual, learn as much from the audience back and forth and from my other panelists. We are all asked to prepare something on resolving Turkey s Kurdish issue in light of the attempts to draft a new constitution and several themes seem to reappear and that s by accident because we didn t coordinate. I want to say first off that a vast majority of Turkey s population agrees that a new more democratic and liberal constitution is needed to replace the military s 1982 constitution. Various amendments to the 1982 constitution including notable ones 12 years ago, and, of course, the ones from the 2010 still have left in place, a fundamentally flawed constitutional document that views the state with much greater regard than it views the people or individuals. Now the 1982 Constitution 13

21 Rethink Institute tried to resolve Kurdish demands by pretending that those demands did not exist. Even agitating for regional devolution of power for the 1980s and the 1990s could be interpreted as treason as we know form many court cases. The biggest problem of the 1982 constitution is that basic rights and freedoms were and still are, despite all the positive reforms, subject to so many qualifications. When it comes to freedom of expression, despite all the positive changes there are severe problems with the basic right to freedom of expression. Now I will say though that hopefully this effort to devise a new constitution is not a cover to get a strong presidential system for Mr. Erdogan, as Andrew Finkel stated something on this issue not long ago. He said that if Mr. Erdogan and the AKP feel strongly that Turkey needs a strong presidential system, then Mr. Erdogan should promise not to run for president. That would be to avoid a very necessary debate about restructuring Turkey, avoid not having hijacked the debate about the power of one man. Because the opposition parties as you can imagine are not at all for a new constitution that moves in this direction. A new constitution if done correctly and not hijacked by some side issue, does represent an opportunity to solve Turkey s biggest internal problem, of course, the long fostering Kurdish disaffection. Now many Kurds, I should point out, reject the language of Turkey s Kurdish problem. For years they have been saying that Turkey has a democracy problem, not a Kurdish problem. I would revise this to say that Turkey actually has a liberalism problem like many in the electoral democracies. The system in Turkey does not contain sufficient provisions for individual and minority rights including ethnic minorities which do exist. To prevent the kind of dictatorship of the majority especially in a very centralized political system, insufficient guarantees, liberal guarantees from minority rights allow for this dictatorship of the majority to systematically and continuously discount or repress minority preferences. Now we saw similar process in Cyprus before 1974, similar process except for military executions of innocent civilians on a large scale. You know you can see some kind of comparable issues here in terms of discounting minority views and preferences so systematically in a way that minority can never really have a chance of affecting a centralized political system in a way to guarantee its interest. Now, one big question before I already touch down is who you negotiate with to resolve Turkey s Kurdish issue. Let me pull a statement about a 14

22 Resolving Turkey s Kurdish Question recent opinion poll by MetroPoll, summarized by Dogu Ergil. He says that when asked which party should negotiate with the government for resolving Kurdish issue 34 percent of respondents in Turkey said the Kurdish people. What is that exactly? Of course, you know there are 15 million Kurds. 9.3 percent said that the BDP should negotiate with the government. Only 9.3 percent. And 3 percent said that PKK should be negotiated with. Those who have no opinions or do not want to answer were 40 percent. What this says to me that Turkish respondents, Turkey s population at large just like Turkish politicians have no idea, who to negotiate with to resolve the Kurdish issue. This is a part of the problem. There is another question about whether the Kurdish problem can be solved without an agreement with the PKK. Now, speaking of reforms and progress, you could not even ask these questions a few years ago. But now you can, and the response of 36 percent of the people was that it s impossible to resolve the Kurdish issue without negotiating with the PKK. Another 49 percent, however, believe that the Kurdish problem may be solved through a direct settlement between the government of Turkey and the Kurdish people. But again we are not sure what that means. The PKK of course has naturally offered its views on what Turkey s new constitution should look like. Tozun spoke a bit about that, they did so via their front organization KCK. Now according to Cevdet Askin, writing his column in Radikal, he says the comprehensive set of proposals include demands for constitutional guarantees for the recognition of the Kurdish identity, adoption of the European charter for local self-government and steps to comply with that document, the removal of any impediment blocking education in the Kurdish language. The package of proposal also does not contain any objections to the status of Turkish as an official language, the current design of the Turkish flag, Ankara s status as the Turkey s capital, but demands that Kurdish also be recognized as an official language in the public domain. Now a lot of Turks might respond to this with something like to hell with what the PKK wants or demands. But they should pay attention to these proposals because if you want to bring the guerillas down from the mountains, if you want to end the armed aspect of this conflict, it only makes sense to pay attention to what they have to say. Back to the 39 percent, who think that you have to have them involved in some way to negotiate to end this conflict. Now, the PKK s proposals amount to what it would take to get them to lay down their arms, this is essentially what they are saying. In stark contrast to the separatist terrorist label, the official discourse in Turkey always attaches to the PKK, these proposals do not deny the Turkish state. It 15

23 Rethink Institute symbols, its language, or its government, it is important to recognize that, that s also progress. This needs not to be a mortal threat to Turkey. It only requires that the official paradigm change from one of an assimilationist, mono-ethnic melting pot to a kind of mixing pot of more genuine diversity. Now of course, it is legitimate that many Turks ask aren t these demands are more part of the PKK s true separatist game plan? And shouldn t we therefore oppose any demands made by the PKK? I should think that the answers to these questions are perhaps unknown; I have no idea what the PKK secretly plans or wishes or so forth. It s not the rubric by which their demands should be judged and the AKP has been reasonably good about this. The demands should be judged separately of who s making them, whether or not they are good for Turkey, including its Kurdish population. And ultimately that means no, we shouldn t reject anything PKK demands because it s coming from the PKK. Ultimately it doesn t matter whether or not people in the PKK or KCK they always have to have a lot of acronyms when we discuss these issues ultimately want to secede from Turkey and form a Kurdish state. Reflexively opposing any demands they make is the surest way to keep them in the mountains. If the demands make sense by most normative and political measures, such as greater local government, local freedoms, language freedoms, recognition of others identity, then they should be considered important. So whether or not the PKK or Mickey Mouse makes these demands, fulfilling them would be the surest way to keep the Kurds in Turkey and increased chances of ending the conflict. And we have examples again about how the Spanish government accommodated most of the Basque population. Of course we have some hold out Basque separatist in the ETA but they have lost the support so much of their communities that they have become French. We also have Quebec in Canada, I m from Montreal, and we have the Belgian example. Despite of the paralysis, the longest government, the longest post-election scenario without a government ever, Belgium is still a state and it is not violent. I don t think that new Turkish constitution will actually fulfill all of these demands, if any. I think Turkish society right now is just too polarized still, more polarized in some ways, and not ready for this big paradigm shift, which means the politicians are not ready to go too far ahead of public opinion, mainstream public opinion in Turkey. Even if they know that this is what needs to be done. And I got another opinion poll here this one from 16

24 Resolving Turkey s Kurdish Question Konda from and the results of the opinion poll on political polarization in society and so you can imagine the theme. What s interesting on this opinion poll is they give you the general populations responses and then they break it up by level of education, or party affiliation and it is a pretty sobering picture of polarization, political opinions that may not be reconcilable. When the population was asked if the state should support diverse ethnic groups so that they can preserve their traditions and customs that s a nice general statement we had some around 68 percent of the population that said that s good. So that s progress right there, the society has advanced a lot. But then as soon as you suddenly get more specific and say, should the state allows some citizens of Kurdish origin to educate their young in their mother tongue support goes down to 40 percent. Now if you disaggregate this into education, it is interesting that those with a university education or higher are more favorable than the majority of Kurdish mother tongue education. But then as soon as you go less education than that, the majorities are against. But if you disaggregate, here s the important ones for the committee, if you disaggregate according to party affiliation we ve got bordering on 80 to 90 percent of those who affiliate with the MHP, strongly against such a proposal (isn t that a huge surprise?). But also a majority or slight majority of those who affiliate with the AKP are against the Kurdish mother tongue education. In the CHP, we have the smallest, not as small as the AKP s majority, supporting Kurdish mother tongue education, and of course for the BDP this is the central demand. There are ways to try square the circles in such a constitutional document that says the majority of mother tongue education must be in Turkish; you can even just leave it that. But you know you have some devolution of power that allows a significant concession for Kurdish mother tongue education in public institutions. But we still got a situation and this is just one example that shows that as soon as you get into the details, you may have trouble getting anything that even resembles a consensus. Given these I think it is more realistic for Turkey to aim for an interim constitution, which would hold for five years or so. The idea here is that, right now you avoid trying to settle all the competing demands of different groups in Turkish politics. Many demands cannot be reconciled and you instead give more time for the debate to continue. You focus on an interim constitution that creates a better general

25 Rethink Institute institutional framework within which all the various political actors in Turkey continue to pursue their interest legally within the system. So in contrast to the constitution of 1982, the prescribed red line should be minimal. So, the eventual new constitution of Turkey can grow and change with the population. With this in mind the single most important objective of the new interim constitution must be to truly safeguard freedom of expression in Turkey. I was sitting in an AKP deputy s office in the national assembly when they have the vote to end the law against insulting the Turkish nation. I was sitting in his office and he stepped out and went to vote and then came back in, and he s like, success, we repelled the law against insulting the Turkish nation; it s now been replaced with a law insulting Turkishness. I look at him and I said really? And he said baby steps, baby steps. But this is such a severe constrain, especially when you get overzealous public prosecutors, without freedom of expression that you can t have the real necessary debate to get where you need to go. This is especially true if you want a bottom-up process to get a living strong document rather than a top-down one for constitutional revision. And strong freedom of speech guarantees would also allow Turks in western Turkey to become more familiar with the Kurdish perspective. Frankly, they don t hear it enough now, most of them have never traveled to eastern Turkey. When I travel there on my own, I hear a different message from average people I speak with than when I travel there with Turkish colleagues. There needs to be a more open debate and as such given the polarization I think that could only happen within an interim constitution that focuses on very general things, that allows the framework for the debate to proceed. I will say though as my final point that a true freedom of speech and a more debate will allow room for more inter-kurdish politics as well. Amongst the Kurdish nationalists are the Kurds who wish to compete with the PKK or its affiliated organizations. The PKK is not exactly very democratic internally and I am not sure if the Kurdish society in eastern Turkey is even ready for devolution of power under current circumstances. They need more room for more debate as well, and once that debate has progressed further, then we can get more hopeful chances for a more permanent constitution. FEVZI BILGIN: Now to Dixon. Let's just move to your presentation and then we will have questions. JEFFREY DIXON: I want to begin by thanking the Rethink Insitute for inviting me here and for all of you for attending my talk. My talk this morning 18

26 Resolving Turkey s Kurdish Question is motivated by a substantive concern with democracy and minority rights and a methodological concern for the need of data to address social problems. It is based on my reading of research in this areas. 2 You see, in the absence of reliable data on ethnic groups in Turkey, it is easy for the discussion of the extremely sensitive Kurdish issue and proposed constitutional changes to become politically contentious. On the one hand, some claime that there are 25 million Kurds in Turkey, on the other hand, the Turkish state has traditionaly defined citizens as Turks, implying that there are no Kurds in Turkey. Neither of these claims is correct on the basis of other available data and both may hinder finding a meaningful solution to the Kurdish issue in Turkey. Debates about official recognition of Kurdish ethnic identity raise a further difficulty. How, exactly, do you define ethnicity in Turkey? Finally, constitutional guarantees of minority rights may not succeed without monitoring their implementation, including on the basis of data. This talk attempts to move past rhetoric towards the potential solution of the Kurdish issue. It takes as a starting point the proposed constitutional changes of recognizing Kurdish ethnic identity and the guarantee of minority rights. Not just language and education but beyond political and socio economic rights. In order for these changes to have the intended practical consequence of guaranteeing rights, it is necessary to first clearly define ethnicity; second, set up an independent administrative structure to monitor the implementation of the minority rights; and, third, possibly and, I emphasize possibly here collect census data by ethnicity. These data would have to be used for good namely, for the purposes of monitoring discrimination. However, these suggestions present political, economic, practical and even ethical challenges. These will be discussed, too, as I take each suggestion in turn begining with the need to clearly define ethnicity. In my field of sociology, we define an ethnic group in terms of shared linguistic, cultural or other characteristics. In contrast to Turkey, some states explicitly mention ethnicity in their constitutions and forbid ethnic discrimination. For example Canada s 1982 Constitutional Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin. Canada is not the only one; Poland is another model of constitution that talks beyond minority rights. Now the shared culture component of ethnicity that I just mentioned also includes religion according to some. In Turkey the treaty of Lausanne and the 2 For a complete list of references upon which this talk is based, and elaboration of points made, please the speaker at 19

27 Rethink Institute current constitution provide the basis for recognizing this component of ethnicity namely, to protect religious minorities and their rights. In thinking about the proposed constitution, the most democratic solution would be to adopt a broad definition of ethnicity, prohibit discrimination on this basis and others, and grant all minorities linguistic, cultural, religious, and other rights. Now, based on my research, and many others including those in this room right now, this solution may meet with the opposition on at least two fronts. First, for those who already express reservations about recognizing Kurdish identity, may see this proposal as creating more divisions of a nation state. Kurdish groups may fear that this solution may dilute their power, as their ethnicity is recognized as one of potentialy many in Turkey. Konda indicates, by their definitions, there are more than one hundred ethnic groups in Turkey. The point to emphasize, though, is that these solutions represent a compromise, a compromise in the spirit of democracy. It is a compromise between not recognizing ethnicity at all and recognizing, say for example, only Kurdish ethnic identity. To grant rights on paper is one thing; to ensure that they are followed in practice is something else. This brings me to my second suggestion, which is to set up an administrative structure to ensure the fair implementation of minority rights. This suggestion is actually very consistent with suggestions made by the European Union. And it might even follow the US model of a Civil Rights Commission or Equal Opportunity of Employment Commission. Similar to the US rights commission, the structure in Turkey, lets call it a minority rights commission, would need to be independent and politically neutral. This commission would need to overcome some of the problems that the US Civil Rights Commission experienced. Namely, it will need to have clear goals; it will have to be well funded and properly staffed. These are not just only challenges such a commission would face; it will also be difficult to determine minority rights violations and discrimination especially without reliable data. And that s my third suggestion. As my third suggestion, I mentioned the possiblity of collecting census or other data by ethnicity. Now Turkey is not alone in the world in not collecting ethnic or racial data on census forms. But it is in the minority along with some other countries in Europe. Now if we take a broad definition of ethnicity that I mentioned earlier and recognize that individuals themselves decide whether they are member of an ethnic group or not, the census will allow for people to identify which ever ethnic groups they felt like they belong. The 20