A New Approach to Solving Turkey’s Kurdish Issue

By Lenore G. Martin
Submitted to Session P4934 (From Hope to Disappointment: The Failure of Reconciliation Processes in Turkey, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
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A New Approach to Solving Turkey’s Kurdish Issue
Turkey’s unresolved Kurdish issue has led to more than 40,000 deaths since 1984. After the latest ceasefire and renewed fighting, the devastation of major cities in the majority Kurdish area of the Southeast and the recent bombings around the country including cities such as Istanbul and Ankara it is starkly clear that this ethnic dispute continues to cause death and build anger and despair. This paper offers a different framework to restart negotiations and a renewal of hope to prepare the country for more successful negotiations through Track II diplomacy and “interactive problem-solving” as developed by John Burton and Herbert Kelman.

Since 1984 there have been numerous attempts to negotiate a solution between the government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Although there have been ceasefires they did not produce permanent resolutions. Most Turkish governments were reluctant to renounce a military solution or to abandon their “no negotiation with terrorists” policy. The present governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) seemed to be taking a different tack by convening secret talks from 2009-2011. Because of public disclosure these were abruptly ended. Negotiations were resumed in 2013 including high level AKP government officials, the main Kurdish political party, the Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) and the jailed leader of the PKK Abdullah Ocalan. In 2015 these lagging negotiations were called off when the PKK violently reacted to an attack by Islamic State fighters at a rally for young Kurds preparing to bring aid to the civilians of the predominantly Kurdish Syrian city of Kobane. The PKK believed the government should have provided more protection for that rally and other earlier Kurdish rallies targeted by Islamic State.

The chasm of distrust between the PKK, the HDP and the government does not bode well for the reopening of Track I negotiations between the policymakers on both sides. Track II diplomacy, as formulated by Burton and Kelman involving influential civil society representatives from various segments of society, but not themselves part of the government, could provide the momentum needed to bridge that chasm. Meeting together, they could better understand the “other” and develop creative ideas through which to move a possible peace process forward. As opinion makers in their own constituency groups they could pass along these ideas to government officials and influence public opinion, building trust for Track I negotiations between the decision makers.