Creating New Common Ground For Politics In Turkey – OpEd


By Ozdem Sanberk

A new joint political basis needs to be created for Turkish politics. To make this possible, it is not emphasis on ethnic issues that are needed but a new constitution that will enhance Turkey’s democratic life.

The southeastern regions of our country have lived amid violence for decades and are still reeling from the most recent terrorist attacks. Now, on top of all of this has come yet another bitter blow, the Van Erciş earthquake. The whole of Turkey, be it government, state, or ordinary people, joined in solidarity with the people of this region. All of us owe it to the Turkish and Kurdish people who live there to help ease their agony. Sadly, the circumstances in which we find ourselves today do not make this easy. The outcome of the Turkish general election on June 12 this year created expectations that there would be a National Assembly which would represent 95 % of the popular will. Suitable political preconditions had emerged for the creation of the civilian constitution which had been discussed for so long in Turkey and the probability seemed to have increased that it would help in the search for effective political solutions to Turkey’s problems. However during the summer months, the incidence of terrorist attacks increased and by the end of the autumn terrorism had become one of the biggest obstacles to the political system functioning effectively. During this period, the tone of politics grew more strident, we were all badly shaken when the terrorist organization killed 24 members of the security forces and wounded a further 18 of our soldiers. Turkish society was constantly receiving news of these deaths in action and the tension they created led to a huge outpouring of feeling. When we look at the social dynamics involved we see that identities are becoming irrelevant and that the PKK issue is clearly becoming detached from the Kurdish question. This is a time when the leaders of civil society in the east and southeast of the country are declaring that this is enough and Kurdish intellectuals, such as Mr Kemal Burkay, can be heard declaring that PKK strikes are harming the Kurdish people.

The PKK is becoming isolated

Although positive signals are being given regarding a solution, the fact is that at times of transition, fault lines in society are always highly strained. These are periods when it is very important that everyone remain tranquil and that people avoid all actions which might open the way for deep conflicts in society. So we should not forget that the PKK’s attacks do not meet with the approval of Turkey’s Kurdish citizens but that on the contrary, they are fiercely condemned by them. Turks and Kurds have lived together for a thousand years and whatever anyone may say, they form an integral society. Over the decades the terrorist organization has not been able to destroy this solidarity. The two exist in a solidarity which stretches back into the deep past. These latest terrorist operations create a justified anger and indignation in us all, whether we are, Turks or Kurds. It is obvious that the perpetrators of these brutal murders should not go unpunished. But it is also clear that the only way to ensure that the PKK does not succeed in its bid to drag this country into a clash between Turks and Kurds is for society as a whole to display its usual commonsense and moderation.

Turkish society is passing through an extremely sensitive phase. At such periods in the struggle against terrorism, there is a need to step up holistic policies. We must do our homework properly in order to shrink the scope for terrorism. However in the world in which we live today, the efforts which we make internally will not by themselves provide a lasting solution. We must also limit the organization’s capacity for maneuver by weakening its international connections. So Turkish diplomatic activity has become more important than ever.

One of the reasons responsible for the recent increase in the PKK’s violent attacks is that it is becoming more isolated on the international scene. In recent months, Turkish diplomacy has scored a number of successes in isolating the PKK. Support has been obtained for the cross-border operation against the PKK in the USA. Pressure in Europe has been stepped up against Roj TV, while in Iraq good relations have been developed with the Iraqi central government and with the Kurdish Regional Administration.

The aims of the organization

So the PKK is carrying out high profile terrorist operations to rescue itself from this isolation. It aims to stir up outrage and a mass reaction in Turkey and so is searching for new ways out of this present situation.

The foreign press in Turkey is currently discussing how likely it is that Iranian and Syrian support lies behind the Çukurca attacks. Such possibilities will certainly have to be closely scrutinized in the coming period. Recent studies of the PKK all suggest that the demographic base of the PKK is shifting and that there is a growing presence of non-Kurdish Syrians within it. All these facts, when linked to the complex internal relations within the PKK, point to it having become increasingly exposed to manipulation by external actors.

So what matters today is to pursue a holistic policy internally and externally but given the present disappointing mood, while doing this, Turkey needs to ensure that the chaotic conditions the PKK is trying to create do not become a reality and to this end it should launch work on a new constitution. It is vitally important this work should be founded on something more than just questions of identity. A social order established solely on the basis of identity does not permit the peaceful coexistence of differences. Different identities can only live peacefully together without regarding each other as alien when there is a democratic order based not on creating exclusive ghettos but on the supremacy of law.

Those of our people who live in the southeast are exhausted. They are disgusted by violence, natural disasters, unemployment, poverty, injustice, and hopelessness. They seek tranquility, stability and confidence.

The basic problems which we are seeking the answers to today are how to prevent the deep fractures and suffering which ethnic divisions have created in our society spiraling up and violence overwhelming us again; how we can end the feeling destitution which a large proportion of our Kurdish citizens have and at the same time bear in mind the sensitivities of all our other citizens. The answer to these questions lies in bringing about a fresh joint basis for politics. To make this possible, it is not emphasis on ethnic issues that are needed but a new constitution that will enhance Turkey’s democratic life. A new constitution will not bring a new joint basis for Turkish politics into life at a single stroke. But it would constitute an enormous step forward in resolving our problems and enabling us to be hopeful once more.

Ozdem Sanberk
Director of USAK

Turkish version of this article was firstly published in November issue of USAK’s monthly journal ANALIST.


JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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