Slowly but surely, the latest attempt by the Turkish government to resolve the decades-old Kurdish issue is moving along. In the latest confidence building measure, members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BD), who were given Ankara's permission to meet with jailed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan this past Sunday, delivered a message from Ocalan that suggested his organization's fighters would soon be leaving Turkish territory. “The peace process we are currently going through is continuing at full speed. I am striving to make the ceasefire permanent and to ensure a withdrawal. I can say we are more hopeful now that we have come to this stage. In this context, I will reveal the details of the efforts we are making,” Ocalan's statement said.
Still, the nascent "peace process" is facing some profound challenges, both domestic and external. In a new piece from the German Marshall Fund that gives a good overview of the latest developments surrounding the Kurdish issue, political scientist Ilter Turan takes a look at these challenges, suggesting there is good reason to be cautious about predicting the process's success.
Among the challenges Turan lists are the question of whether Ocalan can control all the various groups that make up the PKK and get them to move towards disarmament. A recent piece in the New York Times, an interview with Murat Karayilan, commander of the PKK's fighters in northern Iraq, sheds some light on that issues. In the interview, Karayilan suggests the organization may be willing to heed Ocalan's call to leave Turkey, but that disarming is a separate issue. “Our guerrillas cannot give up their arms,” Karayilan told the Times. “It is the last issue, something to discuss as a last issue to this process.”
As Turan suggests, another challenge facing the peace talks is the question of whether the government of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) can find a way to include Turkey's main opposition parties in the ongoing peace process and thus keep them from acting as spoilers.The AKP's opposition, like the PKK, also seem to be in no mood to lay down their weapons -- in their case obstinance and falling back on nationalist tropes. Both the secularist Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) and the more hardline Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), for example, have refused to take part in a parliamentary commission set, up by AKP, which is designed to monitor the progress of the peace talks with Ocalan and the Kurds. As Turan points out in his analysis, while the AKP has not yet made a "credible effort" to bring the opposition into the process, the CHP has been less than helpful and appears to be divided internally between those pushing for progress on the Kurdish issue and those holding a more conservative nationalist position (the MHP, as always, continues to insist that Turkey doesn't have a "Kurdish issue" but, rather, a "terrorism problem.")
For now, the AKP and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are moving ahead with what one of the PM's advisors called a "2+1" strategy, the two being offering a combination of improving services in the predominantly-Kurdish southeast and addressing Kurdish political grievances, which would then yield the "plus one": disarmament of the PKK. It might ultimately prove to be a winning formula, but Ankara must first find a way to get all the other actors involved on board in order to truly make this strategy work.