Is Turkey Really Ready For Peace?


5 April 2013

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What word that belongs to yesterday
Is gone, my dear, with yesterday
The time to say new things is today

In my previous post, I had explained why I was pessimistic about Turkey despite the positive aura borne out of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s Nowruz message. In a nutshell, I argued that given Öcalan’s and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s past statements and actions praising violence, a tough path awaited Turkey.

Another reason why I’m pessimistic is because even though a majority of Turkey’s citizens want violence to end, I don’t think they’re ready to face the requirements of a resolution, a real peace.

Before going into the resolution, it’s useful to diagnose the problem.

The problem is violence itself. For 30 years, handing Kalashnikov rifles over to Kurdish kids to fight G-3-holding Turkish kids has neither improved the lot of Turkish Kurds nor eliminated the risk seccesion for Turkey. On the contrary, violence bred a vicious circle: every dead militant, soldier, policeman, or civilian alienated Turks and Kurds from each other. Every death flamed more hatred among those left behind.

As such, the first thing to do is to end violence, to put down the guns. This truthism, however, brings us to a point that PKK sympathizers will not like: it is the PKK that has to cease its activities, not the state. It is also the PKK that has to lay down its guns, not the state. After all, states throughout the world have to maintain national security and public order irrespective of whether they are dealing with militant groups or not. Thus, PKK has to go beyond its peaceful Nowruz rhetoric and actually renounce violence.

In order to persuade PKK militants to give up on violence, the Turkish state and the AKP government have a very important duty. I’m not talking about another law for “amnesty, regret, returning home,” half-hearted measures from the 1990s and early 2000s that failed to stop the bloodshed. Nor am I talking about the so-called “wise men committee” that was recently announced. What Turkey needs is a mechanism similar to South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

This commission should comprise experts on conflict analysis and resolution (not just flashy names that would make the public feel good) and should be responsible with listening to the testimonies of PKK members and record their statements. More important, when feasible, the commission should find a way to bring PKK militants together with the victims of their attacks or their surviving family members. That way, the commission would give perpetrators and victims a change to apologize and forgive.

Turkey’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission would not only handle the cases of PKK militants but also government agents who committed crimes (especially those involved in extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and torture) during operations against the militant group. Just as in the case of militants, these agents would also be encouraged to meet with their victims or their surviving kin for mutual apology and forgiveness.

I am aware that many people would find this idea of a commission unacceptable and that it would not bring back the dead. I am not naive and certainly not stupid. At the beginning of this post, I expressly pointed out the possibility that few people in Turkey would accept this idea.

But if we don’t want the 40 thousand people we’ve lost in the last 30 years to turn into 400 thousand or 4 million in the next three decades, we all need to draw lessons from our mistakes. Only if we can forgive ourselves and “the others” can real peace come to Turkey.

Are we ready to forgive ourselves? I’m not sure about that.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğ

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