Ankara: Facing Resistance, Gul Urges Common Sense On Kurdish Issue


Today’s Zaman
11 August 2009, Tuesday

President Abdullah Gul visited an ancient Seljuk burial site in Bitlis
province on Saturday.

President Abdullah Gul has emphasized the importance of finding
a solution to the country’s long-standing Kurdish question with
the participation of opposition leaders, who have been adopting a
hard-line policy on the issue.

"Opposition is very important. Opposition is part of politics," said
Gul, as quoted by Sabah daily columnist Yavuz Donat, who spoke with
Gul aboard his airplane on Sunday afternoon while returning from a
trip to the provinces of Muþ, Bitlis, Tatvan and Ahlat. Donat wrote
yesterday that the president had not mentioned any party names or
leaders, talking instead about the "opposition" in general terms. On
the other hand, Milliyet daily’s Taha Akyol, who was the second of
two journalists talking with Gul during the flight, wrote that Gul
said he was willing to meet with main opposition leaders Deniz Baykal
and Devlet Bahceli.

When Akyol asked the president whether he would talk to Republican
People’s Party (CHP) leader Baykal and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)
leader Bahceli about the government’s latest "Kurdish initiative,"
Gul said: "I will do whatever is necessary and have done so. Nations
sometimes face difficult problems. In those times, their institutions
and parties produce collective common sense ideas. You know I
called the leaders and spoke with them. I see everyone engaging
with goodwill."

The phrase "Kurdish initiative" refers to a recently announced but
vaguely described plan to address the country’s Kurdish problem,
which has claimed about 40,000 lives since the 1980s as the outlawed
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and government forces have engaged in
a war, and the problems of the country’s Kurdish citizens, which have
not been adequately addressed.

Following a few other initiatives that have lacked continuity, Interior
Minister Beþir Atalay announced two weeks ago that the government was
working on a new package to solve the Kurdish question by working
on further democratization and the expansion of human rights and
freedoms. This time the society seems to be engaged in a more vigorous
debate on the issue as many commentators are even discussing the
possibility of a federal structure even though government sources
say ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) officials would
not accept any suggestions that include a change to Turkey’s unitary
form of government.

"The ruling party is not closed to dialogue. In their provincial
and district organizations — where there is public discussion —
they have already engaged in a debate about the government’s Kurdish
initiative. This has not been happening for the last 25 years. I wish
the CHP and the MHP could do the same thing," said Orhan Miroðlu,
a former politician and a Kurdish intellectual who survived an
assassination attempt at the infamous Diyarbakýr Prison.

President Abdullah Gul visited an ancient Seljuk burial site in Bitlis
province on Saturday.

However, addressing the public in Antalya on Sunday, Bahceli continued
to stick to his hard-line stance and called the government’s Kurdish
initiative a "fallacy."

"Under the name of democratization, the democratic regime of Turkey has
been taken in a different direction. Under the name of democratization,
division and clashes have been encouraged, and at the end, scenarios
of separation have been tried to be implemented," he said in reference
to the Treaty of Sèvres, which was imposed on the Ottoman government
by the victorious Western powers at the end of World War I. Signed
in 1920, the treaty provided for the establishment of Armenian and
Kurdish states in Anatolia but was in fact never put into effect,
being rejected by the national liberation movement, whose success
led to its replacement by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

"We know the scenarios that Western imperialism played out to divide
and eliminate Turkey. They haven’t given up on that," Bahceli said. "As
we evaluate the impositions of the United States and the European
Union and the demands of the PKK, we see that they overlap. They are
the same."

Bahceli also referred to the plans of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan,
who is currently serving life in prison on Ýmralý Island in the Sea
of Marmara off the coast of Ýstanbul.

"He talks about a three-step plan: Both sides should call a
cease-fire. … Consensus should be formed to have a democratic and
civil constitution, and a commission should be formed to reveal truth,
as if this nation has not seen the truth regarding the results of
separatist terrorism," Bahceli said. "Such demands as general amnesty,
ceasing [military] operations, using Kurdish as a language of education
[alongside Turkish] and accepting the PKK as a party in talks are
going to be accepted by the Turkish Republic, and you call this a

In addition, Bahceli harshly criticized President Gul for referring
to a town in the province of Bitlis by its former Kurdish name,
"Norþin." The town is officially known as "Guroymak."

"As he sees the crowd, he steps out and greets them, calling Guroymak
by its former name, Norþin. He responds to the PKK’s demands in
Guroymak," Bahceli said, questioning Gul’s intentions. "Is he going
to change Ýstanbul to Constantinople next?"

Mehmet Metiner, a columnist at the Star daily and a former advisor
to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan, said Bahceli has been missing
the big picture by delving into party politics.

"Bahceli closed the doors to dialogue," Metiner said despite hailing
Bahceli’s "respectable" approach in calming down nationalists who
would have otherwise demonstrated violently in the process of Ocalan’s
capture and return to Turkey in 1999.

"I still believe in his common sense approach," Metiner added.

Kurdish intellectual Miroðlu also praised Bahceli’s attempt to not
encourage its extreme wing to take to the streets, but said the MHP
should see the Kurdish issue as a national problem.

"Both the MHP and the CHP should not see the Kurdish issue as part
of everyday politics," Miroðlu said, adding that CHP leader Baykal
announced last week two red lines the CHP is not willing to cross:
language rights and democratic autonomy.

Baykal had said that allowing the use of the Kurdish language in
public education in addition to Turkish would be wrong and that an
autonomous province would hurt the unitary structure of the country.

Participating in celebrations of an ethnic and cultural minority called
the "Avþar" in Kayseri on Sunday, Baykal said everyone should be proud
of his or her own ethnic identity but at the same time remember that
he or she is part of the Turkish nation.

Columnist Metiner recalled the former stance of the CHP on the
Kurdish issue.

"In the past, CHP officials have said that they would be willing to
talk about any type of solution once the guns are put down. Now,
they are even against talking with the Democratic Society Party
[DTP]. This is not the line a social democratic party should adopt. And
if Ocalan has the ability to have the PKK lay down its arms, then
he is valuable. It is not important who says what but what is said,"
Metiner added, criticizing Baykal.

Despite opposition from the MHP and the CHP, Prime Minister Erdoðan met
with representatives of the DTP on Aug. 5 to discuss the government’s
Kurdish initiative. The meeting was the first of its kind, as the prime
minister had previously declined to meet with DTP officials as long as
the party refused to describe the PKK as a terrorist organization. The
leaders hesitated to give details of the meeting, but sources say
DTP representatives were pleased with the government’s initiative.

Metiner said the prime minister should also talk with Baykal and

"As waters calm down, there will be meetings. The effects of harsh
statements have not passed yet," he added.

President Gul, on the hand, said both the CHP and the MHP leader have
goodwill and are "working for Turkey."

"Is it possible for them to not be able to see this important Kurdish
problem?" he said in response to Milliyet’s Akyol.

Gul also said Turkey will solve its long-standing Kurdish problem as a
modern state and as a "country that desires to be a member of the EU."