The preference of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to remain silent on the government's most recent Kurdish initiative has become a source of disappointment for Turkey's opposition parties, which were expecting the military to demonstrate a strong reaction against the initiative.

Leaders of the opposition parties -- the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) -– believe the military's silence on government plans to settle the long-standing Kurdish question means indirect support of the initiative.

The government has recently been working on a comprehensive plan to solve the decades-old Kurdish question. Interior Minister Beşir Atalay, also the coordinator of the initiative, did not offer much detail on the plan but just said it would enable Kurdish citizens to enjoy broader cultural rights. The opposition has, however, expressed disapproval of the efforts being made toward a solution. The MHP said it would never be a party to ongoing efforts to that end, adding that it would consider every person who contributes to the Kurdish initiative a “traitor.”

The CHP criticized Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for meeting with representatives from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), claiming that the prime minister held talks with an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).Since there has been a lack of comments or reactions from the TSK against the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) efforts to prepare the necessary atmosphere for the solution to the Kurdish question, the CHP believes the military is maintaining its silence due to pressure from the United States. The MHP, on the other hand, believes the ongoing probe into Ergenekon -- a clandestine terrorist organization accused of plotting to overthrow the government – is forcing the TSK to refrain from expressing its opinion on the Kurdish initiative.
During a reception he attended on Aug. 2, Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ said the Turkish military would give a message on the Kurdish initiative if it feels the need for it.
According to analysts, the military's silence, so far, on the Kurdish initiative is a strong sign that the TSK has finally understood that methods used until now will no longer help fight terrorism and will not solve the Kurdish problem.
“Thus, the TSK prefers to allow the political authorities to settle the problem. The military remains silent on the initiative because it does not wish to accept the Democratic Society Party [DTP] or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK] as an interlocutor in the solution. If the ruling party becomes successful and settles the problem, then army members will act as if they supported the initiative by keeping silent. If the ruling party fails, then they will back opposition parties in their reaction against the government plan on the Kurdish question,” analysts stated.
Eye-catching change in the military's stance
The military has recently seen a considerable change in its position against Kurdish citizens.
Army chief Başbuğ stressed during a press conference on April 15, 2009 that the Republic of Turkey was founded by the “public of Turkey.” Dwelling on this definition, he recalled a quote by the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who once said, “The public who established the Republic of Turkey is called the public of Turkey.”
Başbuğ also called on the state to make necessary amendments to the law to enable PKK members to lay down arms and leave the mountains. “A terrorist is also a human,” he said.
The TSK's “humanistic” attitude toward Kurds was followed in late July by a visit by three gendarmerie officers who conveyed their condolences to the families of two DTP members who were found dead.
All this pointed to an eye-catching change in the position of the military toward Kurdish citizens. In the past, TSK members did not attend receptions given in Parliament as DTP officials were in attendance.
CHP contradicts its past Kurdish initiative
A staunch opposition by CHP leader Deniz Baykal toward the government's efforts to settle the Kurdish question contradicts his party's past similar initiatives.
In a December 2007 speech, Baykal underlined that Turkey's relations with northern Iraq should not be deemed restricted to terrorism. He called on the government to devise plans for the upcoming decades concerning northern Iraq in the fields of economy and trade. He also asked government officials to bring Kurdish youths from northern Iraq to Turkey for them to receive education in Turkish universities.
Similarly, during his visit to southeastern Şanlıurfa ahead of the March 29, 2009 local elections, the CHP leader said he welcomed the presence of all ethnicities in Turkey.
“We have Arabs, Albanians, Kurds and Caucasians. People's different ethnicities inflict no damage on our state. Everyone should be allowed to learn their mother tongue and have TV stations and newspapers in their own language. Ethnicities are a source of honor for the state,” he said.
The main opposition party has, however, recently removed a democratization and human rights report created in 1999 from its Web site.
The CHP's democratization report, which has been on the party's Web site since the day the site went live, includes the stipulation that Turkey needs a new and more democratic constitution to replace the 1982 Constitution, usually regarded as a remnant of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d'etat.
MHP believes Ergenekon probe behind military's silence
According to the MHP, the TSK is silent in the face of the government's plans to settle the Kurdish question because of the ongoing Ergenekon investigation.
Currently several members of the military, including retired generals, are in jail pending trial on charges of planning a coup d'etat against the government.
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli accused the government of trying to break down and divide the country. Bahçeli claimed that his party and supporters were ready to go to the mountains for 50 years to prevent the separation of the country.
“If you want to let those who have been in the mountains for 25 years divide the country, there is the MHP, which is ready to live in the mountains for 50 years to prevent it,” he said.
The DTP, on the other hand, believes that Turkey would not reach a full solution to the Kurdish question unless efforts to that end are supported by the CHP and the MHP. “If the Kurdish question is to be discussed and solved on a political platform, then the contributions of the CHP and the MHP are of the utmost importance. This is a period of discussion, and we all need to approach it with good will. We should keep this discussion going [until the solution],” stated Selahattin Demirtaş, the DTP's parliamentary group chairman.