President Abdullah Gül 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 Gül, as quoted by Sabah daily columnist Yavuz Donat, who spoke with Gül aboard his airplane on Sunday afternoon while returning from a trip to the provinces of Muş, 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 Gül during the flight, wrote that Gül said he was willing to meet with main opposition leaders Deniz Baykal and Devlet Bahçeli.
When Akyol asked the president whether he would talk to Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Baykal and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Bahçeli about the government's latest “Kurdish initiative,” Gül 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 due to the conflict between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) members and government forces. In addition, 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 Beşir 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 Miroğlu, a former politician and a Kurdish intellectual who survived an assassination attempt at the infamous Diyarbakır Prison.
President Abdullah Gül visited an ancient Seljuk burial site in Bitlis province on Saturday.
However, addressing the public in Antalya on Sunday, Bahçeli 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,” Bahçeli 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.”
Bahçeli also referred to the plans of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is currently serving life in prison on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara off the coast of İstanbul.
“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,” Bahçeli 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 ‘solution'?”
In addition, Bahçeli harshly criticized President Gül for referring to a town in the province of Bitlis by its former Kurdish name, “Norşin.” The town is officially known as “Güroymak.”
“As he sees the crowd, he steps out and greets them, calling Güroymak by its former name, Norşin. He responds to the PKK's demands in Güroymak,” Bahçeli said, questioning Gül's intentions. “Is he going to change İstanbul to Constantinople next?”
Mehmet Metiner, a columnist at the Star daily and a former advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said Bahçeli has been missing the big picture by delving into party politics.
“Bahçeli closed the doors to dialogue,” Metiner said despite hailing Bahçeli's “respectable” approach in calming down nationalists who would have otherwise demonstrated violently in the process of Öcalan's capture and return to Turkey in 1999.
“I still believe in his common sense approach,” Metiner added.
Kurdish intellectual Miroğlu also praised Bahçeli'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,” Miroğlu 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 “Avşar” 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 Öcalan 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 Erdoğan 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 Bahçeli.
“As waters calm down, there will be meetings. The effects of harsh statements have not passed yet,” he added.
President Gül, 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.
Gül 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.”