Germany welcomes the government's plans to launch a series of reforms to address the grievances of Turkey's Kurds and believes Turkey will become stronger if it addresses its problems, German Ambassador to Turkey Eckart Cuntz said yesterday.
The planned reforms, commonly referred to as the Kurdish initiative, may seem to be a domestic issue of Turkey's on which a foreign diplomat would most likely avoid to offer on-the-record comments, but Cuntz, when asked why Germany was interested in an internal issue of Turkey such as this, said Turkish-German relations were “unparalleled” and thus what happens in Turkey concerned Germany more than any other country.
“What makes Turkey stronger will be welcomed by us,” he said in an interview with the semi-official Anatolia news agency.
In addition to strong trade and business ties, Germany is home to the largest Turkish immigrant community abroad. The Turkish community of nearly 3 million people is primarily made up of the descendants of the “guest workers” who migrated to Germany in the 1960s. “There is no relationship of such intensity between any other two countries,” Cuntz said.
The government has announced that it is working on the Kurdish initiative to address the grievances of the Kurds and end the terrorist campaign of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been underway for nearly three decades now. Interior Minister Beşir Atalay, who is in charge of coordinating the reform efforts, has been touring political parties and nongovernmental organizations to discuss the planned measures. Two main opposition parties, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), however, have refused to meet with Atalay. The MHP is strongly opposed to the cultural and political reforms, seeing such moves as a threat to the country's national unity. CHP leader Deniz Baykal said the government needed to give details on the initiative.
Cuntz said he has visited many parts of Turkey, observing that Turkey is a cradle of many religions and cultures. “It is important that the existence of … the Kurdish identity has been acknowledged. Many parties have accepted this,” he said, without commenting on the CHP's or the MHP's stance.
“If Turkey manages to address the issues it is facing and produce solutions for them, I believe that it will get stronger and there will be positive implications of Turkey getting stronger for other countries. The European Union and Germany will appreciate these developments,” he was quoted as saying by the Anatolia.
The EU, which Turkey aspires to join, has been urging Turkey to expand the cultural and democratic rights of the Kurds. Cuntz, who has been in Turkey for more than 3 years, said now he sees “bold steps” being taken and the Turkish public discussing issues that are not easy at all. “These are important and positive, not only for Turkey but also for the EU and the outside world,” he said.
In an emotional appeal to the opposition parties on Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged them not to close their “doors on this project of national unity,” saying the country has suffered enough from violence and that Turkey could have been a much stronger country if it had tackled the problem decades ago.
Cuntz appeared to back Erdoğan on his call, saying everyone, irrespective of their ethnic roots, should join the process and contribute to the efforts to make Turkey stronger. “Everybody should feel equal in this land, everybody should enjoy equal living standards,” he said. “Violence and terrorism should end. Terrorism cannot be a solution,” he added.
Cuntz also said economic measures would be the key to a solution and underlined that there was a discrepancy in the distribution of foreign investments throughout the country. “With a solution, these investments will be channeled into other regions as well,” he said.
Fears of separation
When reminded that some oppose the initiative because they believe it will lead Turkey to ethnic division, the German envoy said such fears should not hinder debates. “People should have the confidence that Turkey will come out stronger from such a process. There should be an atmosphere of confidence, not one of fear stemming from worries that the country will be divided,” he said, underlining that the government's initiative is aimed at making Turkey stronger, not weaker.
Turkey's Kurdish initiative comes as the United States is preparing to withdraw from Iraq, leading to fears that without the US troops, Iraqi groups -- mainly the Arabs and Kurds -- may end up in ethnic clashes, threatening Iraqi unity, but Cuntz dismissed claims that the initiative was a result of pressures from the outside when asked to comment on suggestions that it is linked to the US withdrawal process.
“Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has made it clear that this initiative originated in Turkey and that will be worked out in Turkey,” he said. “Turkey has proven its self-confidence many times and is definitely not a country that will take such important steps in line with someone else's desires.”
Iraqi officials, both Kurdish and Arab, have welcomed the Kurdish initiative, saying the planned reforms will help Iraqi stability as well.
Cuntz said the disintegration of Iraq would be in the interest of no country and asserted that the Iraqi Kurds did not want the country to break-up, saying they want to run their own affairs within a politically united Iraq.