Dr. Michael Gunter:It is not rational for Turkey to refuse to deal with the PKK

Kurdishaspect.com - By Kamal Chomani

Dr. Michael Gunter, In an interview with Awene
about the current Kurdish situation in Turkey,
Turkey’s EU accession process, the role of
the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC),
the recent March local elections, and other
matters relating to Kurdish issue in Turkey
nd its solution, says that the Kurdish solution
is developing.

“Ultimately it is not rational for Turkey to
refuse to deal with the PKK and the DTP as
it is clear that these two organizations
represent many of the ethnic Kurds in Turkey.”
Mickael said.

Michael Gunter, professor of political science at Tennessee Technological University. He is one of the most famous writers regarding Kurdish issue in Turkey and Iraq. He has many books about the Kurdish question in Turkey.
According to Michael the recent local elections in Turkey may be different ways. “Clearly, however, the AKP failed to become the main party among the Kurds in the southeast and impose its Islamic solution to the Kurdish problem which would deny Kurdish nationalism. On the other hand, the AKP remains the only truly national political party in Turkey. Indeed, the AKP’s total vote of 39 per cent exceeded the combined total of the next two parties, the CHP and MHP. Therefore, some might say that the AKP still did very well in the recent local elections.”

He states that despite US President Barrack Obama’s attention and continuing EU concern as well as modest Turkish reforms such as TRT-6 broadcasts in Kurdish, the Kurdish issue remains unsolved in Turkey. He said “This is because the Turkish state refuses to fully recognize its Kurdish population’s political, social, and economic rights. What the Turkish state gives with one hand, it seems to still withhold with the other hand.”

Gunter’s voice has always been one of balance and compromise, he explains “Therefore, the Kurds and their supporters must continue to press the Turkish state for the necessary reforms that will lead to Turkey’s EU accession and as a result help solve the Kurdish problem within the confines of a unitary but truly democratic Turkey. To help this process along, the PKK must not initiate any new violent and deadly attacks that would give the Turkish state the excuse to dismiss Kurdish reforms as unjustified. Indeed, the PKK should work toward winning a full and genuine amnesty from the state that would allow it to participate freely but peacefully in the political process. This can only happen if the PKK maintains its military capabilities until it is given the proper guarantees for genuine democracy. Otherwise, the PKK would be simply committing suicide.”

“US President Barrack Obama’s speech to the Turkish Parliament asked Turkey to show the intelligence and courage to solve its longstanding Kurdish problem. The speech was well received by most Turkish politicians in general, but it remains to be seen if Obama’s call for a solution will be specifically heeded.” Michael said.

According to Michael Gunter Obama’s meeting with DTP leader Ahmed Turk was brief but still showed Obama’s genuine interest in encouraging a solution to the Kurdish problem. As an African-American himself, Obama is keen to understand and solve such problems.

He’s gained extraordinary access to key players on the Kurdish/Iraqi stage. Worldwide media organizations including the BBC, Voice of America, PBS, NPR, and AP wire service regularly call on Gunter to provide insight and analysis. Newspapers seek him to express his ideas about the conflicts and developments in Middle East

“Ultimately it is not rational for Turkey to refuse to deal with the PKK and the DTP as it is clear that these two organizations represent many of the ethnic Kurds in Turkey. However, given the longstanding violence between the Turkish state and the PKK, Turkey’s reluctance to negotiate with the PKK is understandable. Indeed more than a decade ago when I met him, Abdullah (Apo) Ocalan himself told me he understood this problem, but that if there were a genuine desire to solve the Kurdish problem democratically, ways around this dilemma could be found. Specifically, the Turkish state could talk with intermediaries for the PKK. The DTP would be such an intermediary and should be engaged particularly since it is already participating in the Turkish Parliament. Certainly, the Turkish state should drop its current effort to ban the DTP as this would simply throw back the attempt to solve the Kurdish problem to square one again.”

An international Conference is decided to be held in Hawler to solve Kurdish issue, Michael has a different view “I look forward to the Kurdish International Conference in Hawler, but doubt if it will succeed in solving the Kurdish problem in Turkey as long as it seeks to isolate the PKK instead of engaging it. It is to the benefit of Turkey, the Kurds in Turkey, the KRG in Iraq, Iran, and the USA to solve the Kurdish problem. Unfortunately all the involved parties continue to use the Kurdish issue to further their own narrow aims to the detriment of an over-all solution.”

Turkey wants to be full member of EU, I think you also support this bid, after the G 20 summit in London, also Obama supported Turkey’s bid while German and France rejected it, is it true that Turkey should solve Kurdish issue and then enter EU, he underscores that To become a full member of the EU, Turkey must fully implement the EU’s political Copenhagen Criteria, which mandate the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and the protection of minority rights.

“The EU’s annual progress report on Turkey’s EU membership process offers a detailed roadmap to Turkey’s progress in meeting these criteria. The most recent EU progress report issued in November 2008 indicated that there remains a great deal still to be done. In addition, the fifth annual conference of the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) held at the EU Parliament in Brussels at the end of January 2009 listed 48 specific recommendations regarding reforms for Turkey’s EU accession consideration to continue and then concluded: “Turkey and the EU are at this moment at a critical juncture. The accession process is widely regarded as having stalled. . . . Reform implemented in the first stages of accession is now a distant memory, and there appears to be regression in progress.” Now that the local elections of March 2009 in Turkey have occurred it is time for the AKP government to renew its progress toward meeting these criteria as the voters have given their approval to them.”

What specifically should Turkey do now that the local elections of March 2009 have spoken? Michael said “ This of course is for all the people in Turkey to decide for themselves. However, it would not hurt to consider the following proposals. The vast majority of ethnic Kurds living in that state favor a democratic Turkey along the guidelines of the EU’s Copenhagen Criteria, rather than an independent Kurdish state or federation. These people argue that a wave of globalization has swept over the world making national boundaries insignificant in economic and even political terms. Thus, instead of nation-states, regional economic and political organizations like the EU are gaining importance. What is more, an ethnic federation would not work in Turkey for a variety of reasons. 1.) Approximately 60 percent of the ethnic Kurds living in Turkey inhabit the western part of the country. This would make a federation based on the historic Kurdish homeland in southeastern Anatolia impractical. 2.) It is estimated that there are now more than 1 million marriages between Turks and Kurds. Many ethnic Kurds have been assimilated into the larger Turkish population and do not even speak Kurdish. 3.) Economic integration has reached an advanced degree as ethnic Kurds have established substantial economic enterprises in virtually every part of the country.”

He also reported that “political, social, and cultural problems remain. True democratization within the preexisting boundaries of a unitary Turkey offers a solution. This requires that schools providing Kurdish language instruction be opened in Istanbul, while schools offering Turkish language courses be made available in Hakkari. Everybody should be able to receive their education in the language of their preference. The limited Kurdish language broadcasting on radio and television should be expanded to private stations, while an official TRT station should be reserved for broadcasting in Kurdish as indeed finally occurred on January 1, 2009. Geographical locations in the southeast should be referred to by their Turkish and Kurdish names.”

He assures that if this is honestly and fairly implemented, “advocates of the Turkish language have little to fear, since clearly a continuing knowledge of Turkish will be necessary for anyone of Kurdish ethnic heritage who wants to succeed in the larger Turkish state or the outside world. Even now, for example, most of the Kurdish leaders in Turkey communicate in Turkish, not Kurdish. Indeed, historically Turkish has shown an amazing ability to assimilate and absorb other languages in Anatolia. Once given the right to use Kurdish, how many Kurds will really want to educate themselves exclusively in a medium that would only lead to a limited end? Moreover, such language and cultural rights are nothing more than what Turkey demanded in the 1980s for the Bulgarian Turks, who constituted only some 10 percent of the total Bulgarian population and still demand for the Cypriot Turks, who make up approximately 20 percent of the population of Cyprus.”

Furthermore, Gunter talks about a new civilian and democratic constitution that should be drawn up that would preserve the borders and flag of Turkey and continue Turkish as the official language, while making education, publishing, and broadcasting in Kurdish completely legal. The provision “Everybody is Turkish” that the present Turkish Constitution carries should be altered to state that everybody is a Turkish citizen. This would allow for the official recognition of ethnic Kurds who are Turkish citizens. Such a solution would eliminate the unfortunate situation in which Professors Baskin Oran and Ibrahim Ozden Kaboglu were prosecuted for simply arguing in a report regarding EU harmonization laws and commissioned by the prime minister’s own office that “Turk” is an identity of only one ethnic group and that Turkey also includes other ethnic groups such as “Kurds.” 

Shortly after its great parliamentary victory in July 2007, the AKP actually hired a group of constitutional lawyers under the leadership of Professor Ergun Ozbudun from Bilkent University to prepare a new draft constitution that would de-Kemalize Turkey. He says “This document listed a market economy and private ownership as important standards, redefined Turkishness and provided for the teaching of Kurdish as a second language in government schools, restructured the Constitutional Court, ended the military’s autonomy by subjecting its decisions to legal review, and reduced the powers of the Turkish president. The draft also included a number of articles that would lead to the total decentralization of the state, redefine it as a bi-national Turkish and Kurdish polity, and undermine the Kemalist version of the separation of state and religion. It remains to be seen whether or not the AK Party can return to this road of constitutional reform. Certainly, however, by satisfying the demands of the more moderate Kurdish population on these issues, Turkey could gradually co-opt and even end up partially leading the Kurdish movement as a trusted and valued ally, instead of regarding it as a debilitating and mortal enemy.”

Michael’s most recent book about the Kurds in Turkey is The Kurds Ascending: The Evolving Solution to the Kurdish Problem in Iraq and Turkey (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). I will send you a separate announcement about this book.

I also have recently published the following scholarly articles (1). “Navigating the EU Shoals: Turkey’s AK Party and the Kurds.” Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, forthcoming.

(2). “Review Essay: Kurdish Scholarship Comes of Age,” Middle East Policy 15 (Fall 2008), pp. 173-77.

(3). “The Permanent and New Realities Facing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG): Options and Prospects.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 28 (August 2008), pp. 237-49.

(4). “The AKP Catalyst: Progressive Islamists and Ambitious Kurds.” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs 9 (Summer/Fall 2008), pp. 59-68.

(5). “The Kurdish Road to Turkish Democracy.” Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies 31 (Winter 2008), pp. 1-12.



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