Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where is the BDP -- A New Initative or More Combative Politics?

Former DTP leader Ahmet Turk

Last week Prime Minister Erdogan made his strongest statement yet against the the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), accusing the party of supporting the PKK: "Saying peace won’t bring peace. Those who are in direct or indirect contact with the PKK are accomplices to murder."

Erdogan's remarks draw a strong response from BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas, who accuses the prime minister for essentially calling for the closing of the BDP. At the same time, in the face of heightening violence and statements from some BDP officials warning of even more violence should the government give into PKK demands and negotiate (see Emine Ayna's remarks early this month), the BDP might well find itself in an even more difficult position to forge a credible place for itself in the Turkish political scene.

Though it can be argued that the BDP gaining an amount of credibility sufficient enough to be effective outside of strong Kurdish nationalist circles is but a pipe dream, there is little doubt that the party is playing with fire. Though the AKP made little effort to support the BDP's predecessor, the Democracy and Society Party (DTP), in its over two-year closure ordeal, during which time the AKP also faced closure, gaining the wrath of the AKP and other Turkish opposition parties might well alienate the Kurdish nationalist party in the eyes of softer nationalists and more moderate Kurdish forces within the Turkish political scene. Just as importantly, such rhetoric and continued refusal to deal sensitively with PKK violence also risks the party losing European support.

In parliamentary debate following yesterday's bombing, BDP Co-Chair Gultan Kisanak argued that the government's Kurdish initiative led to the recent escalation, agreeing with MHP leaders in so doing.While the government did fail to take very concrete steps in moving forward with the initiative it proposed last summer and has done little since to elaborate on the details, to make such statements without acknowledging that the move was significant and praiseworthy, at least in its rhetoric, risks further alienation of the BDP, especially in the midst of rising PKK violence.

Yet, other voices in the BDP have staked out less aggressive positions. As the struggles within the BDP over whether to endorse the government's constitutional package reveal, the party is not without out its divisions, some monolith controlled by the PKK/KCK. Ufak Uras, along with other moderate actors, is organizing a workshop in Istanbul this weekened that would bring together Turkish and Kurdish political actors to discuss new solutions to the conflict outside the framework of violence in which the conflict is descending. Uras, who joined the BDP after DTP's closure and the expulsion of its former leaders Ahmet Turk and Aysel Tugluk so that the party could form a group in parliament, has publicly said that the PKK should lay down its arms (a position the former independent deputy maintained).

In an interview with Milliyet today, Ahmet Turk gave the first indicator of such a new initiative In the interview, Turk criticizes the government's initiative, but also blames the Kurdish politicians for failing to put forward workable solutions. Turk calls for dialogue as opposed to violence, and argues that violence only complicates a solution. The interview is a signal that an attempt is being made to organize the more moderate/independent elements of the Kurdish political milieu, a move that would pressure both the government and the PKK. At a press conference today, Uras echoed Turk, as well as called on the PKK to lay down its arms and declare a ceasefire. According to Uras, Turk, long a more dovish figure in Kurdish politics, has the potential to play a 'Mandela-type' role in the conflict, and some Kurdish civil society leaders agree. From Hurriyet Daily News:
Speaking to the Daily News about the possible role of such an initiative, former Diyarbakır Bar Association Chairman and lawyer Sezgin Tanrıkulu said it was wrong to only blame the current and former governments for the escalating violence.

“Kurdish politicians, political parties and NGOs have also an important responsibility in the solution of the problem. Such a civilian move can be effective and successful,” Tanrıkulu said. “All [other] opportunities have been used up anyway. This initiative is important because there are no other initiatives other than these independent initiatives, and democratic ways are wanted as a solution. I think such initiatives will be welcomed within the military.”

According to Tanrıkulu, the violent and military methods used in the past kept Kurdish politicians from getting involved.

“Kurdish politicians need to pressure both the organization [the PKK] and the Turkish government to stop using methods involving weapons,” he said.

Şah İsmail Bedirhanoğlu, chairman of the Southeastern Anatolia Businessmen’s Association, or GÜNSİAD, said that Türk is an important figure, and that the initiative’s success depends on who is involved.

“Türk is an important politician with good sense who uses the language of peace. I think Türk’s personality and his possible step will also be considered important by the government, the military and the PKK,” Bedirhanoğlu said. “I hope such a move will be successful. We support this initiative.
Bedirhanoglu and Tanrikulu represent more moderate forces within Kurdish society/politics, and they are far from alone in advocating for this middle path. However, just how much political space such an initiative has in the midst of ongoing violence is hard to say. The Turkish government continues to promote the idea that there is little hope for the BDP to broker peace independent of the PKK, and leaked details concerning the ongoing KCK operations have been used by government officials and some opinion leaders to enforce this idea. (For example, see evidence leaked from the case that BDP Osman Baydemir had to seek permission from the PKK/KCK before appearing on a television news show.)

Also on the BDP front . . .

From Bianet:

The deputy chair of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Bengi Yıldız, called on civilians to make use of their right to conscientious objection and to refuse military service.

Yıldız made a press release in the course of a demonstration in Batman (south-east) on Sunday (20 June). Though the demonstration was hindered by the police, Yıldız said, "There is no need to declare martial law and a state of emergency. We are right in the middle of martial law just now because our country entered a state of serious violence and war".
Discouraging military service is a crime under Turkey's Penal Code, and will likely result in Yildiz' prosecution.

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