Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reform, Not Militancy

At a rally in Yuksekova (Hakkari), BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas again declared that Kurds want autonomy, and again, voiced implied support for violent struggle. According to Demirtas, Kurds will continue to wage resistance and fight against government pressure. The comments were made in response to government preparation's to reform laws that have increasingly been used to target nationalist Kurds who express opinions contrary to that of the government.

The government announced earlier this week that it has prepared a package of laws aimed to address the Kurdish question, including limited rights to freedom of expression and protest, as well as the possibility of an amnesty for "repentant terrorists." Though the reforms are far from a wholesale solution to current problems and come at a time when the government continues to target Kurdish nationalist politicians and journalists, as well as some Turks and Kurds whose ideas on the Kurdish question run contrary to that of the government, they are a step, however small,  in the right direction. The AKP has proposed provisions to a current law restricting speech that "incites hatred," as well as an amendment to a law that allows individuals charged with making symbols of terrorism to be sentenced to 10 years in prison and a stop to prosecutions of Kurdish nationalist activists who use "Sayin" (a term of respect) to address PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

On Dec. 22, just one week before the reform plan was announced, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc declared that denying the identity of the Kurdish people was tantamount to denying their existence to people. He promised constitutional and other legal reforms that would protect Kurdish identity, and it seems the AKP may be intent on delivering.

Arinc's statement and the AKP's reform plans comes on the back of the detentions of 51 assumed Kurdish nationalist activists, mostly journalists, who are alleged PKK associates. The detentions seek to repress journalists offering support (or, what is conceived by the government to be support) of ideas shared by the PKK. The journalists are accused of working in cahoots or being members of the press arm of the KCK, the political organization setup by the PKK to penetrate Kurdish civil society and political life. Yet, as with other KCK sweeps, in many cases the evidence against the alleged PKK associates is slipshod and/or condemns journalists for writing reports that might be considered to support the organization. The problems with this approach are numerous, and reflect flaws in the government's larger approach to prosecute and imprison (for very long periods of time) political actors who have not actually engaged in terrorist offenses.

That said, Demirtas' remarks echo the militancy of BDP rhetoric in recent months and will contribute little to a solution. Turkish politicians and civil society are already in the midst of a serious debate as to whether "poems, songs, and art" can be considered terrorist acts as put forward by Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin (see Ahmet Hakan in Hurriyet). Arinc offers a potentially alternative take, and though it is still unclear in what direction the AKP will go, the BDP is making no progress on the issue by adopting a rhetoric of militancy rather than reform.

Rather than following a hardline in doubt shaped by Kandil and perhaps Imrali, Demirtas would be better to follow in the steps of fellow BDP member Serafettin Elci, who welcomed Arinc's remarks as a step forward and asked the government to produce concrete measures. The government did, showing that Elci and moderates within the BDP could be more powerful than the hardliners if given a chance.

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