Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kurdish side of the story told in Washington

Friday, May 7, 2010
  While the United States as a whole has been dealing with environmental catastrophe, as thousands of gallons of oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico every day, New York endured another attempted terror attack last week.
The suspect in this latest bombing attempt is another Muslim, who seems to be an ordinary middle-class man with no prior criminal history. The young Pakistani terrorist has, without a doubt, made life much harder for hundred of thousands of other immigrants who have a very distinct accent or the appearance of being Muslim or Pakistani/Afghani/Bangladeshi.
Immigrants in America have been already feeling the heat following legislation passed in the state of Arizona a couple of weeks ago. The new legislation gives security forces the necessary authority to ask for the identification of anyone they suspect may be in the country illegally. According to experts, this latest legislation opens the doors to racial profiling.
The leaders of the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, arrived in Washington, D.C., for the opening of its Washington bureau, giving talks and holding meetings with U.S. State Department officials. The delegation included Mr. Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-president of the BDP; Mr. Ahmet Türk, a former deputy and past chairman of the now-closed Democratic Society Party or DTP; and Ms. Emine Ayna, the vice president of the BDP and a current member of the Turkish Parliament.
The delegation’s visit came in the midst of the debate on constitutional reforms in Turkey. The timing of the visit, in that perspective, sent a clear message both to Turkey and Washington that the BDP does not have much hope about these new constitutional reform discussions in Ankara.
The members of the delegation had a chance to explain their biggest complaints about Turkish state policies, what their demands are and how the situation is from their standpoint, directly to the American audience as well as others.
Mr. Türk said at the Carnegie Endowment, where he and Mr. Demirtaş participated in a panel, that they have three basic demands from the Turkish government: 1) A constitution in Turkey that recognizes all sorts of differences among people; 2) Recognition of cultural rights for all; and 3) More participation in local administrations, especially cities in which 80 or 90 percent of the population has an ethnic Kurdish background.
As Mehmet Ali Birand wrote in his last article, Turkey, whether one likes the administration or not, has made a good amount of progress lately on all of the three demands listed above. The Kurdish identity is being recognized more than ever, a state-run channel is broadcasting in Kurdish and local municipalities go mostly to the BDP’s candidates in general local elections. These changes are not perfect, nor complete, however they are steps in the right direction and need to be applauded in that sense.
At the reception for the opening of the BDP’s representative bureau in Washington, the members of the delegation criticized the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, leadership loudly and I heard comparisons between the AKP leadership and the military rule in the 1980s.
I asked Mr. Demirtaş why his party did not at least participate in the parliamentary vote on Article 8, which aimed to make the closure of political parties more difficult. Both Türk and Demirtaş said the AKP had sought neither their consultation nor their support. On the contrary, Türk said, the AKP announced that it was not cooperating with the BDP on these changes and clearly avoided being associated with the party. Demirtaş said his party previously gave five symbolic votes to show its willingness to cooperate, but never received anything in return. I pressed him further, reminding him about Cengiz Candar’s and Hasan Cemal’s harsh columns slamming their absence for those votes. Mr. Demirtaş seemed puzzled, claiming that the writers should have known the reasons for their absence.
Mr. Demirtas had openly claimed a day before at the Carnegie Endowment that there is no organic or inorganic link between the BDP and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. But when asked why they cannot be a party that embraces all of Turkey, or, simply put, why the BDP cannot draw a line between it and the PKK, he said that even though the BDP doesn’t have any direct or indirect links with PKK, most of the constituency it is addressing, the about 2.5 million voters in Turkey’s east and Southeast, hold different views on the PKK than the BDP does. Therefore, he concluded, it is not realistic to expect the BDP to make a move to cut all ties and forget its voter base to seem nice to all of Turkey.
The BDP clearly is afraid such a move would cause the party to lose an important voter base without bringing in a new one.
From what I heard from Ms. Ayna at the reception, it was clear that the PKK question had been one of the important issues discussed at the delegation’s meeting the State Department officials on the same day last week. It is also my observation that Ayna and others had some difficulty addressing the PKK question satisfactorily to the American officials.
U.S. officials have been more sensitive while discussing terrorism-related issues since they themselves have been dealing with terrorism attacks in many parts of the world. In November 2007, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had an understanding with then-President George W. Bush on working against the PKK, Bush described the PKK as “an enemy of Turkey, a free Iraq and the United States,” and the U.S. and Turkey started a robust intelligence-sharing effort against this common enemy. Washington also has become closer to the AKP administration on the issues related to the Kurdish conundrum in Turkey since the AKP took some steps to start its much-discussed Kurdish opening.
That is one of the biggest reasons why the BDP had to open an office in Washington. The BDP senses that it is about time to take the Kurdish initiative back from the AKP. The BDP wants to remind the U.S. administration in Washington that it, not the AKP, is the real intermediary for addressing Turkey’s Kurdish population.
Overall, as Henri Barkey, a Turkey expert at the Carnegie Endowment and the moderator of the panel where the members of the delegation spoke, said after the meetings, “messages given by the delegation were very moderate, in a very civilized manner and in a good environment” with reasonable questions and answers. If nothing else, this was a good week for better dialogue between the Turkish and Kurdish people.

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