Current peace negotiations between the Turkish Government and the PKK: A lesson for Turkey from the Philippines

By Dr. Aland Mizell:

PKK fighters in the Kandil

PKK fighters in the Kandil

Ankara must overcome its fear of peace and be sincere with the PKK if it wants to end the violence. The peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK in Turkey has been lauded as a great sign of hope, both internationally and within Turkey. Previously hardcore White Turks (“Beyaz Türk,”), the Kemalist elite who hold to secularism, and hardcore White Muslims, like the Gülen movement who want his version of Islam in the end, did not want to talk to the PKK and preferred military solutions to Kurdish problems. In the past it was impossible for the Turkish government to have peace negotiations with the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan or to develop a state-level relation with the Kurdish Regional Government.

In other words, a sustained end to armed hostilities in Turkey was previously considered virtually impossible, but the Turkish government will now talk to the PKK leaders and even the Turkish President and Prime Minister will consider allowing the Kurdish leaders to form a KRG for a state. “Peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of justice “ according to actor and peace activist Harrison Ford. It is time for justice for the Kurds through a carefully designed and rational peace plan.

These past weeks and months one phrase that has occupied the Turkish and Kurdish public is “peace talks” or “peace plans” between the leader of the PKK Abdullah Ocalan and Turkish intelligence officers (MIT). We all know that making peace is hard and takes time for both sides to rebuild the trust and to learn to live peacefully among each other. I join them and support peace as we all walk, write, sing, praise, and pray for peace.

However, I do not trust the Turkish government that they really genuinely believe that Kurds are been oppressed and are willing to recognize the rights of the Kurds. What they do is blame the secular government and play with the Kurdish emotions by puffing up some of the Kurds’ egos. How is it that Kurds who have suffered for three decades will now become vain and believe them and their praise and promises? Even one of the weakest Kurds should have learned the lesson about trusting their adversaries so easily. The Kurds have the biggest opportunity to have their rights now, but I am not sure they can get them in their lifetime.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the BDP deputies would not be permitted to visit the PKK leader in prison as part of the peace talks. “We will not allow [to go] those who have close ties with the PKK commanders in the mountains,” he stated. This shows that the Prime Minister is flip flopping with the Kurds and has no interest in solving Kurdish problems peacefully.

The Turkish government should realize what the absence of peace could do to Turks and Kurds. The questions is “Does Turkey really want to have peace with the Kurds or is Turkey trying to divide the Kurds and trying to find the Kurds’ key leaders in order to go after them?” Look what happened in Europe: in France and Germany so many Kurds have been jailed because of current pressure from the Turkish government. That’s not how Turkey can make peace, by arresting Kurds daily. Is Turkey answering the call that Fethullah Gülen issued last year to kill and destroy the PKK and to ally itself with the other European nations and America to destroy the PKK?  Why did Turkey and Gülen make a hasty decision to have peace with the PKK leaders?

We all know that neither Turkey nor THE Gülensts believe there is a Kurdish problem; they think there is only a terrorist problem and that the PKK does not represent the Kurds but instead is supported by outside powers to destroy the Turks. We also know that Gülen’s solution to the Kurdish question is to use the religion card and to impose his version of Islam on Turkey. We also know that the PKK and the BDP were the only obstacles for Gülenists to grow in Southeastern Turkey. One of the examples is that for a long time Gülenists were trying to open a religious university in Diyarbakir but were not able to do so. Right after the Gülen decree in which he said he is pro-peace and that the government should make peace with the PKK, the Gülenists were able to open a new religious university in Diyarbakir and use the name of a famous Kurdish leader for Salahattin Eyyubi University.

In one of his past weekly speeches, Gülen said that they failed to go to every door of the Kurds and convert them to his movement but that was the only solution to the Kurdish question. If Gülen really cared about the Kurds, really realized they were suffering, and really wanted to have peace, then why did he compare the current PKK and government peace to the Hudyabiya Treaty between Prophet Mohammed and non-Muslims? He claimed that even if it seems that it is not a pro-Muslim peace deal at the beginning, it would turn out to be a victory for Muslims.

As anyone who has studied Islamic history or the Qur’an knows that the peace agreement did not last long after the Muslims gained power because they defeated the Jews and then conquered Mecca in violation of the truce. However, Mohammed received a special dispensation from Allah allowing him to keep the women from Mecca who had fled to Medina rather than to return them as the truce has stipulated. Even during the truce, Prophet Mohammed had sent one Muslim Abu Basir, who had murdered a Meccan, with his seventy followers to the coast to raid the Meccan caravans for their livelihood.  Why did Gülen compare the Kurds to non-Muslims or the Meccans and thus opponents of Mohammed and Allah?

Gülen and the AKP party do not want peace; they do not want Kurds to gain power. Since the Arab Spring is a democratic uprising, then they know this is a great opportunity for Kurds to get the rights they want; they also know that Kurds will never have this kind of opportunity again in the Middle East; consequently, Turkey and Gülen are attempting to head off the Kurds allying themselves with the push for democracy. Thus, they deceive the Kurds with the same old story of brotherhood, Allah, and religion. That is why Gülen opened the religious university in Diyarbakir, naming it after the renowned Kurd who conquered Jerusalem.

If Gulen and the AKP really want peace with Kurds, they should learn lessons from the Philippine government about what it means to be genuine about the peace process. Peace negotiations take time to heal the pain and distrust between both parties, in this case the Kurds and the Turks. For decades, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with its more than 11,000 guerrilla fighters, has been fighting the Philippine Army to establish a self-ruled Muslim sub–state in the Southern Philippines, a predominantly Catholic area. The Philippine government has been proposing an enhanced autonomy to address the conflict in the southern Philippines. The MILF, on the other hand, is asking for a sub-state where the Bangsamoro people will run their own government but still be under the Philippine government.

After 15 years of negotiations, the Philippines government finally reached an agreement with the Muslims’ liberation front in the country’s southern region to end the more than three decades of conflict that has killed at least one hundred thousand people. Yes, there is still more work to be done, but credit must be given to the Philippine government and the MILF leaders who are genuinely working on the peace process despite the troubled road to reach the peace agreement. Significantly, the Philippine President Benigno Aquino met with the leader of the MILF, Murad Ebrahim, in Japan and took a political risk convening with the organization. It was the first time in several decades that a Philippine President had meet face to face with a secessionist leader. This shows the political will to find common ground that has proved to be the foundation for success for the MILF and the Philippine government.

They want an agreement on a peace framework built on key decision points made this past April. This agreement forged a roadmap to create a new sub-state in the autonomous region in Southern Mindanao. Although it is mainly Catholic Christians, it gives the Muslim–dominated area greater political power and more control over their resources. Both sides want to convey to the world that they have reached a landmark in the peace talks. Recognizing that work still has to be done, they know that this new area will replace the current autonomous region known as Muslim Mindanao.

How genuine is Turkey’s President and is a peace plan contrary to the agenda of the Turkish government or Prime Minister?  Will Prime Minister of Turkey have same encouragement to visit PKK leader Ocalan and Listen what Kurds want?   In its own struggle with the PKK guerrillas, Turkey can learn important lessons from the Philippine peace process. One is that outside assistance at the beginning is pivotal to success. Kurds and Turks, the BDP, PKK, AKP, and KCK–all lack the mutual trust that is a fundamental prerequisite to launching a peace process. The Turks, and especially influential hard core Turkish Muslims, lack the mindset that would permit them to think outside of the box and go beyond their zero-sum game mentality, like Gülen’s comparing the current peace process with the Hudaybiya peace agreement.

The Turkish government, however, is keen to begin a peace process with the limited involvement of other Kurdish parties such as the BDP, KCK, and other Kurdish civil societies. The Turkish government is sensitive about this because it fears that Kurds might come together in a strong collusion to harm national interests. One fear is that the BDP would follow the example of ongoing protests in the outside world, especially those in the Middle East.

Isolated on the prison Island of Imrali near Istanbul since 1999, PKK leader Oçalan has not seen the outside world nor has the public seen him. The only public messenger to hear from him is his lawyer, but sometimes his lawyer also cannot visit him. The world has changed significantly since 1999; it is no longer a unipolar world but is a multipolar one. The Turkish government should create a channel for Oçalan to communicate with the PKK, the BDP, and other groups; otherwise the talks will not have legitimacy.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Erdogan has not grasped the nature of real peace. Instead, he still wants a quick fix and refuses to give up his maverick style of governance that has divided the country more in the first place.

It is true that adopting one peace process to be a model in resolving the Kurdish conflict may not work because each conflict has its own distinctive characteristics or dynamics. However, there are some moral lessons that can be useful in determining how to solve a protracted conflict. The Philippine peace process offers relevant lessons that are worth looking into:

1.     The Turkish government should realize that there is a Kurdish question and that the solution to the Kurdish question is not security measures with the military and police or violence, but it is a genuine dialogue.

2.     Communication is important between the two parties.

3.     Solidarity must be developed between the government and the Kurdish civil society; there should be room for the Kurdish civil society to be developed, but not just the Gülenists’ religious civil society that works for only the interest of one segment of society.

4.     Decentralization is necessary with support for local autonomy and the power and authority from central institutions distributed to local levels of the government system. The Kurds should run their internal affairs; in other words, local autonomy involves the transfer of authority, responsibility, and resources to the local level. For example, the Kurds in Iraq sell their oil to Turkey without asking permission from the Iraqi central government. The Kurds in Turkey should have authority over their resources as well.

5.     The plan should focus on the root cause of the conflict if the Kurdish problems are to go away and the PKK problems as well.

6.     The Kurdish issue must be discussed from both views, not just form the AKP/Gülenists’ point of view.

7.     The Kurdish public, the Kurdish civil society (if there is such a Kurdish civil society because the government has put the leaders in jail), and the Kurdish religious leaders also must be included in the discussions about what is going on between Ocalan and the government.

8.      If the PKK turns in its weapons, what it will get in return must be discussed and clearly outlined.

9.     The PKK guerrillas should not go to other countries as refugees; if they have fought for their homeland, they should be part of the security group, such as the police and military to protect the Kurdish autonomous region.

10. Turkey should drop the PKK from its terrorist list and release its leaders from jail.

11. The BDP, KCK, and PKK must be included in the peace process to create a channel of communication among Ocalan, Kandil, the BDP and other groups.

12. Turkey should stop putting political and diplomatic pressure on the Kurdish Diaspora who live outside of Turkey and who defend Kurds, should cease considering them as terrorists, and should release current prominent Kurdish activist Adem Uzun.

13. The government should appoint a competent resident of the Kurdish region to the Supreme Court and the Judicial and Bar Council.

14. The Kurds should have the same kind of autonomous region as those in Iraq and should have some exclusive powers as well as some shared powers with the central government with the details discussed between the Kurdish party and the Turkish government.

15.  The Kurdish Autonomous Region should have some power over the election administration and authority to regulate its own affairs regarding the constituent units of the region.

16. The Kurds and the Turks should task neutral groups to make a comparative study, so that an agreement is public and easily accessible to the public.

17. The Kurdish Autonomous Region should have basic laws.

18. Turkey should open all the archives to academics who are willing to reveal the government’s and military’s relation to and activities in Southeastern Turkey during marshal law.

19. Turkey should release from jail all the KCK members, and let Kurds form civil society groups, such as those for media, academics, etc.

20. Turkey should compensate the Kurds who have been forcefully displaced from their villages.

Against the backdrop of its social problems, Southeastern Turkey is the homeland for the majority of Kurds and endows them with plentiful natural resources, highly rich cultures, and a strategic location in a complex and rapidly growing region. The Kurds would improve economically because of their control of the oil and water, two of the most important resources that the world needs. It is clear that, without an inclusive and holistic solution to the Kurdish issue, peace will not be achieved there. The Turkish authorities that are responsible for the peace process need to take lessons from the peace achievements in the Philippines.

At the moment, the government is still flip-flopping with the Kurds and still without a sense of direction or a genuine desire to move forward with a peace process. It is time to make a positive move and to think outside the box, beginning with learning lessons from others groups who have been successful.

 Dr. Aland Mizell is with the University of Mindanao School of Social Science, President of the MCI and a regular contributor to The Kurdistan Tribune,, Mindanao Times and Kurdish Media.You may email the author

5 Responses to Current peace negotiations between the Turkish Government and the PKK: A lesson for Turkey from the Philippines
  1. David
    February 13, 2013 | 10:45

    Dr. Mizell, Very good !Turkey does not want the peace; Turkey is deceiving the Kurds and with the tactical move gaining power.

  2. Tim Upham
    February 14, 2013 | 05:44

    Two things will have to come out of it. The use of the Kurdish language in both education and media. Also, the legalization of outlawed Kurdish political parties.

  3. Ahmet Abidin Ozbek
    February 14, 2013 | 06:07

    I always read Mr. Alan articles here. He wrote very well about to situation of Kurds in Turkey. However, one things he is missing.As, I mentioned also in my articles, the peace negotiation will not start or war ended by only Turkish side. Unfortunately, PKK is also very responsible because of the situation today. PKK still elimaniting any one who against their belief. They are strongly believe authoriarian and Stalinist style party. A lot of Kurds who against the Turkish state but also against PKK because of that reason.

  4. Matt
    February 18, 2013 | 06:44

    Turkey will not have peace with the PKK and Turkey just play with the Kurds and trying to gain the momentum with Kurds in Syria and make sure that PKK will not support Kurds in Syria and Kurds in Syria should not have autonomous there . That is main point of interest of Turkey . Kurds need good leader and I dont see if they have one . it is sad. I enjoy reading Dr. Mizell writing , he is always right on target.

  5. Suleiman
    February 20, 2013 | 02:50

    I wonder those who are so openly against pece talks, I wonder what their solution is? More killing? Why not try and see how the peace talks go and then if they don’t go through there will always be chance to resort to arms and mountains. It’s funny how some people use foreign names flood these articles with such strong opinions from the comfort of their homes, not realizing how hard it is to keep being in war?

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