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TURKEY: Peace May Come to Pass in 2010

DIYARBAKIR, (Eastern Turkey), Jan 3 2010 (IPS) - With newfound liberties for the Kurdish minority and the government’s ‘Democratic Opening’ initiative the prospects for peace in 2010 are brighter than they have been in the last 25 years. The fly in the ointment is the ban in December of the pro-Kurd, Democratic Society Party (DTP).

The Dec. 11, 2009 decision of the Constitutional Court declaring DTP illegal was a hard blow for the Kurds, the country’s largest minority with about 20 million people. Expressing concern over the court ruling, the Presidency of the European Union called upon Turkey to reform its laws governing political parties.

The court decision was followed by protests and street clashes in which several people died, sparking fears of an extended period of unrest.

The grounds given for ordering the dissolution of DTP were its ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), classified as a terrorist organisation in Turkey and in several other countries. DTP had maintained that the PKK should have a seat at the negotiation table with its incarcerated leader, Abdullah Öcalan, given a prominent role.

Öcalan – who has been in jail for the last decade – is a beloved figure among the Kurds. It is feared that without him unity and peace will be difficult to reach. However, the Turkish government remains firm in its unwillingness to see the PKK as anything but an illegal guerrilla organisation, despite its unilateral ceasefire since March 2009.

The Istanbul-based Human Rights Association (IHD) claims that without the DTP there is no chance to carry on the democratic process. “DTP is the natural negotiator on behalf of the Kurds regarding the Kurdish question,” explains Öztürk Türkdo?an, chairman of the IHD.

Following the ban most of DTP’s members switched over to the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a Kurdish back-up party established in 2008. It remains to be seen how this party will be able to pick up the pieces.

For much of 2009, however, the Kurds had reason to stay upbeat. In May DTP shocked the political establishment by doing exceedingly well in the local elections. They were able to place mayors in nine of the provincial capitals and take control of 98 municipalities in eastern Turkey. The party could also send 21 members to Turkish parliament.

In August, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came forward with its “Democratic Opening” initiative, which is meant to bring the country to a new levels of freedom for Turkey’s various minorities, especially the Kurds. In anticipation Turkish President Abdullah Gül had predicted that “good things will come to pass”.

Secession from Turkey and complete independence are no longer the stated aims of the Kurds. They claim their goals are now to achieve greater freedom and maintain their identity and language.

Says Ercan Aybo?a, a German Kurd formerly employed at the Diyarbak?r municipality: “The important thing is that the Kurdish language is taught in schools and that Kurds are treated as equals in the federal constitution.”

Recently, a rule that stipulated a limit to broadcast lengths of Kurdish language shows on television and radio was dropped. Other restrictions on the public use of Kurdish in meetings and elsewhere are also being eased.

Official recognition of Turkey’s minorities is a possibility in 2010. It has already been announced that the constitution could be amended to make it possible to give full official recognition of the Kurds as a distinct ethnic group.

In some cases, it is women who are taking the initiative for peace. The “peace mothers” in Izmir are calling for violence in Turkey to be stopped. In their march in downtown Izmir they held signs stating “we are mothers and we are for peace.”

Similarly in Istanbul, Turkish and Kurdish women went on the streets to declare that “women want peace”. They began the ‘Conscientious Objection for Peace’ movement and declared their rejection of military service, so as to abstain from “fighting against our Kurdish brothers and sisters,” – in the words of one attendee.

Sevgim Denizalt?, an Istanbul-based journalist, believes that the voice of people who want peace will be heard more loudly in 2010. ‘’I think the solution is in the Turkish people’s hands, especially in that of the women. If they can formulate their wish for peace more effectively than the nationalists, things can become better in 2010.”

Emina Ayna, a leading Kurdish politician, is more forthright: “All policies of assimilation have failed. Democracy in Turkey will come by way of solving the Kurdish issue.”

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