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Bases for a Negotiated Solution to the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey. PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 09:35

Vicenç Fisas, Director of the School of Peace Culture, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
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From my experience as a person who has worked for peace in a number of countries and zones in conflict, and who has spent years studying processes of peace and their methodologies, I would like to express my thanks for the invitation to participate in this forum and for your presence here in these times of uncertainty but also of future opportunities for peace.

A conflict that has been in existence now for over 30 years, that has caused tens of thousands of deaths, displacements, disappearances and considerable levels of trauma, and that has seen only discrete dialogue between the two parties concerned over these many years, does not simply disappear by ignoring it or by stating that it does not exist; nor by recognising its existence one day only to deny it the very next; nor by opening dialogue and then closing it again immediately afterwards.

A first step towards the peaceful resolution of any conflict is to recognise its existence, independently of the interpretation or analysis that may be applied to it, which—at all events—will always differ between the parties in conflict. Recognition, by the parties opposed to one another, that “we have a problem” and that this problem is shared is the very first thing that has to be achieved. To deny that there may even be a “Kurdish question” is of no help at all either in diagnosing the problem or in providing it with the most suitable political treatment. The peace that is now taking root in Colombia, the peace that has reached the Philippines, or Northern Ireland, or Aceh in Indonesia, Nepal, Sierra Leona or many other conflicts, has required the recognition by governments, armies and security forces, armed non-state participants and entire populations, that a common problem was in existence which was impossible to resolve through violence. It has also seemed to be the case that, in Turkey, at certain phases both parties concerned shared such a vision.

Since 2013 and until almost a year ago, the Turkish government and the PKK were working together to draw up a “scheme for negotiation” or a means by which to bring about an end to conflict in Turkey. Both parties, with the help of the international community, have the moral obligation with the people of Turkey to recreate the conditions needed to jointly draw up a legal framework for dialogue, as soon as possible. I would recommend that first, all those subjects strictly related to the Kurdish question be treated; following this, if things then go ahead and the two parties are in agreement, they could attempt to discuss issues of state-wide relevance.

Currently, the Kurdish “problem” and “armed conflict” with the PKK are conditioned by numerous regional geopolitical factors, particularly those occurring in Syria and Iraq, which have international consequences. This is a grave obstacle and a significant challenge, but is not in itself any reason to renounce the search for solutions to the internal issue in Turkey. A failure to start resolving the Kurdish problem in Turkey will provoke greater instability in the region. In light of this, it is singularly unrecommendable to put things off to a distant future in which the entire region might have become pacified before approaching the conflict in Turkey.

For all of these reasons, it is a matter of urgency that the bases for a solution be established right now, since, over years of effort to find solutions, each collapse or crisis has generated greater distrust and further obstacles. To begin solving this conflict, it is essential to dismiss thinking of the logic of “more war” and to begin, instead, to think of how to silence the guns and to enable the creation of peace. Silencing guns and creating peace are two very different things, since peace—in addition—incorporates political, social, economic and cultural elements.

In the last thirty years, 75% of armed conflicts in existence throughout the world have ended through peace agreements, the result of negotiation. There is no reason why the Turkish conflict with the PKK should be an exception.

Nobody, not even Turkey, can forget its commitment to Article 1 of the United Nations Charter, to “bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace”. Nor should they forget the commitments undertaken in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of 1966, which is one of the principal bases for democracy and peaceful co-existence.

A peace process or “a settlement process”, however you may wish to call it, is not the imposition by one party over another; rather, its is a dialogue between two, each recognising one another as counterparts seeking a solution that is acceptable for both.

For a successful negotiation, both parties in the conflict must have a real desire to put an end to the conflict through dialogue and through flexibility with respect to their initial positions. This desire tends to be seen both through words and deeds, with measures of trust, with discreet and serious approximations.

As a basis for resolving any conflict, negotiation offers an acceptable methodology for every case, as well as certain basic principles, common to any negotiation. If the parties wish to do so, they will always find the most suitable path. This aspect should never be the problem, although it takes time to discuss and agree on the most appropriate way forward. It corresponds to the parties in that particular conflict—and only to them—to agree on how to reach a solution; but at the same time, much can be learned from the experiences of other countries. There is no need for inventions; it is simply a case of finding the right tools for each specific situation.

It is highly recommendable to “tone down verbal language”, “to disarm the word”. It is simply not acceptable to constantly direct ourselves to the other party through insults. If you really do wish to solve this conflict, I recommend that you avoid the use of the word “terrorist”. There are mechanisms such as international humanitarian law, human rights and the law of war through which to call, by their correct and recognised names, the crimes that are committed in armed conflict by both parties. Additionally, negotiations are currently open with the greater part of those groups on the European Union’s list of terrorist groups. To refuse negotiations on the simple pretext of having called a group “terrorist” very probably hides motives of a different kind, which should be revealed.

Almost 80% of negotiations in the world are carried out through the mediation of a third party. Do not reject this out of hand: it is usually highly effective. External facilitation is limited to helping the parties find a solution for themselves. Mediation or facilitation should never be understood as interference; it is, rather, a way of supporting those abilities that the parties in conflict already have. External participants (local or international) can also play other roles in strengthening the process, as guarantors, for example, or as observers.

And now I would like to speak about certain elements in the various phases of peace processes that may be relevant to the Turkish context.

In exploratory or initial phases, the parties should discuss and agree on the type of negotiation required and on how to negotiate. The substantive phases of the negotiation will come later. If we think about the case of Turkey, the PKK renounced the call for an independent Kurdish territory many, many years ago. The debate, therefore, should never be based on this subject. Nor is there the intention to establish a Kurdish state in which to group the Kurdish populations spread across Turkey, Syria and Iraq. What we term the “meta-conflict”, that is, the essence of the issue, is based on the recognition of the cultural, linguistic and social singularity and personality of the Kurdish community, whose members would continue being “citizens” of Turkey. If such prior recognition existed, as is typical in multicultural societies in the majority of countries around the world, the political aspects of the debate—which also exist—could be approached without so much tension and without violence. It is therefore recommendable to attend first to socio-cultural aspects, in order to subsequently deal with issues of a more political-administrative kind, such as decentralisation or autonomy, neither of which are unusual features within the political structure of many states. There is no need to fear the open debate of these subject because there is no reason for them to affect the basic structure of the state or of its essence, such as its territorial integrity. It is simply a case of recognising and accepting diversity within this broad community and common homeland that is Turkey.

I am certain that the day in which the recognition and acceptance of diversity is transformed into new plural laws and policies that satisfy the Kurdish community, the PKK will cease to exist as an armed group, as is entirely normal throughout the world following a peace agreement. But this nevertheless calls for an improvement in the democratic quality of the country and a more reduced electoral threshold, to demonstrate in Parliament the rich diversity that Turkey has. Cultural and linguistic diversity is not a problem; it is a treasure, if it is acknowledged and can be shared. It can bring about our enrichment, and not our division.

On the other hand, it is relevant to this discussion to indicate that, when an armed group acts within a national territory, their withdrawal to a distinct neighbouring country and their disarmament should never be demanded before negotiations take place or at their very outset. This has never occurred in any country in the world. Negotiations may be held inside or outside the country, but the armed group usually remains in the area in which it finds itself, even though it may currently be observing a ceasefire. At all events, the withdrawal of forces may well be a measurement agreed on by the parties concerned once a process of dialogue has been consolidated.

Disarmament is always the final point of any negotiation; it can never be a prerequisite for its beginning. No process has ever called for prior disarmament in order to start a dialogue or formal negotiations. It is never a precondition; rather, it is the outcome of the negotiation itself, if this proceeds successfully. In the current context, there is a need to show understanding towards the timing and the forms that the PKK may require to combine their wish to disarm in Turkey with guarantees of their physical safety, both for the Kurds in Turkey and for the Kurds in Syria. At the same time, whilst it is true that disarmament is the result and not a prerequisite of negotiations, armed groups must also show unequivocal indications of this wish. No Government will ever negotiate if it simply cannot trust in a final outcome to the process that sees the armed group abandon both armed conflict and the weapons by which this is carried out.

We should always value, and never deprecate, the significance and the opportunity represented by a unilateral ceasefire, as the PKK has declared time and time again. 95% of all ceasefires produced in the world are bilateral, not unilateral. For this very reason, we should never dismiss the opportunity that a unilateral ceasefire presents in order to initiate the “de-escalation of armed confrontation”, as is now taking place in Colombia. Nevertheless, a “bilateral ceasefire”, that is, a “silencing of arms”, is the very surest measure of confidence with which to start negotiations.

Processes of amnesty, restorative justice or transitional justice, as well as possible constitutional changes deriving from peace processes, are also decisions that should be made at the end and not at the beginning of the process, and less so still as a precondition for initiating a dialogue. There is a timing and a moment for everything. Meanwhile, however, certain initiatives will help to alleviate matters; these include—for instance—prisoners’ living conditions, as measures of confidence that contribute to ensuring the better development of the negotiations in question.

Whatever the case, the “unresolved problem” with the PKK should not be confused with a “broader problem” and with other dimensions, namely the “relationship” that the State should establish with the Kurdish community of its country. Today, this is clearly unsatisfactory and it generates tensions, violence and repression. The communities that make up Turkey should recognise each other, extend their hands to one another, establish a dialogue and listen to the others’ aspirations.

I would like to finish by inviting the Government, the PKK and the entire Turkish society to make a determined, joint effort to reopen dialogue, to cease armed confrontation and to work together so as to reach a satisfactory solution to this conflict. The whole of Turkey deserves peace throughout its territory. And the whole world is depending upon you all, because an acceptable solution to this problem would also be of great help in stabilising a zone that, currently, is the most unstable area on the planet. I sincerely wish you every success in making this solution a reality.

Türk versiyonu: PDF