Mind-reading and realism

How to navigate between wishful thinking and over-the-top pessimism when observing the peace process?
This is a tough challenge for all of those who, given the lack of sufficient transparency and convincing modalities, will have to make sense of a powerful reality.

In a recent article I wrote for the Guardian Comment, I deliberately chose to highlight the positive scenario, outlining the reasoning of the top echelons in Ankara.

It may be that the primary manager of the process is the prime minister, but it would be misleading to disregard the “just sufficient” consensus within the National Security Council (MGK). Agreement between the president, the generals and the key units of the security apparatus was seen as necessary for a go-ahead.

While I regard the incurable nihilists and sworn Justice and Development Party (AKP) government skeptics as secondary, I understand all others who look ahead to a very bumpy ride. I share the latter’s view, to the extent that if there is no Plan B or C for the current conflict resolution, the backlash could indeed be severe.

In my somewhat optimistic column for the Guardian, I thought it necessary to lay out what the mindset is in the rational segments of Ankara:

“…unless Turkey adopts a new constitution, its social fabric will remain weak, and it won’t be able to proceed further on the path towards EU membership. Unless Turkey deals peacefully with its own Kurdish issue, it won’t be able to control the Kurdish unrest in Syria and Iraq or play the role it aspires to, that of a strong regional player.”

If this reasoning is pursued resolutely, at the end of the day, what Erdoğan intends with regard to his personal political gain is of less importance than what sort of backlash Turkey, with its political landscape and social fabric, would suffer in case of failure. It would sweep the country into turmoil, with a shift to a tougher rule over radicalization, and freeze the reform process.

At best, we would witness a stagnation that would paralyze Turkey’s abilities for regional crisis management.

This makes the process a higher priority than the AKP’s game plan for granting Erdoğan the presidency. If the Republican People’s Party (CHP) had realized the importance of supporting the talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), it would have stronger leverage for enhancing its support when at a later stage it opposes a presidential model. It does not.

The risks of the path taken are incomparably higher than before. So are Erdoğan’s over-the-top sensitivities in the face of dissent or anything that he sees as an obstacle.

This leads to tactical mistakes. When he publicly shouted, “Down with your journalism!” to the Milliyet daily after its reporting of the minutes from the meeting on İmralı Island between PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and members of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), he showed that shooting the messenger would be a damaging choice. It is not helpful to alienate a segment of the press which was supportive of a solution.

The result of his rage is that Milliyet’s proprietor banned Hasan Cemal, a veteran, internationally respected journalist, from writing for two weeks for defending the coverage, in exchange for not being fired. Namık Durukan, Milliyet’s reporter who was behind the scoop, is now out in the cold.

But another point is that while Cemal, as a staunchly pro-solution columnist is silenced, others who are against a peaceful solution at the same paper continue to write. They should, too, certainly; but the result is a chilling effect on “critical but supportive” liberals. In this sense, the process has left a very bitter taste in the context of public management.

Instead of endlessly squeezing the media, the real focus for the government should be to dissolve mistrust on the public level. There are many Turks who suspect that the only objective is more power-grabbing, while many Kurds want to see concrete steps for easing the tension with enhanced freedom for political activity and expression.

Whatever the nightmare scenarios, optimism is never an unconditional stand. The next phase will be more critical than before. Will the PKK release the hostages and, in return, will the AKP deliver a release of all the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) detainees?

If yes, this may pave the way for a cease-fire and a withdrawal of the rebels from Turkey to Iraq. We shall see.