The long-distance handshake


Everything has gone as planned so far. Well, mostly.

On his way to Bishkek, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan talked vaguely about “some minor disturbances.” He most probably had the clashes at Diyarbakır’s Dicle University in mind, where a violent scene caused concern.

What is going fine is the PKK peace talks process itself as a whole. With a cautious, optimistic mood, based on reliable data, it would be worthwhile once again to indicate to skeptics that it is a path which becomes irreversible the more time passes without serious incidents.

It all has to do with the “long-distance handshake” between the two key figures, Erdoğan and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, in ending the bloodshed, the destructive political vendetta, the suffering. The handshake meant an agreement, a mutual understanding about investing whatever influence, authority and charisma — but also pragmatism, wisdom and flexibility — to accomplish a clear result. They both know that if they cannot, they will both lose big. Their loss will also drag not only the entire country, but also the region, rapidly downhill.

Therefore, the significance of the long-distance handshake should at all times be kept in mind to read correctly where it is all heading. (One of the successful readers of the situation proved yesterday to be Moody’s, which said that the “peace process” was welcome in the context of Turkey’s credit ratings.)

In a recent  article, İbrahim Kalın, senior advisor to Erdoğan and deputy undersecretary of state, highlighted the three domestic dimensions of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) “2+1 Strategy” in a piece for Al Jazeera’s website (on April 8).



 “The first is providing services to the Kurdish-populated areas in order to bridge the development gap between the eastern and western parts of the country. The second is addressing the political grievances that have deepened over the years as a result of the failed policies of official denial, forced assimilation and collective punishment. The expected outcome, the ‘plus one’ component, is the disarmament of the PKK.”

“What is certain is that solving the Kurdish issue will liberate Turkey from decades of misplaced statism, petty nationalism and societal antagonism. While seeking to solve the Kurdish issue, Turkey is also rebuilding her identity,” he concluded.

For any observer with a conscience to hope for an end to this horrible, extended episode, the current experiment is enough to cause immense enthusiasm. As Kalın claims, “Despite the noise and political threats from the neo-nationalist corners, the vast majority of the Turkish public has welcomed the call.” The economic ground is ripe for a solution, and the fatigue of warfare is deeply rooted on both sides.

Selahattin Demirtaş, the “skeptical” co-chairman of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), has now also joined the chorus of those backing the process. Back from the meeting with the PKK’s “commanders” in Iraq, he admitted that all became serious when Erdoğan said “I shall drink hemlock poison if necessary [to solve the problem].” Demirtaş told CNNTürk TV that “there is absolutely ‘no hesitation’ in the PKK command about Öcalan’s plan for solution; they will not be stumbling blocks for it [the process].”




He made it clear that Öcalan’s “detailed call” for the withdrawal will be expected within next 10 days and, depending on “democratic reforms,” the PKK’s moment of truth of laying down arms for good will follow.

Steps and greater risks lie ahead. The most urgent move is passing the “4th Judicial Package” — a must for progress. Further on, the progress — if achieved quickly enough — will have a direct impact on the shaping of the new constitution — allowing new room for a AKP-BDP cooperation. It will push the Republican People’s Party (CHP) to the edge of an internal division.

There are three imminent risks: One is the choice by anti-process circles to use university grounds for provocations, second is to whom the PKK’s weapons will be “handed over” as it withdraws and the third is, though a more remote one, whether the so-called “village guard” paramilitary segment (between 60,000 and 90,000 “armed to the teeth” counter-PKK tribal structures in the region) will be open to provocations.

Yet, let us not lose the big picture — that of the long-distance hand shake.