politics : culture : economics

Back to Northern Ireland

In Ireland, Turkey on July 12, 2010 at 9:29 am

I have an op-ed piece in Today’s Zaman today, drawing on developments in Northern Ireland during the 1980s. (This builds on an Istanbul Notes post from a couple of weeks ago: Turks, Kurds and the high price of peace.)

This morning’s article argues that progress in resolving the Kurdish question will require greater tolerance of political expression and debate than is currently permitted on this issue in Turkey. There’s an excerpt below and you’ll find the full article here: Ireland offers indispensable lessons for Turkey.

It’s tempting to look at the 1998 Belfast Agreement and wonder whether some similar burst of institutional ingenuity might resolve the Kurdish question at a stroke. That would be premature. Perhaps structural reforms of one sort or another will be needed, but that phase of any process is years or even decades away. The lessons for Turkey to draw from Northern Ireland don’t lie in the endgame processes from the late 1990s, they lie in the efforts of politicians during the dark days of the preceding two decades. Many hundreds of civilians, soldiers and paramilitaries were still being killed. But politicians of many stripes managed to keep piecing together the ideas and the relationships that in time would provide the basis for a new beginning.

Is there any possibility of something similar occurring in Turkey? It is difficult to be optimistic, because the points of departure in terms of political freedom are so different in the two cases. In Northern Ireland all shades of nationalist opinion had political expression from the outset. That was the context within which the gradual shift in the movement’s center of gravity could occur. In Turkey, some measure of increased political freedom needs to be achieved before any real progress is likely. A way needs to be found to loosen the constraints on the practice and discussion of Kurdish politics. The current arrangement, in which a combination of party closure, censorship and imprisonment hangs over all participants, will have to be recognized for the dead-end that it so clearly is.

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  1. İt’s an interesting article. However, with the ultra nationalists probably in charge (together with the CHP) after next elections I don’t see any hope. It was the MHP who still wants Ocalan seeing hanged.

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