Turkey's strategic pivot

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Turkey Today is at a critical juncture in regards to its regional role. In order to preserve and strengthen this role, Prime Minister Erdogan is making a significant strategic change in Turkey’s foreign and domestic policy: solving the Kurdish issue. The PKK played upon a perceived Kurdish frustration with the Turkish government in hopes of igniting a “Kurdish Spring”. They attempted to turn political dissatisfaction into rage and social tumult but were ultimately unsuccessful. Given this environment, the prime minister’s push for peace is remarkable.

Erdogan’s key assets in this strategic pivot are easily identifiable. Hakan Fidan, Turkey’s head of National Intelligence (MIT), leads negotiations with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is the man behind Turkey’s regional and global strategic orientation. Both are trusted aids, Fidan having served as deputy undersecretary and Davutoglu as chief advisor in the Office of the Prime Ministry where both were utilized as special envoys for critical issues at the prime ministers behest.

Davutoglu is a sedulous minister with a strategic vision and an intellectual approach to foreign policy. His decisions during times of crisis demonstrate a balance of critical and value judgments. Fidan is a talented public servant with knowledge of both the foreign policy and intelligence fields. Together, Fidan and Davutoglu make up a critical component of Erdogan’s inner circle and represent a capable and powerful force for peace not seen in previous efforts.

A lack of power, legitimacy, and leadership were problems that proved previous talks with the PKK ineffective. This, after all, is not the first MIT officials have negotiated with Ocalan. The difference this time around can be attributed to Erdogan’s strong personal backing of the process. Previously, pessimism on both sides of the issue undermined the process. Now, it seems the persistent pessimism is gone and there is a new air to the process.

Still questions remain over what a deal to solve the Kurdish issue will consist of. The goal is to disarm the PKK, send their leaders to exile, and integrate the widest possible portion of the population into a peaceful political realm. Accordingly, both sides will need to demonstrate their dedication to peace through concrete and tangible actions. If the PKK takes such a step forward, then Turkish authorities have promised to accept it and reciprocate in kind.

In regards to the government’s efforts towards resolving the Kurdish issue, Erdogan’s policies have often been expressed in words, but more importantly they are also demonstrated in action. Only he has the legitimacy and power to solve the Kurdish issue. He has demonstrated his disinterest for hesitancy or hidden agendas in the process and since its outset he has directed toward the ultimate resolution of the Kurdish issue.

Erdogan’s opponents and skeptics of the process contend that new talks are unlikely to be productive. They are still insistent to claim the PKK is insincere, simply playing for time until they can reignite the conflict. However, the proponents of peace on both sides are prepared to make painful compromises.  Fethullah Gulen, the influential leader of Turkey’s transnational Hizmet movement, gave a strong gesture of support for negotiations with the PKK and urged the government to take all necessary steps towards peace. There currently exists a new, young, liberal-minded generation of Kurds who see Turkey as their future and peace as the sole way of securing it. Evidence of their unprecedented support is illustrated by the fact that many have Fidan’s picture on their Twitters as a sign of solidarity for the process, a display that none would have predicted even a few years ago.

As the process progresses, there are likely to be spoilers of peace throughout Turkish society and the world. At present, Turkish society is undergoing a test of political maturity. The Kurdish front as a whole is at a crossroads as the prospect of peace would completely change their political environment and force a restructuring of their greater organization.

Peace is the only path towards achieving political stability and the fulfillment of Turkey’s democratization. Erdogan realizes this and thus takes political risks to achieve a Kurdish peace. Even pessimists agree that peace is achievable when the Prime Minister displays a decisive will to achieve it. He now has.

Erdogan’s new push to resolve the Kurdish issue is a strategic pivot. If successful, this peace will write a new narrative for Turkey, one marked by peace for the country and its proud peoples.
 
Aras is a public policy fellow at the Wilson Center and head of the Center for Strategic Research in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkey.