Kurdish initiative stirs high hopes in northern Iraq
As thegovernment prepares to launch a reform package to extend the rights of Turkey's Kurds, Iraqi Kurds in neighboring northern Iraq are in high spirits about the planned Kurdish initiative and hope the drive will lead to real constitutional changes.
Ever since Interior Minister Beşir Atalay announced that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government plans to launch its Kurdish initiative, which aims to solve Turkey's burning Kurdish problem through democratization, Iraqi Kurds have watched developments closely.
“As one of the correlatives of democracy is the influence of neighboring countries, we look at any democratic steps by Turkey contentedly,” Adnan Osman, a newly elected deputy in the Kurdish regional parliament from the opposition Gorran (Change) bloc, told Today's Zaman.
After a decades-long state policy of refusing to acknowledge the presence of Kurds as an ethnic group, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the first political leader of Turkey to officially acknowledge a “Kurdish issue” in a speech in 2005 and pledged to resolve this issue through democratic reforms. Since then, several reforms have been undertaken, including the launching of a state television channel broadcasting in Kurdish.
Minister Atalay, tasked with coordinating reform efforts as part of the new Kurdish initiative, is now visiting political parties and nongovernmental organizations and meeting with intellectuals to discuss the content of the package. Although there is no word on the content yet, the government is expected to expand democratic rights for Kurds through such steps as restoring the names of a number of villages and towns to their original Kurdish names in an effort to address grievances of the Kurds and put an end to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party's (PKK) 25-year-old campaign of violence. Government steps are also expected to include those aimed at better ties with northern Iraq.
“You cannot imagine how happy I am to hear the Turkish prime minister talking about our national singer and poet,” said Shwan Jamal, an Iraqi Kurdish university student in Sulaimaniya, referring to a recent speech by Erdoğan praising Turkish-Kurdish musician Şivan Perver as a national artist. “I hope this time the deeds are serious and not a political maneuver,” Jamal added.
“A constitutional resolution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey will provide the region with stability, which will certainly contribute positively to the development of democracy in Turkey, and Iraq as well. Iraqi Kurdistan will become a neighbor and an economic partner of the EU, and Baghdad will undoubtedly be more tolerant of the federal Kurdish Regional Government,” said Butan Amedi, a Kurdish political observer in Washington.
But Amedi thinks that the Kurdish initiative requires patience. “It requires patience because the Turkish public must be prepared psychologically to accept the presence of Kurds in Turkey, as a nation recognized by the Constitution,” he said. Amedi added that “the past administrations of Turkey have made every effort to hide the Kurdish reality from Turks and simply labeled Kurds as their “citizens in the East or Southeast.”
Amedi said the PKK must also renounce their armed campaign. “As Ankara is debating constitutional reforms to address the Kurdish problem and transform Turkey to meet EU standards, the PKK must also transform to become a disarmed political organization that is in line with Western values,” Amedi told Today's Zaman.
Many times, Iraqi Kurdish leaders have declared that their region is not to be used for attacks against neighboring countries and urged dialogue to resolve the PKK problem. Now the Iraqi Kurdish officials' gestures are even more explicit. Kurdish regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani praised Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Erdoğan for their latest "progressive" statements on the Kurdish issue. "We hope to see a peaceful resolution for the Kurdish issue in Turkey and we ask all the Kurds there in particular to help the AK Party government's new initiative," asserted Barzani during his weekly cabinet meeting last Monday.
As an exercise of democracy, Iraqi Kurds went to the polls last month, and for the first time, the opposition gained more than a quarter of the vote. Friendly relations with neighboring countries is an objective for opposition parties, too. “Turkey is a very important state for Iraqi Kurds economically and politically. Turkey can be seen as a role model for our infant democracy,” stated Gorran's Osman.
19 August 2009, Wednesday
HEMIN H. LIHONY SULAIMANIYA