Why the stalled peace process between Turkey and Kurds could resume

A detente between the Turks and Kurds following the attempted coup may be what the two groups need to resume the peace talks that collapsed last summer.

Petros Karadjias/AP
People wave Turkish flags as they take part in an anti coup rally at Taksim square in Istanbul, Tuesday, July 26, 2016. Turkey's polarized factions should learn from their mistakes and overcome their antagonism, the main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said during an interview with The Associated Press.

The recent military coup and subsequent government crackdown on dissenting Turkish officials, academics, and journalists may have actually helped to heal relations between the Turkish government and the the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), or at least put hostilities on hold.

In the wake of the coup, with the Turkish military left weak and open to attack, the Kurds have been oddly silent – a detente which may be the catalyst needed to resume peace talks.

Ayse Sozen Usluer, the Turkish president's international relations chief, said there has been no policy change toward the PKK, but that the conflict could still be solved politically. "There is always [the] possibility to go back to [the] peace process," Ms. Usluer told the Voice of America.

Since the end of the tenuous peace talks last June, both sides resumed hostilities and hundreds of civilians and fighters on both sides have been killed. The violence destabilized the country and encouraged the resolve of the Kurdish separatists. But during the coup on July 15, the Kurdish population heeded the calls of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the Turkish people to take to the streets and stop the military. And since then the weakened Turkish military has only launched one strike against the Kurds in northern Iraq.

While the PKK joined all other political parties in condemning the coup, it also refused to acknowledge Erdogan’s government as democratic.

“There already existed a military tutelage before the coup attempt made yesterday; which makes the current case an attempt of coup by a military faction against the existing military faction,” the PKK said in a statement.

The People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish and pro-minority party, also backed the Turkish government against the military’s actions calling them anti-democratic, but the party was recently excluded from Erdogan’s meeting with parliamentary opposition leaders.

"It's obvious it [the PKK] is holding back to see how all this plays out," Semih Idiz, a political columnist with Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper, told the Voice of America. "Now, it would not be too pleased at the fact the president is not willing to meet the HDP leader while he is prepared to meet other opposition leaders, even though the HDP came out against the coup. But I think there is a possibility that the government under these conditions will try and go back to some kind of negotiation process with the Kurds or PKK. And perhaps that is why [the] PKK is laying low at the moment."

While the peace process may not resume in the same form, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim agrees that future negotiations and “consensus-building processes” will likely occur between Erdogan and the HDP, which may benefit the Kurds as well.

"If there is a kind of undeclared cease-fire for some time, it may be easier to actually include them [Kurds] in the process, as well," Soli Ozel, an international relations expert at Istanbul's Kadir Has University, told Voice of America.

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