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The approaching elections and the Öcalan factor

Thursday 22 March 2007, by Etyen Mahçupyan

Source : Today’s zaman, 16-03-2007

In Turkey’s current atmosphere, with a growing perception that nationalism is on the rise, Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir and a delegation of mayors from southeastern Turkey visited Istanbul to hold meetings. Their goal was to raise awareness toward their own region of the country as well as to reflect some of the recent tension in their region onto effective circles in the country’s west.

In truth, while so much attention is focused on Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), Kurdish politicians and members of civil society groups are being tried, convicted and sent to prison based on completely different articles of the TCK. A few observers of the Southeast who try to keep the political pulse of the area have been trying to draw attention to the dangerous increase of tension in the atmosphere there, and along with it, a mood that seems open to provocation.

All of these developments work in favor of those who want to fan the flames of nationalism in Turkey, thereby blocking the re-election of a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, and of Erdoğan’s move to Çankaya. Nor is it any secret that this “nationalism project” whispers at pushing Turkey further away from the EU. With this as the situation, beyond its own historical significance the Kurdish situation is fast becoming the most defining political factor of the coming year. Because it is a truth that the easiest road to the heightening of nationalism runs through keeping the Kurdish situation unresolved and continuing reciprocal political violence.

Kurdish politics focusing on Öcalan

It is important to draw attention to the İstanbul visit by southeastern mayors at this point. It is clear that without the lifting of the atmosphere of violence, the Kurds will have no real chance at defining a place for themselves in politics. However, the main theme most focused on by this delegation of mayors was not violence, but the alleged poisoning of imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan. A question which has not made it to the forefront is what function this rumor, which has managed to redirect all the political energy of the Kurdish factions onto Öcalan, has played.

There is a situation at hand which is crystal clear: As long as the Kurds keep their politics focused on Öcalan, it is not possible for them to experience political differences and debates. In other words, the symbol of Öcalan serves to allow the perimeters in Kurdish politics to unify, presenting even a lack of politics as a kind of “politics.”

Thus, in this atmosphere, when asked what sort of effect they thought the possibility of independent candidates linked to the Kurdish-backed Democratic Society Party (DTP) entering the elections would have, the response from the delegation of mayors was negative. So for as long as Kurds keep their energies focused on Öcalan, and as long as the tension between the state and the Kurdish population is nourished and provoked, the chances that Kurdish independent candidates will gain representation in parliament is reduced. What this then means is that Kurds are removing themselves from the political spectrum by their own hands and legitimizing violence.

It may then be helpful to examine the recent allegations that Öcalan is being poisoned from this angle. One of the minimum requirements necessary for the democratization and societal normalization of Turkey is for there to be representation in the forthcoming parliament by MPs who engage in politics with their Kurdish identities, but who are preferably different on the inside.

It is not difficult to recognize that every kind of fear or act aimed at blocking this situation will help neither the Kurds nor Turkey in the end.

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