CEFTUS and IPC Istanbul Roundtable Meeting on ‘Post-Election Turkey’

Istanbul Policy Center (IPC)-Sabanci University-Stiftung Mercator Initiative and the Centre for Turkey Studies (CEFTUS) organised a roundtable meeting entitled “Post-Election Turkey” on Friday, January 15, 2016. The meeting elaborated on Turkey’s domestic dynamics and foreign policy following the last elections. This event was a continuation of two meetings held by IPC and CEFTUS in the British Parliament, London on November 17-18, 2015.

The meeting was composed of two sessions, both beginning with three keynote speeches then followed by an active discussion with all participants. In the morning session of the meeting, Lord William Wallace (Liberal Democrat Peer and Former Government Whip in the House of Lords), Lord Peter Hain (Former Labour Cabinet Minister), and Prof. Dr. Ersin Kalaycıoglu (Senior Scholar at IPC and Professor at Sabancı University) shared their thoughts on the election results, domestic dynamics, and the discussions on new constitution making in Turkey. The session was moderated by Prof. Dr. Bill Park (Senior Lecturer in the Defence Studies Department at King’s College, Visiting Scholar, TOBB-ET University).

The second session was moderated by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Senem Aydın-Duzgit (Senior Scholar at IPC, Jean Monnet Chair in the Department of International Relations at Istanbul Bilgi University) and was comprised of keynote speeches by Dilek Kurban (Marie Curie Fellow at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Co-Chair of the Dahrendorf working group “Europe and Turkey”), Prof Dr Fuat Keyman (Director of IPC), and Dr. Bill Park on the Kurdish question, regional dynamics, and foreign policy. In addition to the speakers, academics, students, NGOs, and media representatives contributed to the discussions, resulting in a fruitful illumination of the subject.

The Outcome of the Election, Domestic Dynamics and the New Constitution

After the introduction by Prof. Dr. Fuat Keyman, Dr. Bill Park moderated the first session on the election results, domestic dynamics, and the discussions on new constitution making in Turkey.

Lord William Wallace presented his impressions of how people in the UK perceive Turkey, conveying their multiple images of the country. Overall, the Gezi protests were perceived positively in the UK, albeit confused as part of the Arab Spring. Turkey’s attitude towards ISIS (also known as Islamic State, DAESH) and the Kurds in contrast is perceived rather negatively. In general, the UK has become more cautious in its relations with countries that want to join the EU. Explaining the UK’s concerns over the Kurdish question, Lord Wallace indicated that the way the UK had handled its experience with Irish, Scottish, or Welsh nationalism may serve as an example of rapprochement with the Kurds.

According to Lord Peter Hain, people in the UK criticise Turkey for undermining human rights, attacks on the media, its current embrace of Sunni sectarianism, and the abandonment of the ceasefire between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Comparing the Kurdish question with the Irish case in the UK, Lord Hain mentioned that negotiations between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British government took place in a non-military, political fashion. Geopolitically speaking, Turkey may have a crucial role to play in the Middle East in the coming years and could possibly function as a non-sectarian force between Sunni and Shiite groups in the region. Thus, Turkey could and will play an important role in bringing stability and peace, however, only if the government moves towards adopting a non-sectarian policy both internally toward its domestic opponents and externally in the region.

Prof. Dr. Ersin Kalaycıoglu indicated that current debates in Turkey are affected by three incidents that occurred in 2013: (1) the Gezi Park protests; (2) the revelations by the police and financial authorities that uncovered corruptions and entanglements amongst several ministers and their families on December 17, 2013; and (3) failures in foreign policy. Moreover, Prof. Kalaycıoglu added that the local elections campaign was characterised by the AKP’s utilisation of the media, to which he referenced the OECD report declaring the elections not fair. Turkey’s military forces seem to have moved into a major confrontation with the PKK beginning in March 2015, climaxing in July and carrying on still today. The conflict within the country caused the AKP’s priorities, as well as the Turkish voters’, to shift from economics to security, resulting in the outcome of the November 1, 2015 election. Prof. Kalaycıoglu predicts that an amendment to the constitution, which will be voted on in a referendum, may be used by the AKP to promote the idea of presidentialism.

Kurdish Question, Regional Dynamics and Foreign Policy

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Senem Aydın-Düzgit moderated the second session of the meeting on the Kurdish question, regional dynamics, and foreign policy.

Dr. Bill Park stated that the Kurdish political movement has become segmented and lacks unification due to the disparate policies of the PKK and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Dr. Park continued with a comparison between the Scottish case in the UK and the situation in Turkey, adding that whereas Scottish culture has been incorporated into British culture under a British umbrella identity, Turkish nationalism was not fabricated to include ethnic and cultural diversity within its identity. For him, there has never been a real peace process in Turkey because the process lacks the concepts of self-determination, decentralisation, autonomy, or federalism. Additionally, Turkish nationalism seems to be an obstacle to meeting the Kurds’ demands.

Prof. Keyman emphasised that in the beginning of the peace process, the shift from conflict to politics was undertaken; however, since the elections on June 7, 2015, it has evolved to the contrary. The HDP would have provided a favourable opportunity to politically negotiate the Kurdish question between the PKK and the Turkish government. Furthermore, the current developments in the Middle East regarding ISIS must be taken seriously because of the conditions of the failed states in Syria and Iraq. Failed state structures promote the dissemination of ISIS. With regards to the refugee situation, it should be mentioned that states like Russia, Iran, the United States, or Saudi Arabia that have geopolitical interests in the region have not experienced flows of refugee migration. These circumstances have given rise to the PKK’s determination to focus on conflict rather than a political resolution.

Dilek Kurban elaborated on the attempts to provide a solution in the Kurdish question as well as on the historical roots of the Kurds’ desire for cultural and political recognition. Kurban criticised the deficiency of, or rather the lack thereof, the legal framework in the peace process, which resembles the governmental approach in other areas such as the Alevi Opening, which also lacked a legal footing. The reform process in Turkey as part of the EU accession process provided a shift in the Kurdish question from a legal process to a political approach as Kurdish rights became an issue of the Turkish parliament. Kurban explained that the southeastern region of Turkey has been in a state of exception, citing the implementation of martial law in the area. According to Kurban, the HDP, the PKK, and Abdullah Ocalan have gained legitimacy only because the Turkish political establishment has conceded. Additionally, the discourse of the AKP and the media coverage have had a significant impact on how Turkish society perceives the current political climate and the Kurdish question in general.

Prof. Keyman finished the panel thanking CEFTUS and Sabanci University for organising the event, as well as civil society members and the others for their participation.