‘Turkey’s Democratisation and Reform Package and Peaceful Solution to the Kurdish Question’




‘Turkey’s Democratisation and Reform Package and Peaceful Solution to the Kurdish Question’

17 October 2013                                 

Room 4A, House of Lords

Speakers: Altan Tan Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MP for Diyarbakir and Eyüp Burc, Journalist

Chair: Bill Park, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Defence Studies, King’s College, London University

Please see below for speakers’ biographies.


The Centre for Turkey Studies (CEFTUS) hosted a Westminster Debate with Mr. Altan Tan and Mr. Eyup Burç on ‘Turkey’s Democratisation and Reform Package and Peaceful Solution to the Kurdish Question’.

Lord Muhammad Sheikh, who hosted the event, expressed his interest in and admiration for Turkey. He underlined Turkey’s leadership role in the region, the Turkish and Kurdish populations’ contributions to the UK, and the enthusiasm of the democratising momentum in Turkey. He believed that the Democratisation Package– although with weaknesses – was an important step in the right direction towards further democratising Turkey. He culminated his opening remarks by highlighting CEFTUS’s role in building bridges between the UK and Turkey, and providing a platform for neutral discussion of Turkey’s current affairs.

Our first speaker, Eyup Burç, began his speech by saying that Turkey’s current problems are fundamentally linked to its historical formation. The borders drawn by the Western powers after the First World War, with the Sykes-Picot agreement were the root causes of many issues plaguing Turkey. He contrasted Europe’s liberalising socio-political trajectory with the continuous ‘othering’ and oppressing socio-political attitudes in the Middle East.

In regards to the current government’s relations with Turkey’s Kurdish community, Burç recognised a transformation in the state’s outlook towards them. However, he underlined an important distinction between the political and the cultural realm that the government had made and continues to make. According to Burç, while the Kurds’ existence has been recognised by the AKP, this recognition has only manifested itself in the socio – cultural sphere. By giving examples from the recently obtained rights of the Kurds, Burç emphasised that these rights were limited in their scope. Burç stated that the current government has failed to grant Kurds their political rights and this was a significant shortcoming of the Democratisation Package recently announced by the AK Party.

Discussing the package, Burç did agree that granting the right to educate in languages other than Turkish in private schools is a step in the right direction. However, Burç argued that not only does this discriminate among economic lines, but also political and social. Eyup Burç made a significant observation that the refusal to grant the right to educate Kurdish in public schools was rooted in the government’s refusal to grant Kurds a political identity. He delineated an organic link between education in mother tongue and the right to self-rule. Thus, the Democratisation Package emphasised once again that the AKP government was unwilling to bring the Kurdish identity into the political realm. Public education in a language is automatically a construction of a future in that language, said Burç. Construction of one’s future involves a certain type of autonomy, despite the detailed structure of that self-rule.

Continuing this train of thought, the refusal to give the Kurds the tools to construct their own future was due to the continued existence of an exclusivist understanding by the state. The singular approach to the social and state structure is manifested in a state definition of ethnic, cultural and religious homogeneity. Regarding the proposed changes to the electoral system, Burç expressed that they could be used as traps to benefit the AKP. However, Burç was not confident that the electoral system would change at all.

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Burç also observed that although the peace process had been halted the ceasefire between the Turkish army and the PKK was still in place. Thus, he expressed his hope for the continuation of the ceasefire, and a return to a more proactive reconciliation process with the Kurds. Nonetheless, Burç did not think that the AKP would demonstrate a genuine effort to radically democratise in favour of the Kurds. The upcoming local, parliamentary and presidential elections meant that the AKP would focus on gaining victories in elections and thus hesitating to execute radical changes that may threaten its votes.

Altan Tan MP opened his speech with a brief summary of the Republic’s history and its examples of religious inclusion. He explained how the Ottoman Empire had a variety of religious and ethnic groups, which were included in society. Tan compared this to the singular and exclusivist ideology that prevailed in the new Republic based on a united ethnic, religious and cultural bound. Tan exemplified this by demonstrating that since the establishment, no high ranking military officials or political positions have been held by non-Muslims.

Tan carried on discussing two problematic features of the AKP’s democratization package. The package does not extend to all religious sects in Turkey, and follows a narrow road map, no different to the Kemalist governments of the past. The inability to follow a broader road map and the lack of concession from Kemalism, have led to the postponement of a draft of the new constitution. Tan, similar to Burc’s earlier comment regarding PM Erdogan’s reservations to make drastic changes for the fear of losing popularity before elections, stated that this attitude also caused delays in the process of drafting a new constitution.

Tan lastly spoke about the meetings held by Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT). Tan stated that in order for PM Erdogan to go through with the necessary reforms, the PKK must realign with the West, and move away from its former alliances with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. The PKK must also remove arms and stop the armed struggle. Understanding that the outcome of the peace process will affect the whole region and not just Turkey, Ocalan has worked at a slow pace, in order to take the necessary steps. One point Altan brought to attention was the lack of job prospects for Kurdish speakers, elaborating on Eyup Burç’s speech. He stated that in the past year, 900 graduates qualified to teach in Kurdish, yet they have no jobs to go to.

The debate was followed by an engaging Q&A session.

Summarised by Reece Waldron and Zeynep Irfan Koserisoglu

For more videos click here


Speaker Biographies

Altan Tan is a Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MP for Diyarbakir following the 2011 General Elections in Turkey.  Tan, originally from Mardin, spent most of his childhood in Diyarbakir. His father Bedii Tan was killed under torture in Diyarbakir Prison following the Military Coup of 12 September 1980. Altan Tan graduated from Faculty of Civil Engineering, Ankara State Academy of Engineering and Architecture in 1981. Following his military service in Istanbul, Manisa and Ankara (1982-1984) he became Deputy Mayor of Ankara Kecioren Municipality (1984-1985). He served at the Central Executive Committee of the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) (1990-1991). In 1993, he was one of the founding members of the Great Change Party (Buyuk Degisim Partisi – BDP), which was founded under the leadership of Aydin Menderes. Tan was elected to BDP’s General Executive Board. Tan with Menderes, due to self-dissolution of BDP, joined Democrat Party (DP) in 1994 and he was elected to DP’s General Executive Board for two years.  However, he took a break from politics when Menderes joined the Welfare Party. Tan returned to politics in 2000. He served at the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) Party Parliamentary Council (2000-2002). His articles were published in magazines such as Yeni Zemin and Sozlesme, and dailies such as Demokrasi, Yeni Gündem, Yeni Şafak, Zaman, Özgür Politika, Özgün Duruş and Star. His book ‘Kürt Sorunu Ya Tam Kardeşlik Ya Hep Birlikte Kölelik’ (Kurdish Issue: Either Absolute Brotherhood or En Masse Slavery) was published in 2009 from Timas Publications. Tan has been a member of the recent Parliamentary Constitution Committee. He is also a member of Inter-parliamentary Turkey-Angola Friendship Group.

Eyüp Burc is a journalist. He currently works as the leading co-ordinator of IMC TV, a news channel of which he was a founding member. He graduated from Istanbul Pertevniyal College. He studied Philosophy at Ankara University and Sociology at Bielefeld University. Burc wrote columns for Özgür Gündem daily, Özgür Politika daily and Azadîya Welat daily. He was a founding member of the first Kurdish TV channel, Med TV, which began broadcasting in 1995 in Belgium. He worked as an editor, reporter and moderator for Med TV for many years. He speaks Kurdish, Turkish and German.