The Blog

Drinking Poison for Peace

Last week Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan looked back on the first weeks of peace talks with the Kurds and happily stated that it had turned into an 'extremely resolved journey of hope'. Could this be a true reflection of what's really going on?

Last week Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan looked back on the first weeks of peace talks with the Kurds and happily stated that it had turned into an 'extremely resolved journey of hope'. Could this be a true reflection of what's really going on? In that case it would something to cherish as three decades of fight between the Turkish army and the Kurdish rebels of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party PKK caused 40,000 casualties and billions of wasted Euros.

Or is the Prime Minister of Turkey just a great actor, trying to keep up the spirit and saying what is needed to prevent failure? After all it's less than two months since he expressed disappointment for the lack of support that intellectuals and media were giving him for the talks he started with the PKK, in order to disarm them, obtain a ceasefire and find a way forward to stop the endless bloodshed. Some weeks ago he still felt the need to put his position and even his life at stake to win the hearts and minds of his people: "I am willing to drink poison, for the sake of peace. Even if it would cost me my career." Now what? A journey of hope doesn't sound like drinking poison, so what's the truth?

On March 21st, during the Kurdish New Year celebration, Abdullah Ocalan - the jailed leader of the PKK - announced a ceasefire with reconciling words, that surely incited hope in the hearts of many: "We have sacrificed our youth. We have paid heavily, but not in vain. Fighting gave the Kurdish identity back to the Kurds but blood spills from the chest of youth no different from Kurdish as from Turkish. This is a new period. Instead of arms, we have ideas."

But soon it was clear that especially the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) wasn't interested at all in any of his ideas. During a rally in the western province of Bursa their supporters chanted "Let us fight, let us die!" and the MHP leader cryptically replied by saying that the moment could come that it's 'time to act'.

But this 'provocative fight remark' as many called it didn't work as poison for the Prime Minister, it turned out to be a boomerang, flying back to the sender. Media and intellectuals started to actively join the process and most of them expressed their optimism. Murat Yetkin, editor in chief of the Hurriyet Daily News, wrote that Prime Minister Erdogan seriously had the chance to become the Turkish Abraham Lincoln; the most famous president in the history of the United States, because he had the guts to support the abolition of slavery, when the majority of the country was still in favor of it. Oguz Ender Birinci, political editor of pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem Daily, is also positive: "Despite the memory of many failed peace attempts, Kurds are hopeful that Ankara's intentions are this time not just skin-deep." But he quickly added an important warning too: "If all this is being done with petty calculations, election benefits or the presidency, it won't move an inch."

Amongst businessmen you learn that the calculations are already done. They all say more or less the same as Mr. Hansin Dogan, who handles relations with the private sector at the UNDP office in Istanbul: "After China Turkey has the fastest growing economy of the world, but the oil price is extremely high, due to not having sufficient oil sources. The Kurdish Regional Government in the Northern part of Iraq can provide Turkey the oil they need." Turkey's Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said it this way: "Turkey will be a role model in the region if it can solve the Kurdish issue. Turkey's East will draw more investments. Our economy will be strenghtened by peace."

I personally think that the expected 'peace dividend' will turn out to be an inspiring example for all the world's conflict areas. The results will show companies and governments again that stability is the most important pre-condition for economic development.

For Turkish business strategy expert Ali Serim this was one of the many reasons to become active for the new organization MasterPeace that is also within Turkey using music, art and dialogue to bring opposites together. Mr Serim: "There is an almost completely new context in the approaches to the Kurdish issue right now, as far as the political dynamics and grounds for discussion are concerned. The government finally got the majority of public supporting them. The endless bloodletting made most people think that enough is enough. Anyone who cares about Turkey values this attempt of Prime Minister Erdogan." He has no doubts when Erdogan says "We want this spring to be lasting!"

So what about this drinking of poison then? I truly hope that all stakeholders during this peace process remember what Nelson Mandela, leader of one of the world's most inspiring examples of reconciliation, once said about this: "Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other to die."