New Peace Talks in Turkey: Opportunities and Challenges in Conflict Resolution

By Villellas, Ana | Insight Turkey, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

New Peace Talks in Turkey: Opportunities and Challenges in Conflict Resolution


Villellas, Ana, Insight Turkey


In December 2012, the same month that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly announced talks with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, peace processes were also moving forward in the Philippines, Colombia and Myanmar, to name just some of the ongoing peace negotiations worldwide. 2012 left us with encouraging news of opportunities for peace in conflicts between Governments and historic insurgencies in different corners of the world. (1) There are prospects of more positive steps in 2013 in these and other conflicts that have been preceded by decades of deaths, forced displacement, sexual violence, extrajudicial executions, and other consequences. Peace negotiations are usually understood as pragmatic, tough and far from disinterested ways to put an end to violence and help address the underlying root causes, grievances, demands, and wrongdoings. It is not by chance that the potential benefits of risky negotiations are accepted at times when historic guerrilla movements face new contexts, questions, limitations, and strategic opportunities and when governments of different political persuasions and armed groups prove that they are incapable of imposing their military victory.

It is precisely at times like these that Turkey too is engaging in a new initiative to deal with its unsolved PKK/ Kurdish question. There is nothing exceptional in giving it another try, following the significant difficulties encountered during the Democratic Initiative and Oslo talks, but it will be extraordinarily good news if this new process succeeds.

Things are moving fast in Turkey and any interim assessment can become outdated overnight. Still, there is room to analyse general elements of this new historic peace opportunity. This new effort, which many call the 'Imrali Process,' can be understood as part of the rapprochement process started around 2005. It comes after a tremendous peak in violence from mid-2011-2012, when the Oslo talks came to a dead end. Despite the short time that has elapsed since then, there seem to be very positive signs of the seriousness of this new process, which increases its chances for success. Indicators from the direct talks appear to be constructive in terms of preliminary political will, discourses, attitudes, and trust-building measures among other elements. Ocalan's call for the silence of arms and withdrawal of guerrilla forces outside the borders of Turkey gives evidence of the window of opportunity. The pressing regional and local context somehow also urges determination in making the process move forward. However, while some elements of the process already indicate that positive lessons were learned from past failed attempts, there are also doubts on the strength, structure, and direction of the process. This would imply that some of the challenges include the need to further reinforce, structure, and protect the process itself, to build broad agreements at the political and social level on basic agenda issues, including guarantees for political participation, and to discuss, prepare and anticipate solid solutions for current and future phases of this process. If the strong political will shown so far is real, as it seems, the conflicting sides will need to make an enormous effort to consolidate the process, including through concrete measures.

This short, non-exhaustive review will try to point to the positive aspects, risks and challenges faced by the new peace talks in Turkey by focusing mostly on elements of the process itself. It will do so while recognizing the inherent limitations of external observation and drawing on the experience of years of external monitoring of this and other armed conflicts and peace negotiations worldwide.

With Whom and How to Make Peace? Critical Decisions at Critical Times

Some key Turkish commentators, such as Hasan Cemal, have adopted the healthy habit of reminding the public and the parties to the conflict that it is easier to make war than peace, which means that enormous efforts are needed to secure peace attempts.

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New Peace Talks in Turkey: Opportunities and Challenges in Conflict Resolution
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