Approaching the ‘Peace Process’ as a Discourse
Approaching the ‘Peace Process’ as a Discourse
The new process of dialogue between the Turkish government and the PKK –the Kurdish group that is labelled as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and by many states and actors in the international community– can be examined as a discourse. This paper argues that the discourse on ‘the peace process’ includes an authoritative attempt to legitimise the AKP’s (Justice and Development Party), BDP’s (Peace and Democracy Party) and the PKK’s approach to the Kurdish question; and to delegitimise criticisms about the AKP’s, the BDP’s and the PKK’s conduct. This discourse has raised two main questions. Firstly, this dialogue process has been described as a ‘peace process’, which has tended to become an authoritative discourse. As a result, the debate regarding both sides – and on the process itself – is closed to discussion. Secondly, there is the wider issue that any discourse creates its antagonisms. Therefore, some people would be antagonised and feel alienated by the process. This paper argues that the participants in this process, who describe it as the ‘peace process’, legitimise their own roles and their actions and delegitimize criticisms regarding how the process works and the actors involved. This would antagonise and marginalise the delegitimised sectors. However, this antagonism should not be seen in a democracy. Democracy should aim to satisfy the majority of the population while protecting the rights of the minority. However, the functioning of this process turns out to be a hegemonic activity by the participants, instead of satisfying the majority of society.
The theoretical framework of this paper is drawn from analytical concepts that are borrowed from Michel Foucault’s discourse and genealogy approach. Discourse can be described as a ‘way of representing’, or ‘a system which structures the way that we perceive reality’. Discourses allocate authority to subjects to speak and to act, and define ‘“the relations within which they see and are seen by each other and in terms of which they conduct … the business”’. Therefore, discourses inevitably consist of the exercise of power and antagonisms, and particular discourses serve particular interests. The political practices that are exercised on already constructed discourses change the conditions of existence and functions of discourses. These same practices determine who and what would be the objects of discourse. In short, when a discourse is instituted, that particular discourse can be regarded as ‘an authoritative settlement’ among many political projects to change and reinstitute the socio-political order. Along with borrowing from the discourse approach, this paper adopts the genealogical approach to trace ‘rupture’ or interruption’, or ‘break’ points of the discursive construction in the discontinuous historical framework. These discontinuities constitute the key political events that serve as a timeline.
The dialogue between the government and the PKK has been represented as a new ‘negotiation’ process and it has been called ‘İmralı süreci’, or ‘Imrali process’ or ‘peace process’, by many commentators including certain members of the international and domestic community and mainstream media. By borrowing from a Foucauldian approach, this paper examines the official speeches of party leaders or spokespeople of the AKP, the CHP (Republican People’s Party), the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) and the BDP within the framework of key events during the AKP’s government. This paper locates discontinuities and continuities that experienced during key events including the Uludere event, Oslo meeting, and PKK-BDP meeting and Öcalan’s message during the Nevruz celebrations, in this discursive construction through examining official speeches. The analysis on continuities and discontinuities would make how we come to today and what happens today understandable.
In this process, the first discontinuity was experienced in February 2012, when the Oslo documents were leaked to the media. These documents declared the agreement between the MIT (Milli Istihbarat Teşkilatı, the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation) and PKK during the negotiation process that took place during May 2011 in Oslo. The Republic’s Prosecutor of Istanbul (Istanbul Cumhuriyet Savcisi) established an enquiry about the actions of the MIT officers and Undersecretary Fidan was called for his plea. This enquiry crisis was to be resolved through two main steps. Firstly, new legislation about the MIT gave the office of the Prime Minister the authority to permit any enquiry where any crime falls under the MIT officer’s job description. Secondly, the office of the Prime Ministry stopped the process of the enquiry in March 2013. Atalay, the Deputy Prime Minister, denied the Oslo agreement and the existence of any such documents. As a response to the Prime Minister Erdoğan, who denied his authorisation for the MIT’s meeting with the PKK due to his lack of signature under the document, Koç, the Vice President of CHP, stated that the MIT officers represent the will of the Prime Minister; the mediator country and both sides involved (the MIT and the PKK) signed these documents. The MIT, as an institution of the state, functions in the name of ‘the state’. Therefore, the MIT’s meeting with the PKK has been described as ‘the state’s meeting with a terrorist organisation, the PKK’, through the emphasis on ‘the Prime Minister’ by the CHP. Thus, the denial of the AKP, or the AKP’s focus on ‘the MIT’s ultra vires action by meeting with the PKK’, demonstrated that the AKP neglected the possibility of meeting with the PKK. However, it can be argued that legal refusal of the juridical action against the MIT by the office of the Prime Minister did not overcome the CHP’s question marks over the AKP.
On 18 September 2012, 200 unarmed Turkish soldiers were bombed by the PKK in Bingöl. This brought the Oslo agreement back onto the agenda. Kılıçdaroğlu, the President of the CHP, stated that if the PKK would disarm the negotiations should proceed but neither the administrative structure of the state nor the constitution could be discussed with the terrorist organisation. Demirtaş, the President of BDP, stated that the BDP was making efforts to bring ‘peace’, and that dialogue and negotiation were keys for political problems and to end ‘war’. On the other hand, Koç argued that the dialogue process included all kinds of political compromises, except the PKK’s disarmament. He also accused Erdoğan of being a ‘conjectural nationalist’ due to his previous speeches about non-negotiation with terrorism but fighting against terrorism. Vural, the Group Deputy Chairman of the MHP, stated that the Oslo process was cursed by ‘the whole nation’. Vural stated that this process addressed the PKK by giving up territorial unity and he accused the AKP of being negligent. He also stated that this process did not solve the terror problem and that Turkey was not any better. Erdoğan criticised Kılıçdaroğlu’s speech due to his acceptance of the Oslo meetings but his focus on the content. He also stated that the AKP would not ‘share the content with Kılıçdaroğlu’. The BDP’s emphasis on ‘peace’ before it was mentioned by the AKP is highly interesting when today’s form of discourse is considered. The MHP’s focus on the PKK as ‘the terrorist organisation’ underlined the fact that any meeting between the terrorist organisation and the AKP, or any state institution representing the political will, could not be accepted. On the other hand, the CHP stated that the political will, represented by the government, could meet with the PKK under the condition of ‘disarmament’, or cessation of ‘terrorist activities’ of the PKK. During this meeting, neither ‘the structure of the state’ nor ‘the constitution’ could be discussed. The AKP’s response to these comments was that ‘the content of these meetings could not be shared’. Thus it can be perceived that the AKP ‘did not consider’ the views of other political parties and their electorates, and that the AKP ‘would not inform’ these sectors. However, in democracies, governments have ‘responsibility of accountability’ for their actions.
On 28 December 2012, due to the military’s bombing of Uludere, 34 Kurdish civilians died. Çelik, the Vice President and Spokesman of the AKP, declared that the people who died were found to be smugglers but not terrorists. He underlined that if there was a mistake, this would be investigated and the process would proceed according to the rule of law. He also mentioned there were people who overrode their authority. Buldan, the Group Deputy Chairwoman of the BDP, accused Prime Minister Erdoğan of approving the bombing and called the Uludere incident a ‘massacre’. Güler, the Spokeswoman of CHP, called for Şahin, the Minister of the Interior, to resign, arguing that his resignation would remind the population of political ‘responsibility’. She stated that the government lacked the capacity to secure the borders, since smuggling occurred. She also criticised the AKP’s approach for being non-democratic and not solving the political problems. Erdoğan stated that a judicial and administrative enquiry had been launched. He accused the BDP of abusing the Uludere incident for its own interest by bringing up the issue. He described the BDP’s reaction as ‘necrophilia’ in their conduct of politics. Bahçeli, the President of the MHP, described the Uludere situation as a ‘stalemate’. Bahçeli stated that everyone was speaking about the Uludere ‘stalemate’ and suggested that those people were expecting to benefit from this incident. The Uludere incident is an important discontinuity or rupture in terms of standings of political parties with regard to the PKK and the Kurdish question and how political parties ‘define’ those ‘objects’.
This Uludere incident overall brought the debate on the Kurdish question and terrorism back onto the agenda. Erdoğan blamed the CHP for being the ‘origin’ of the Kurdish question and criticised the BDP for ‘abusing’ this problem. He stated that none of these parties tried to contribute to the region. Kılıçdaroğlu seemed to approach Erdoğan’s position by suggesting that the two of them ‘visit Uludere’ in order to highlight feelings about ‘national unity and solidarity’. On the other hand, the MHP and the BDP seemed to remain at the two opposite poles of the spectrum. The MHP can be considered as the most critical party of this process since Bahçeli declared that the MHP did not intend to negotiate on the ‘so-called’ Kurdish question, which considered ‘thousand years of brotherhood’ as the problem itself. Bahçeli also indicated that Turkey did not have a Kurdish question but ‘terrorism’ and ‘separatism’. On the other hand, Demirtaş stated that this was not ‘terrorism’ but a problem of the ‘Kurdish population’. Buldan’s remarks about Öcalan were already widely recognised when she indicated that Öcalan was considered as the leader of the ‘Kurdish population’ but not a ‘murderer’. As said before, the Uludere incident is important regarding definitions of the PKK by the political parties. The AKP has neither officially defined the PKK as a terrorist organisation, nor has it defined its understanding of the ‘Kurdish question’, while it refused to address the CHP and the BDP. However, the AKP seemed to incorporate the PKK’s terror problem by connecting the PKK with their statements on the Kurdish question. It can be argued that the CHP continued to define the PKK as a ‘terrorist organisation’ but it tried to play a ‘connective’ role in the face of the sad incident at Uludere. The MHP’s focus on ‘the terror question’ defined problems and expectations of the sectors of Kurdish people represented by the PKK and the BDP as ‘separationist’. The BDP declared itself as ‘the representative of the Kurdish people’ and ignored the PKK’s link with terrorism through its emphasis on ‘Kurdish community’. The percentage of Kurdish people who define themselves as ‘Kurd’ or ‘Turk’ is another debate. However, the percentage that voted for the BDP among those who define themselves, as ‘Kurd’ is important. Likewise, the BDP is far away from representing the majority of Kurdish people when the percentage of the BDP’s representation in the Grand Assembly is considered. At the same time, the attempt to legitimise the PKK’s existence as a terrorist organisation and its terror activities through the Kurdish question is an extremely significant political problem.
On 28 February 2013, the Milliyet, one of the very well known Turkish newspapers, issued the minutes of the meeting between representatives from the BDP and Öcalan. The Prime Minister Erdoğan accused the newspaper and media of leaking it and stated that the process was to bring ‘welfare’ to the nation and that the Kurdish question would be resolved in ‘peace’. Kılıçdaroğlu confirmed that the state could not negotiate with a terrorist organisation, but that the Prime Minister, representing the state, was having a dialogue with PKK. He also stated that the CHP was not being included in the process, which was supposed to re-formulate democratic rights and freedoms. According to Kılıçdaroğlu, nationalism for the population is ‘love for flag, for people and equality’. He also highlighted that the first four articles of the constitution, which also include the definition of the Turkish nation, cannot be changed since they represent ‘the will of the founding will’ of the Republic. His remarks on nationalism point out that CHP is concerned about this process. The CHP’s concern is related to the possibility of changing constitutional definitions in the process. As a result, the CHP demonstrated its concern with the legitimacy of the participants through emphasis on ‘the terrorist organisation, the PKK’ that is addressed in this process. The CHP rightfully demanded not to be alienated in this process due to ‘the right of representation of its electorates’. According to the CHP, this process should be transformed to take into account and debate the views represented by the CHP. The AKP’s emphasis on ‘their attempt to bring peace’ legitimised the AKP’s role in the process and the functioning of the process. However, there was no definition of what would be the resolution. This lack of definition proved the CHP’s concerns right. It would also conflict with the principles of democracy.
On 21 March 2013, Öcalan issued a declaration. The declaration was read publicly in Diyarbakir, and many people were seen to be carrying big posters of Öcalan and PKK flags. The declaration stated that the PKK should disarm and leave the country because Öcalan, himself, would launch ‘the democratic process’ which would grant democratic rights and freedoms. Bahçeli criticised the Nevruz celebrations in Diyarbakir with the PKK flags instead of the Turkish national flag; and he stated that the PKK and Öcalan continued to be identified with terrorism. He called these events ‘crimes’ and a shame for the Turkish government. Bahçeli’s emphasis on nationalism demonstrated that the MHP is arguably more concerned than the CHP about the process. In addition, the MHP’s emphasis on ‘the flag’ showed that it perceived this process, and the power demonstrated by the PKK supporters through the symbol of ‘the flag’, as a ‘threat’ to Turkish nationalism. Since the MHP is represented in the Grand Assembly, the electorates represented by the MHP would be the most ‘antagonised’ sector. In other words, the sector that would feel alienated is the electorates of the MHP. If democracy aims to keep marginalisation as low as possible and to secure societal consensus, the MHP’s concerns about the process and its participants have to be considered. Besides, the PKK’s declaration legitimised its role and its role as a shaper of the process through the statement on ‘democratic rights and freedoms’. However, the declaration did not say anything about where the PKK would go, to whom its weapons would be given and who would supervise this withdrawal after ‘the disarmament and departure of the PKK to abroad’. The lack of these explanations conflicted with the principle of ‘transparency’ of democracy.
This sequence of events and system of discourses both demonstrate that the political participants in this process are identified as the AKP and the BDP. This identification leaves a question mark about the opposition parties and groups. The AKP considers and represents itself as the ‘voice of the national will’, since it formed the government after getting a majority of the votes. However, in democracies, the voice of the ‘minority’ represented by the opposition parties constitutes one of the most important factors and it must be heard as well. The fact that the AKP won just over half of the overall votes still leaves a significant minority of voters who do not necessarily support the AKP or who do not wish to be represented by the AKP. Moreover, the representation by the BDP of Kurdish voters is questionable. Recent surveys demonstrate that around 15 million Kurdish people live in Turkey. Compared to the BDP’s votes in the Assembly, one should discuss the representation of Kurdish votes by the BDP. Therefore, representation of this dialogue as a ‘peace process’ legitimises its participants and their shaping of the process. This legitimisation antagonises and sets some sectors of the national and international community against the process, and denies the very existence of those sectors within the process. The arguments of these antagonised sectors lose their legitimacy due to their representation as ‘against the peace’. The biggest problem is that the power holders who determine the participants of this process and their activities are the participants themselves. These participants define ‘peace’ and its conditions of existence, and determine who is legitimate and who is illegitimate in this process.
The main problem is the question of who constitutes ‘the others’. The CHP’s standing is a challenge to be explained since Kılıçdaroğlu seems to be cautious when it comes to criticising the ‘process’. The MHP can be considered to voice ‘Turkish nationalism’ whereas the BDP can be regarded to represent ‘Kurdish nationalism’. Nationalist remarks made by both Bahçeli and Demirtaş represent certain sectors of domestic society. Without depending on their voting behaviour, there is a ‘Turkish’ ‘majority’ of people who define themselves ‘Turkish’ either ‘ethnically’ or ‘emotionally’, and their views about the ‘process’ have to be heard and included with their own expectations and definitions of the process to secure the ‘national will’. However, ‘Kurdish’ people who feel alienated and do not wish to be regarded as ‘Turkish’ should be able to speak, to secure the representation of the ‘minority’ in the political arena. All of this brings us to the fundamental question. The AKP’s and the BDP’s and even the PKK’s hegemonic approach to the process gives ‘authority to speak and act’ through ‘legitimising’ their roles. The AKP’s hegemonic approach is maintained through their focus on ‘being the government with the majority of votes’, whereas the BDP’s or the PKK’s hegemonic attempt is preserved with their emphasis on ‘being Kurd’.
When the ‘peace process’ is explored as an authoritative discourse, it is understood that the sides of this process are power holders who outline what can be said and how the process will be shaped. It can be argued that AKP and the BDP, and the PKK, define the process and its outcomes. The biggest problem concerns the opposition parties and groups and their voters. It is disputable to what extent the standing and expectations of those people who constitute half of the overall voters will be voiced and satisfied. It should be also noted that new ‘antagonised’ people should be included in this process in order to satisfy democratic parameters and criteria.
Gönenç Uysal, Research Assistant, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey)
Please cite this publication as follows:
Uysal, Gönenç (August, 2013), “Approaching the ‘Peace Process’ as a Discourse”, Vol. II, Issue 6, pp.26-29, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=3727)
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 21 March coincided with Nevruz, which is celebrated by many people in Turkey, mainly by Turkish and Kurdish people.
 For the debate on symbolic power and the public sphere: Bourdieu, P. (1989) Social Space and Symbolic Power.