Turkey: Cyprus, Kurds, Armenia and Syria

By Johan Galtung

There was a time, a century or so ago, when Turkey was the “sick man of Europe”. Times are a-changing. Today Turkey is quite healthy, and much of Europe is sick, suffering from gross institutional and economic problems, including a flagrant inequality within and between countries, between a creditor and a periphery of debtors in bondage.

This in no way means that Turkey is problem-free; no country is. The focus here is on four problems involving other nations: the Greeks, the Kurds, the Armenians and the many nations in Syria. With an explicit foreign policy of zero problems with neighbors great progress has been made, but much remains to be done.

TRANSCEND, an NGO mediation network for conflict resolution by peaceful means, has for two decades focused on three of the four conflicts mentioned, using countless dialogues with all parties to the conflicts, high and low.

The method used by TRANSCEND has three phases:

• Mapping the conflict (parties, their goals, the clashes);
• Testing the goals for their legitimacy (using law, human rights and basic needs as guidelines);
• The transcendence, going beyond, imaging a new reality that accommodates reasonably well the legitimate goals.

Proposing, not imposing. And in that lies the comparative advantage of NGO mediation: we, fortunately, have no bombs for threats and killings, no money for bribes and buyings, and no decisions to back coming from high bodies. What do we have? Ideas, hopefully good ideas; knowing well that those who have bombs, money and backing often think they can do without ideas beyond their own national interests.

For the proposals indicated below we alone are responsible. They are based on empathy with the parties, a nonviolent constructive as opposed to a moralizing critical approach, and on efforts to be creative and concrete. Moreover, they are offered in all humility, hoping that at least some of it can be useful.

Cyprus is divided; taking one part into the EU by the EU member party is a blatant inequality. Peace presumes equity, so the road to peace passes through recognition of the Turkish part–the events of summer/1974 originated on the Greek side–, Turkish EU membership, and a Cyprus unified as a confederation, a federation, or an unitary state–as an EU member instead of the present partial membership.

The Turkish-Kurdish issue extends to the other three countries dividing the Kurdish people: Syria, Iraq and Iran. The prolonged, tragic and violent Turkey-PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê-Kurdistan Workers’ Party): conflict puts Turkey at odds with neighbors where Kurds seek refuge; on lands they consider their own.

A three-stage process toward peace: 1) human rights for Kurds in all four countries, to their identity, their own language, no discrimination; 2) some Kurdish autonomy in internal affairs, particularly pertaining to education and culture in general, and a confederation of the four autonomies called Kurdistan; and 3) no borders moved, double identities for the Kurds as before, reflected on the passports, with an assembly and an executive for Kurdish matters agreed with the Four states.

Turkey-Armenia: Turkey must apologize for the horrors, compensate, and offer a right of return to Armenians; so must Kurds as willing helpers. The relations have to be normalized, with a commission of historians accessing the archives, producing an acceptable narrative. Mount Ararat could become Mt Peace, jointly administered under the UN, and used for peace conferences as a symbol of life beyond disaster.

Syria: A struggle between a minority Shia Alawite dictatorship with many nations and a possible majority Sunni dictatorship can only be brought to an end with an image of a solution, detailed negotiation and then ceasefire; the opposite order is a non-starter. A non-territorial federation with two chambers, one for provinces and the other for nations, with vetoes in matters of vital concern might be useful; as might also a multi-nation coalition government à la Suisse.

There could be less talk about guilt, perpetrator and victim, and more about shared responsibility to find solutions in these tricky issues. There is a need not only for the cooperative, equitable formulas proposed above, but also reconciliation for past traumas, using the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a model; or the German rewriting of history text books model – or both. The federal or confederal models proposed must process the rolling agendas of issues that will come up.

Given the closeness of the Azeris (Azerbaijani Turks) to Turkey, and Armenia’s occupation of parts of Azerbaijan beyond a minimum claim to the Armenian populated Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), it might be an idea to include this issue into a Turkish-Kurdish-Armenian-Azeri conglomerate where Turkey gives much autonomy to the Kurds, and with mutual apologies and compensation. And open for the return of Armenians; Armenia withdrawing from parts of Azerbaijan that concedes Armenian rights to NK. A possible equilibrium = peace.

Above primacy is given to nation, to identity, not to the liberal penchant for political choice, nor to the marxist-neoliberal primacy of the economy, nor to the realist cult of military power. They all enter, but the cultural identity defines who is friend and foe for alliance or war, the kind of economy favored, and general political tastes. Solving national contradictions is necessary, indispensable, but not sufficient. The other contradictions: gender and generation, class and territory, humans with nature, and climate are all there and have to be handled, but within a formula not merely for a negative peace and cease-fire, but for the positive peace indicated for the nations.

Politics as usual in homogeneous countries, with no solution for nationalities, is to court disaster. A minority climbs up, conquers economic-cultural niches and the majorities will silence them politically-militarily; such as Armenians in Turkey, Jews in Germany, Chinese in Southeast Asia; Tutsis-Hutus.

Rather it is a bargain of the century, helped by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt.

* Talk given at the Bosporus University, Istanbul, 3 October 2012. I am grateful to Nur Bekata for the organization and to an excellent panel. More on Cyprus, the Kurds, Armenia and Azerbaijan in 50 Years: 100 Peace & Conflict Perspectives, chapters 15, 23 & 89. TRANSCEND University Press, 2008.

Original published here.

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