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Prospects for Resolution of the Kurdish Question: A Realist Perspective

The developments in early 2013 generated expectations that the almost three decades old armed conflict between the Turkish state and PKK would eventually come to an end. This article adopts a skeptical position and identifies two principal factors that make a peaceful settlement a distant possibility. First, the current military situation is a stalemate that is not ripe for peace. The costs of the conflict remain highly tolerable for both sides. Next, huge differences separate what the Turkish government is willing to deliver and what the Kurdish insurgency is willing to accept for disarmament. In particular, the PKK has no incentive to accept disarmament and demobilization given current geopolitical dynamics conducive to Kurdish self-rule.

Prospects for Resolution of the Kurdish Question A Realist Perspective
Picture shows that PKK jog with their rifle during a training session early in the morning. AFP / Mustafa Özer

2012 has been the most violent year in the fighting between the Turkish state and Kurdish insurgency since 1999. Hence, it came as a surprise when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s announcement that his government was talking to Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdish insurgent PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan), in December 2012 was followed by a visit by two parliamentarians from the Kurdish nationalist BDP (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi) to Öcalan in early January. These developments renewed hopes for a peaceful resolution of the almost thirty years old armed conflict. In this article, I offer a critical evaluation of the prospects for resolution of Turkey’s Kurdish question. Going against the conventional wisdom, I argue that neither side has strong incentives to make the necessary concessions to reach an agreement. I suggest that the current status quo characterized by low intensity violence interrupted by periods of negotiations and ceasefires is the most probable outcome in the coming years. I first offer an analytical overview of the insurgency followed by a discussion of the strategic interests of the major political actors. I conclude with skepticism regarding the achievability of peace. 

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Call for Paper | Politics of the Balkans and Future Perspectives