YUVARLAK MASA TOPLANTISI NOTLARI
ROUNDTABLE MEETING NOTES
Prepared by: E. İrem AKI [*]
Translated by: Meral Camcı
This text has been prepared to share the results of the VOICES of PEACE roundtable meeting held on the Off-University online platform on April 27, 2023. Members/representatives of the Human Rights Association (HRA), The Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions (CPETU), the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (UCTEA), Education and Science Workers’ Union (Eğitim-Sen), the Chamber of City Planners, the Van Bar Association Human Rights Commission, and the Party of Greens and the Left Future (Green Left Party) and academicians participated. The main theme of the meeting is the concept of peace and the May 2023 elections. In this context, the prominent opinions and policy recommendations at the meeting are as follows:
Ahmet İnsel – Academician, Birikim Journal
When we say peace, the Kurdish question is the first thing that comes to mind in Turkey. Here, we are talking about a conflict in which both sides act on the basis of victimization. Kurds in Turkey rightfully claim that in an environment where their Kurdish identity is not recognized, mother tongue education is not allowed, bilingualism is not used in public services in the regions where the majority of the people are bilingual, where being Kurdish on the basis of citizenship is marginalized, Kurds are excluded from the political arena, (the latest examples of this, besides the appointments of trustees, detentions in Diyarbakır and in the surrounding provinces), they still continue their struggle by paying great vital costs and express their demands through a great victimization.
The nationalist front in Turkey, on the other hand, defines the Kurdish movement as a movement that divides Turkish society and drags it into internal conflict, by defining all legal Kurdish struggles as acts of terrorism, based on the PKK's armed struggle, and claiming that they themselves are also victims. They not only criminalize Kurdish movement, they also demonize it. This is exactly where we need peace. Peace is the indispensable first stage of providing the conditions for living together in this great fight, in which both sides see themselves as victims (some of them right, some exaggerated).
Peace is a term that exists implicitly in the upcoming elections. It's just a demand voiced by some of the Labor and Freedom Alliance constituents. Peace is not on the agenda of the People's Alliance. Although the Justice and Development Party (JDP) seems to have made some openings on the Kurdish issue in the past, the alliance it is now involved in is the most reactionary, right-wing, nationalist-religious alliance in the political history of Turkey.
Peace is not included in the program of the Nation Alliance, mainly because of the Good Party, and in order not to allow Erdogan to use it in the election squares, re-signing the Istanbul Convention is not included in the program of the Nation Alliance, this time because of the Felicity party. However, the position taken by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is notable. In his statements, he says that they will return to the Istanbul Convention unconditionally. After meeting with Mithat Sancar and Pervin Buldan, he cited the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) as the address of the solution to the Kurdish problem.
The Labor and Freedom Alliance has a comprehensive program for the solution of the Kurdish question. It includes education in mother tongue and autonomy of local governments in its program. However, it should be noted that there are also those within the Labor and Freedom Alliance who are also distant towards the Kurdish question, although they are quite a few. There is a Kurdish problem as a serious Turkish problem in Turkey, and this reflects more or less on all party programs. Before Kurds from Turkey for peace, Turks, those who define themselves as Turks, the majority, need to express clearly what the conditions of peace are, what they understand from the solution of the Kurdish problem and what they want. We do not see this in party programs, apart from the programs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), the Green Left Party and the Labor Party and some PDP component small socialist/Marxist parties.
Hülya Dinçer – Academician, Education and Science Workers’ Union
It is important to reflect on Kılıçdaroğlu's rhetoric of asking/giving blessings (helalleşme in Turkish, (trans. note)) to see how this concept has the potential to achieve a lasting peace in Turkey. Kılıçdaroğlu first mentioned this concept of asking/giving blessings in one of the videos he shot in November 2021. He then continued uttering it in his speech in the Assembly and in his subsequent statements.
Kılıçdaroğlu clearly said that “in order to heal wounds, we should accept responsibility for the mistakes made in the past and know how to ask/give blessings, and we want to heal the wounds caused by the party in the past that I led”. It was a language that prioritized forgiveness/being forgiven, asking/giving blessings.
Different criticisms came from different segments on the asking/giving blessings discourse. The basis of the criticism was Kılıçdaroğlu's attempt to confront the crucial violations of rights in the history of the Republic, on religious and conscientious grounds. In addition, it was criticized that it is not possible to say goodbye without coming to terms with the past, without judging the perpetrators of gross human rights violations, without revealing the truth, without repairing the harms of the survivors, and of course without coming to terms with the structural reasons that paved the way for all these violations of rights and violence, without restructuring the judiciary and the security bureaucracy. It was stated that coming to terms with the past is actually a very long-term, multi-layered process that requires structural interventions.
Kılıçdaroğlu's rhetoric of saying goodbye to the past by asking/giving blessings seemed to include, at some level, an acceptance of historical injustices and a will to repair losses. In this respect, it can be regarded as a positive discourse on the line of restorative justice. As a matter of fact, in a joint statement made by thirty-seven non-governmental organizations,  it was stated that they attached importance to this call and that this process could be carried out in a transparent and participatory manner.
In order to discuss the contribution of the asking/giving blessings discourse, it is important to place it within the framework of permanent peace or sustainable peace at the outset. Peace in the negative sense is not a state of non-conflict where conflicts come to an end. It is necessary to consider the concept of asking/giving blessings within the framework of positive peace in which the structural reasons behind the violence, the consequences of inequality and discrimination are eliminated. Such an understanding also requires considering concepts such as social justice and political equality when designing settlement mechanisms. It is very important to meet the demands for justice of the victims of violence in Turkey. In this sense, those responsible for human rights violations such as enforced disappearances, torture and displacement in the last thirty years should be prosecuted. Many violations were also encountered during the state of emergency. Those responsible for these violations should also be prosecuted.
As a subject of equal rights, the recognition of equal citizen status has to be part of a process of asking/giving blessings, or whatever we call it, confrontation. What is important here is that in the coming period, all social forces should be involved in how to fill the content of this call for blessings, on the basis of social justice and equal citizenship.
İdil Akyol Koçhan – Chamber of City Planners
Peace is one of the basic concepts in the field of urbanism. Planning principles actually play a fundamental role in establishing peace. Planning is a fundamental discipline that drives the future of settlements. It is responsible for producing spatial decisions and policies that will enable an equal, fair and free life for everyone. Therefore, as a discipline, it is a political field.
In this context, when we examine the promises of the alliances in the field of urbanism and planning, we see that the disaster that marked this election period in all alliances and the reconstruction and urban transformation issues as a result are at the forefront.
The Nation Alliance states its main goal in the Joint Policies Memorandum of Understanding as to become a happy country where everyone leads a life worthy of human dignity and achieves social welfare standards, where social peace and tranquility are established. Urban life criteria are mentioned in several places in the text. Vulnerable groups are taken into account and it is aimed to increase social inclusion.
The Nation Alliance deals with the housing issue in the Text with a rights-based discourse and sees social housing as an important tool in this sense. It is possible to say that there is an emphasis on post-disaster and urban transformation, being human-oriented, respecting urban identity and nature, prioritizing vulnerable groups, and participatory decision-making processes. The inclusion of crimes against the city in our legal system is another noteworthy issue set out in the Text.
The People’s Alliance does not have a common election manifesto. JDP has an election manifesto of its own. It is surprising that the promises in this declaration on urbanism and planning are so limited. Promises in the field of urbanism and planning are included under the title of risk against disasters and crisis. Under this title, there is a perspective that focuses on disaster and reconstruction. However, little has been mentioned about what needs to be done to establish a peaceful life. The target is to realize the actions in a short time like one year.
The Labor and Freedom Alliance’s election memorandum of understanding is shorter and more concise than the other alliances. Particular attention was paid to the disaster area. In the Declaration, the promises in terms of urbanism are limited, but they aim to develop a healthy and humane life in a planned way and to take participatory decisions together with the civil society, residents and local governments. There is also an emphasis on solving the housing problem in terms of establishing a peaceful life. What distinguishes the Labor and Freedom Alliance from the other two Alliances is its promises to establish a more peaceful relationship with nature. Promises such as ending the projects that cause the destruction of natural areas and protecting the right of every living thing to live in a healthy ecosystem have an important place in the Declaration.
In this election period, the steps in the field of urbanism and planning for the establishment of a peaceful life seem to be overshadowed by the disaster. This is understandable when the country has such a poignant agenda, but it should not be forgotten that the principles and approaches to be adopted in this field do not only cover development and construction activities, but are actually effective in a wide range of areas such as sheltering, safe access to water, food and public services, and social integration.
Mehmet Bozgeyik - The Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions
The first thing that comes to mind when talking about the issue of peace in Turkey is the Kurdish question. We are faced with some problems because the Kurdish question has been denied for years and it is thought that it can be overcome with continuous security policies by moving away from peaceful solutions. The most important of these is the rise of nationalism and chauvinism with the war. Naturally, the labor movement is also directly affected by this environment, because when racism, nationalism and chauvinism become the protectors of the sovereign power, certain issues are prevented from being discussed. There is a very intense problem of impoverishment and unemployment in terms of laborers in Turkey. There is a lot of pressure on the opposition groups.
The nationalism that developed under the influence of the war hinders the development of free thought and social opposition. Peace demands and every word about it are marginalized by the government. This situation prepares the ground for the marginalization of workers in the workplace in Turkey. For this reason, peace is important both for the workers and for the union struggle.
In order to solve the Kurdish issue, it is necessary to solve the democracy issue first, because political problems can be solved in a democratic environment based on the organized participation of free and equal citizens.
Experiences from different countries show that problems can be solved in a democratic environment. For this reason, policies of marginalization and discrimination against citizens should be abandoned; workers, small producers, shopkeepers, retirees and women need to be included in the democratization and peace process. Of course, in order for this to occur, a non-conflict process must be created. In particular, it is necessary to create conditions where all these issues can be discussed freely and risky environments are eliminated.
If the Kurdish issue, the Alevi issue, the gender inequality issue are to be solved in this country, all the policies followed by the governments so far must be abandoned and democratic mechanisms must be operated. Turkey needs to develop solution-oriented policies after the May 14 elections. All the massacres and unsolved perpetrators that occurred in the Republic of Turkey after 1923 must be confronted. Kılıçdaroğlu's assertion of his Alevi identity and his discourses on the Kurdish issue are significant, but the fact that even the word “Kurd” is not included in their Memorandum of Understanding is a serious shortcoming.
On the way to the 14 May elections, there is a language of hatred, rhetoric ranging from nationalism to racism, and finger-pointing in the rallies. This language of hatred is directed at Kurds, women, LGBTI+s and dissidents. Such discourses are used as a tool in the rallies. In this respect, it is important to be the voice of peace. Peace should not be delegated only to parliament. Political parties, the opposition, and all segments of society need to make an effort to be the voice of peace, and a joint initiative needs to be reinstated.
Nazvan Mızrak Aydın – The Van Bar Association Human Rights Commission
It is important to reveal the meaning of peace in terms of human rights law. In this respect, peace is to be able to live together in peace and harmony; It means one’s knowing that while exercising fundamental rights and freedoms, no matter what the reason (gender, ethnicity, mother tongue, speaking the Turkish language with an accent, etc.) one will not be discriminated.
The People’s Alliance has seriously undermined hope for peace. Especially the fact that the majority of PDP politicians are in prison, trustees have been appointed instead of elected mayors, and the operations carried out 2-3 days ago showed that nothing should be expected from the People’s Alliance.
Even the word “Kurd” was not included in the Joint Policies Memorandum of Understanding of the Nation Alliance. The videos published by Kılıçdaroğlu, not by the Nation Alliance, on Kurds and Alevis, are noteworthy. Kılıçdaroğlu's statements and attitude are promising. However, the fact that the opposition and especially Kılıçdaroğlu to the operations carried out in Diyarbakır in recent days has remained so silent that it is unfortunately unacceptable. If the Nation Alliance and the Republican People’s Party (RPP) want the support of the people in the region, they should personally show that they are with the people of the region. In order for peace not to remain until the next election, the next spring, the opposition needs to change its current attitude.
The language of hatred in election propaganda is also an issue that needs to be emphasized. Until now, the common political enemy in Turkey was Kurds, women, non-heterosexuals. Now, refugees have been added to this common enemy. With the exception of the Labor and Freedom Alliance, all opposition makes statements that contain hate speech about asylum seekers. There are millions of refugees in Turkey and social peace cannot be established in an environment where a part of the society is so excluded.
Nuri Özdemir – The Party of Greens and the Left Future
Peace is a very broad concept. It is possible that people have a problem focusing on the issue of peace because there is a regional upheaval, especially after 2010. In this process, the Arab Spring, the 2013-2015 Resolution process, the July 15 coup attempt, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the February 6 earthquake took place. All of this has actually weakened people’s capacity to focus on an issue.
In order to talk about peace, it is necessary to think about the war situation first. The modern nation-state establishes itself through a state of war. When war is mentioned here, only armies with weapons should not come to mind. What is in question here is a situation that constantly confronts people and drags them into a state of constant conflict. The modern nation-state, which constantly creates enemies and conflicts, complicates peacebuilding.
There are two main problems that guide the issue of war and peace in the Middle East: the Palestinian issue and the Kurdish question. These two problems affect many problems in the region. Accordingly, if we do not focus on peace for the next hundred years, some existing social problems will continue. For example, as long as the Kurdish problem exists, it will constantly produce masculinity, tribalism and statism.
Especially the Kurdish people and their friends are working hard for peace building, but these dynamics alone are not enough to ensure peace. In fact, since the 90s, there have been some attempts to solve the Kurdish question in a democratic way. The most striking of these was the 2013-2015 Resolution process, which unfortunately ended in failure.
People living in Turkey at the moment are experiencing a matter of existence and non-existence. While the mass behind the government has completely locked its existence in the existence of the government, the mass behind the opposition has connected its entire existence to the fall of the government from power. For example, people who have immigrated or exiled to the West for their academic studies or because of unemployment are also considering the possibility that this government will fall from power as soon as possible and start a life again. So at the moment peace is a fundamental need of people.
Making peace is a vital issue and a political struggle. Peace concerns all of us and peacebuilding is a political issue to be carried on the street. Therefore, a political issue must have a political defense. In this sense, the election process will bring a political understanding that will build peace despite all its shortcomings. After the 2023 elections, this understanding of politics will become permanent and peace will thus be institutionalized.
Osman İşçi – Human Rights Association
The concept of peace has a vital importance for HRA. Peace is necessary for the protection of human rights. In terms of the human rights movement, the people should not have any problems because they use their rights. If there is peace in the country, people will not have any problems in exercising their rights or they will be able to go to the court and seek this right when they have a problem. The human rights movement aims to reveal the truth in the face of a violation and that the perpetrator receives the necessary punishment. The person whose right has been violated must also be compensated. Struggling with impunity is also substantive because impunity leads to the continuation of the violation of rights. Therefore, revealing the truth and providing justice are crucial components in establishing peace.
In the establishment of peace in Turkey, the Kurdish issue is explicit. Parliament is significant as well in terms of establishing peace because social problems and conflicts can be resolved there. In this respect, elections that will determine the quality of the will in the parliament gain importance.
In this sense, the election itself is a human rights issue. Being able to convey one’s views as a citizen is important in terms of participation in political and social life. The will that emerged as a result of the election does not only reflect the views and demands of the political parties represented in the parliament. This will should also include the needs and demands of those outside the parliament, so that a real democratic will can be mentioned. As HRA, we examine the election with the system of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
When we look at the programs of the alliances, there are problematic points. Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention is not seen as a problem, as women are not seen as entitled subjects. Returning refugees is not seen as a problem, as refugees are not seen as entitled subjects. From a human rights perspective, refugee rights are human rights, and if one wants to go from one place to another, one will.
In order to build peace, it is necessary to understand the extent of the destruction of war. Wars are always thought to violate the right to life, but the effects of war are devastating in many ways. Many people's right to education, right to work are violated. For HRA, peace is an area that will contribute to self-development. When we look at the election manifestos, from the perspective of the HRA, the alliance that gives most space to human rights issues is the Labor and Freedom Alliance.
The election will not be the end for us. Whoever wins, there will be a long-term work to be done. If the Nation Alliance wins the election, the struggle will continue in another phase. If the People’s Alliance wins, we will have to work harder anyway. Regardless of the outcome, human rights organizations will continue to report violations and defend human rights.
[*] Marburg University, Center for Conflict Studies, guest researcher.
 https://demos.org.tr/hakikat-esitlik-ve-adalet-icin-buradayiz/, (we are here-for-truth-equality-and-justice) Date of access: May 3, 2023.
*Finanziert von der Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung mit Mitteln des Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Diese Veröffentlichung kann von anderen kostenlos genutzt werden, solange auf die originale Publikation verwiesen wird. Der Inhalt dieser Veröffentlichung ist die Verantwortung von Off-University.Organisation für den Frieden e.V. und gibt nicht notwendigerweise eine Position von RLS wieder.