Former president Abdullah Gul, President Recep Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as leaders of the Justice and Development Party over the last decades have transformed Turkey into an economic and political powerhouse. Much remains to be done.
Turkey has gone from a country sinking in debt to a country thriving while its counterparts in Europe were sinking in debt and almost going bankrupt due the financial crisis. From a country ruled by the military to a country ruled by civilian government elected directly by the people. This represents a big achievement in a region ruined by military coup d’état.
However, this transformation is not enough while neglecting permanent and dramatic solution to the “Kurdish Issue”. The Justice and Development Party revolution fulfilled the “Development” part, but so far failed to fulfill the “Justice” part. And that requires bold steps to solve the “Kurdish Issue”.
It will do Turkey good – the country, the state and the people, Turkish and Kurds – for President Erdoğan to go to “Imrali Island Prison”, where the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan is held as the only prisoner on the island; free him and fly together to Diyarbakir and jointly declare to all of the citizens of Turkey that this is a new start, a new beginning for all of the people of Turkey. Turkey needs to be a country where Turkish citizens, ethnic Turks and ethnic Kurds and all other ethnic groups are equal citizens with equal rights to form a political party; to speak their own language and celebrate, not differences but, what unites them.
Turkey, like its neighbors Iraq and Syria, has experienced political and social violence in the late 1970’s, pitting extreme Right wing ultra nationalists and extreme Left wing, leaving thousands of dead and tens of thousand injured, in what was termed as “low level civil war”.
Turkey went through many military coups and for a long time, the military were the real and true rulers of the country. Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, leader of the Democratic Party, together with two other cabinet ministers were hanged by the military on 17 September 1961, shortly after the military junta took over the government in a military coup d’état.
Political reforms were slow to take place, always wary of the “military”, but that is over now with the “military” under the control of the civilian authorities — a major achievement, yet to be experienced in neighboring Arab countries like Syria and Iraq, where the military and “mokhabarat” rule every aspect of life from birth certificate to janitorial jobs, all requiring “security clearance”.
Additionally, Turkey was able to manage its runaway inflation, bringing it down from the triple digits to close to single digits. Turkey paid off its debt to the World Bank and the IMF. Turkey’s GDP skyrocketed, reaching 1,426 trillions and exports to the neighbor countries, including central Asia republics reaching over $125 billion in exports.
More important, Turkey has the highest per capita income of all the Middle East countries, with the exception of the Gulf States and Israel. While Turkey’s per capita income increased to $10,130, other Arab countries like Jordan ($4,370), Egypt ($2,800), Iraq ($4,470) all remained stagnant, if not regressive.
Turkish products and services from home appliances, to clothing, food, and construction are seen and sold all over the Middle East from Morocco to Kazakhstan. Turkish businessmen and Turkish Airlines are seen from San Paulo to Tokyo to Beijing, to Amman, Riyadh and Casablanca.
Though the domestic, political and ideological situation remains tenuous between “secular parties” and the governing coalitions, the Justice and Development Party holds the largest block in the Parliament (312/535) followed by the Republican Peoples Party (125/535), Nationalist Movement Party (52/535).
The fact that Turkey with a “Kurdish” population of 14.6 million is represented by one member of the parliament sitting as representative of the Democratic Regions Party shows the immediate and urgent need to tackle the “Kurdish Issue” head on.
Mr. Erdoğan, his government and the people of Turkey are strong enough, with solid political and economic institutions, confident enough and can take the “risks”, and should take the steps to release Abdullah Ocalan — which would be a reminder to the world of the time and date when de Clerk of South Africa released the late Nelson Mandela from prison.
With Mr. Ocalan free and out jail, and with the “Kurdish Issue” resolved and out of the way, Turkey would be the nation that Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Davutoğlu wish it to be. Turkey needs to recognize the citizen rights of the Kurds and to support their language, culture and full political, economic and social partnership in the Republic of Turkey. Switzerland is an excellent model to follow.
Mr. Erdoğan can follow the example set by the former President of South Africa F.W. de Klerk when, on February 11, 1990, he freed the late Nelson Mandela from the prison on Robben Island after 27 years as prisoner.
Confident leadership and a confident nation can and always should risk peace. Let us hope Mr. Erdoğan rises to the occasion.