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Turkish President Visits Kurds


Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (file photo)

Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (file photo)

The two-day visit by President Abdullah Gul to the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir appears to have been hastily arranged. It comes as political tensions in the country are rising over an initiative for greater Kurdish rights, launched jointly by the country's main Kurdish party together with a number of NGOs and leading Kurdish figures.

Political scientist Cengiz Aktar has this assessment of the visit by the Turkish president. "I think he will look for ways of calming things down," he said. "As its I think we are again going back, to this very belligerent rhetoric of the Kurdish issue."

"The initiative [from the Kurds and NGO's] is completely with the Kurdish side, the other mainstream parties including the government are absolutely incapable of coming up with policy proposals, therefore they utter insults. So again we again we are heading towards a period of a dialogue of the death," he added.

In addition to meeting with local and state officials and businessmen, President Gul is also expected to meet with the mayor of the city of Diyarbakir, Osman Baydemir. He is one of the leading figures in the initiative launched earlier this month, which calls for democratic autonomy, and the right to use the Kurdish language in all walks of life including education.

Kurdish officially did not exist throughout the 1980s and still today controls remain over its use, especially in education. The ruling AK party had positioned itself as a champion for Kurdish rights, but its own initiative has stalled and condemnation for this latest demand for more rights has now come from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"I am putting it very clearly, those who want to bring discord to this nation are the enemy of 73 million people," he said. "The artificial discussion of the last few days is a dirty game and evil plot of the terrorist organization and its extensions. My people will not fall for this plot, they'll spoil the game."

The terrorist organization Mr. Erdogan was referring to is the Kurdish rebel group the PKK, which has been fighting the Turkish state for greater Kurdish rights since 1984. For now they've called a unilateral ceasefire. The Turkish government claims to be committed to bringing peace but Selahattin Demirtas the joint leader of the main Kurdish party, the BDP, angrily questioned the sincerity of this claim.

"What happened to the promise of solving this problem, and the promise that mothers won't cry anymore," he said. "Were you expecting a BDP which will kneel before you and beg?"

Tensions were further ratcheted up when the leader of the far right national action party Devlet Bahceli, warned that the very existence of Turkey was at stake.

"This is a nasty plot hatched by those who want to change the governing structure of Turkey, and to divide the Turkish nation into two, with a separate flag, This will for sure divide our nation," said Bahceli.

The latest Kurdish initiative is seen by some as an important step away from the armed conflict. But the increasingly violent rhetoric is causing hopes to fade. Political scientist Aktar says he hopes President Gul's visit with the Kurds breaks the current downward spiral.

"This is a 100-year problem and there's no quick fix at all. I hope now the president [who] is heading to Diyarbakir who will probably [be] meeting with the top Kurdish politicians there, will understand this. This needs hard work, this needs vision and more than anything to be ready to discuss with Kurds themselves," he said.

President Gul is trying to play down expectations for his trip, saying its a routine visit. But with tensions rapidly escalating observers say expectations are continuing to rise.

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