News / Europe

Turkey Mulls Constitutional Reform in Light of Talks with Kurdish Rebels

Rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in Turkey close to the border with Iraq, May 7, 2013.
Rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in Turkey close to the border with Iraq, May 7, 2013.
Dorian Jones
With fighters from the Kurdish rebel group the PKK withdrawing from Turkey to Iraq, eyes are now on a new constitution currently being written by Turkey's parliament, which could meet Kurdish political demands. But those parliamentary efforts remain deadlocked, with the Turkish president warning this week that the process has reached a dead end.

The start of the withdrawal of PKK fighters is the first step in efforts to end the nearly three-decade-long conflict between the Kurdish rebel group and the Turkish state.

Altan Tan, a parliamentary deputy for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, says now is the time for reforms for the country’s Kurdish minority.

"Turkey should solve the Kurdish problem and make a new constitution and a new democratic rule," said Tan "This is the 'new position' of the PKK and the Kurdish movement."

Tan is a member of an inter-party parliamentary reconciliation commission tasked with writing a new constitution to replace the 1982 military constitution currently in force. Kurdish demands include mother-tongue education, greater power to Turkey's regions and constitutional recognition of the Kurdish identity.

But the drafting of a new constitution remains deadlocked over numerous issues, including key BDP demands. Turkish President Abdullah Gul said this week he feared the process has reached a dead end.

Riza Turmen, a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party who also sits on the parliamentary constitution reconciliation commission, remains hopeful.

"The area of disagreement gets narrower," said Turmen. "There are obstacles in the process itself; we have to reconcile all these views and we should have enough time to negotiate. And there is the proposal by the ruling party on the presidential system: this constitutes a major obstacle [to] an agreement."
 
All the main opposition parties accuse Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of wanting to create a presidential system with few checks or balances, ahead of his expected bid for the presidency next year. This week, a senior member of the ruling AK party gave the parliamentary constitution reconciliation commission a July 1 deadline for completing its work.

Observers expect the government will put forward its own draft constitution.  Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, says reforms have to be introduced to keep the peace process on track.

"No one expects a full-fledged, brand new constitution any more from this commission. Turkey still needs a temporary constitution that would contain key elements to make sure the peace process will proceed," said Aktar.
 
The government will need the support of one other party to ensure constitutional reform is approved in parliament and then in a national referendum. Tan of the pro-Kurdish BDP says a deal could be reached with the Turkish prime minister if he modifies his presidential plans.

"If he [the prime minister] gives all the rights to the Kurds, maybe [we] will discuss the presidential system, not according [to] his idea, [but] according to the United States system with the checks and balances,"said Tan.

So far, Prime Minister Erdogan has rejected the U.S. model, claiming it’s too restrictive. Soli Ozel, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, warns any constitution that excludes the main opposition party risks dividing the country and casting a shadow over the document's legitimacy.

"There will be a severe problem of legitimacy for that constitution. It will have the numbers [to pass in parliament] but it will not have the support of [a] significant part of the Turkish population, which will then be dead [set] against it. And legitimacy is not a very concrete thing: you cannot touch it, you just feel it when it breaks down. A constitution that passes solely with AKP and BDP votes is not going to be on very solid ground," said Ozel.
 
The government's July 1 deadine for the parliamentary constitution reconciliation commission to complete its work means it has less than three months to reach an agreement.  Observers warn that with hopes for an end to the nearly three-decade-long conflict hanging in the balance, pressure to reach a consensus on a new constitution can only grow.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs