2005 Diyarbakır speech

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Template:Systemic bias Template:Recep Tayyip Erdogan sidebar In a speech delivered in Diyarbakır in 2005, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used the most liberal discourse a prime minister had ever employed in Turkey for the Kurdish issue.[1] Conceding that the Turkish state had made mistakes in the past, the prime minister used the term “the Kurdish question” and promised to resolve it by means of more democracy, more citizenship law, and more prosperity. The speech was considered a "landmark" and "groundbreaking" in Turkey.[2]



Template:Main Since the mid-1980s, the war in southeast Turkey has claimed over 30,000 lives and created many internally displaced people. It has also left the region’s economy one of the poorest in the country. For decades, Turkey’s estimated 14 million Kurds were dismissed by successive governments as “mountain Turks.” Their language, which is distinct from Turkish, was officially banned until the early 1990s. Thousands of Kurdish activists who demanded official recognition of their ethnic identity were tortured or jailed. Kurdish insurgents waged a running rebellion against the government.

As Turkey seeks to join the European Union, it has begun to ease pressure on the Kurds. Since Erdogan came to power in 2002, his conservative Justice and Development Party has enacted a series of sweeping reforms. The changes contributed to European Union leaders’ decision to open membership negotiations with Turkey, which were scheduled to begin in October 2015.[3]


The AKP’s approach to the Kurdish question was first put in the party program in 2001. The AKP both pursued and departed from the way in which the former mainstream parties had approached the Kurdish question. Discussing the Kurdish question under the ambiguous title of “the Southeast,” the program indicated that the AKP would, just like the other former mainstream parties, perceive the Kurdish question in relation to “terrorism,” “foreign incitement,” and “underdevelopment.” However, the program also admitted that economic development alone would not be sufficient to resolve the question, and suggested recognising the cultural differences of Turkish citizens. Moreover, it suggested seeing citizenship as the main point of reference for national identity. This was of great importance because all mainstream parties and all three constitutions of the republic had until then defined national identity in terms of Turkishness. However, although the AKP programme had conceded that the “Kurdish question” would not be resolved by the policies of the past, there was no mention of the Kurdish question in the programs of the first two AKP governments.


In the speech, Erdogan told the crowd that the government would "resolve all problems with more democracy, more civil rights and more prosperity". He also made reference to the existence of a "Kurdish problem", something which had long been denied by Ankara, along with admitting "past mistakes".[4]


Next, Erdoğan explained the three ideologies that, in his opinion, contradict the Turkish state:



Erdogan’s speech received strong praise from the Kurdish community.[3]

Opposition reaction

Erdogan's speech was not warmly received by Turkey's main opposition grouping, the Republican People's Party (CHP), and by many Turkish commentators. Deniz Baykal, the leader of CHP, said that “the changes made in the name of democracy will lead to Turkey’s dismemberment.” CHP Vice Chairman Onur Öymen said that "He [Erdogan] gave the wrong impression to the people and the terrorists. This has nothing to do with democracy and human rights. Terrorism exists in many countries - such as Spain - which can hardly be accused of not having enough democracy."

The prime minister’s speech was warmly welcomed by local politicians. Diyarbakir Mayor Osman Baydemir of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (DEHAP) said: "I hope his pledges will lead to the opening of a new page." At the same time, over 70 unions, chambers of commerce and professional associations in Diyarbakir issued a joint statement of support for the prime minister's statement, as did a group of 50 ethnic Kurdish artists and intellectuals.

Şerafettin Elçi, a veteran Kurdish politician, said that “The challenge facing Erdogan is to strike a balance between the demands of the military and his nationalist constituents on the one hand and those of the European Union and the Kurds on the other. It’s a very, very fine line.”[2]

Critical reception

The Economist called the speach a "landmark" in Turkish politics.[4] Al Jazeera called the speech "groundbreaking".[2]


The prime minister's comments were followed by a rapid series of developments. A few days later, DEHAP announced that it was merging with the other pro-Kurdish group, the Democratic Society Movement (DTH). This merged group then called for the PKK to cease its armed activities. The following day, the PKK announced that it would observe a ceasefire for a month, until 20 September.[2]

After the speech, Kurdish singers began to make new songs, writers started to publish their books in Kurdish, and certain newspapers were allowed to be published in Kurdish language.[5]

The PKK continued with its attacks. Not only were the clashes between the PKK and the army increasing but also the tension between civilians and security forces was deepening.[1]

In a meeting of the National Security Council in 2007 it was decided to get in touch with the PKK and introduce some reforms concerning the cultural rights of citizens. In other words, the AKP seems to have decided in 2007 to introduce a new policy of negotiation and a firmer policy of recognition. Given that it received almost 50 per cent of the total votes in the 2007 elections, the AKP might have felt strong enough to renew its way of engaging with the Kurdish question, as the old policies had proven unsustainable.

This new policy yielded its first fruits at the regional level. In 2008, Ahmet Davutoğlu, Erdoğan’s chief advisor for foreign affairs, and Murat Özçelik, Turkey’s special envoy to Iraq, paid a visit to Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which initiated a series of formal contacts with the KRG that has resulted in a significant improvement in relations between Ankara and Erbil, particularly in the economic field.[6] Turkey’s decades-long policy of containment of the Kurds of Iraq was now over.

It was not long before this new policy produced significant outcomes in the domestic field too. It has been revealed that state officials contacted the PKK and had consecutive meetings (Oslo talks) in different places in Europe starting from September 2008.[7] In 2009, possibly due to the advances made in these meetings between the state and the PKK, all the main actors involved in the Kurdish question began to upgrade their positions. First, the chief of staff emphasised that the army would endorse the recognition of cultural rights at the individual level. Likewise, he announced that the army would rather liquidate the PKK than terminate it. In the same speech, he maintained that the term Turkish nation was misunderstood and that the Turkish nation was defined in citizenship terms and comprises everyone who has built the Republic of Turkey. In the same vein, the AKP government started to take important steps of recognition. At the beginning of 2009, the public broadcasting agency, TRT, launched a 24-hour Kurdish language channel, TRT Kurdî.[8] Also, the Council of Higher Education (YÖK) resolved to establish Kurdish language and literature departments in universities.[9] These ranked among the most radical gestures on the road to true recognition of Kurdish identity in the history of the Turkish Republic. It was in this context of renewal that President Abdullah Gül, in an interview on his way to Iran on March 2009, stated that the Kurdish question was the most important question in Turkish politics and that good things would happen soon. This revealed that the Turkish state was ready to change its way of engagement with the Kurdish question and that this new way of engagement was approved by the National Security Council.

Immediately after the 2009 local elections, the PKK also renewed its position and announced a ceasefire. In an interview given in May 2009, Murat Karayılan, then head of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), stated that the PKK was ready to engage in a dialogue with the final aim of disarmament.

These developments in the first half of 2009 were followed by the inception of the “Kurdish opening.” The Minister of the Interior, Beşir Atalay, organised subsequent meetings in 2009 with journalists, intellectuals and NGOs to start a public debate on the resolution of the Kurdish question. The Kurdish opening thus became the number one topic on the political agenda of the Turkish public. However, as the debate ensued, it became evident that the two opposition parties would not support the Kurdish opening. While the CHP “criticized the Kurdish opening as an irresponsible initiative of the government and expressed its concern that this policy carried the risk of giving way to the ethnic disintegration of the Turkish society,” the MHP alleged that the Kurdish opening would “endanger Turkey’s identity as a unitary nation-state.”[10]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Yeğen, Mesut. "The Kurdish Peace Process in Turkey: Genesis, Evolution and Prospects". Istanbul Şehir University. https://www.iai.it/sites/default/files/gte_wp_11.pdf. Retrieved 12 January 2020. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Turkish PM addresses Kurdish question". www.aljazeera.com. 30 August 2005. https://www.aljazeera.com/archive/2005/08/200841015451927942.html. Retrieved 12 January 2020. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Zaman, Amberin (13 August 2005). "Leader Regrets Turkish Stance Toward Kurds". Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2005-aug-13-fg-turkey13-story.html. Retrieved 12 January 2020. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Peace be unto you, Peace be unto you". The Economist. 18 August 2005. https://www.economist.com/europe/2005/08/18/peace-be-unto-you. Retrieved 12 January 2020. 
  5. "Opening Space for Kurds in Turkey: From Banned Concerts to Films". http://www.basnews.com/index.php/en/reports/529865?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=b45a698ef4d7e0c6d09031dd8dc260077e5b4a70-1578790188-0-AbmximYIPPBy3L6qGkyXmFoK-mIqLhICIRCFJHAV0KliyscElTZ171V3AD2I18dw0XC5_DtUzRHT8MrGeGK-ODBADgtNPioD_z_kYCUj0e18QF33avr17nIXuAlaRMjUVJbsWbaAF0o-TH2Swxt6Yxvqb9V3C1yEbDHYZ6LRA5TlRPdN3uaQC-ZEAUuAKYh-AXANll7qApot-2wu9_jCy6XfLv_KJlBx_0UlNnFA-f_USsW2PxvuHQYL7iIJBeQ3Twok_ro1y6uVKwvaGeCtrxXaKhn90uG6JaDbzT4TRWgt. Retrieved 12 January 2020. 
  6. Larrabee, F. Stephen; Tol, Gonul (August 2011). "Turkey's Kurdish Challenge". Survival 53 (4): 145. Template:Citation error. 
  7. Çandar, Cengiz (28 April 2013). "Oslo'dan bugüne 'perde arkası'" (in tr). Radikal. http://www.radikal.com.tr/yazarlar/cengiz-candar/oslodan-bugune-perde-arkasi-1-1131383/. Retrieved 12 January 2020. 
  8. "Turkey's Kurdish TV channel opens to mixed reviews" (in en). Reuters. 2 January 2009. https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL2352569. Retrieved 12 January 2020. 
  9. "Turkey 'to allow Kurdish lessons'". BBC. 12 June 2012. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-18410596. Retrieved 12 January 2020. 
  10. Kayhan Pusane, Özlem (11 March 2014). "Turkey's Kurdish Opening: Long Awaited Achievements and Failed Expectations". Turkish Studies 15 (1): 81–99. Template:Citation error. 

External links

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