March 16, 2015

US-based think tank says Gülen movement progressive in terms of pro-Kurdish reforms

A US-based think tank has released a report stating that the Gülen (Hizmet) movement, a grassroots civil society organization that has frequently accused government officials of obstructing the settlement negotiations between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), has a progressive attitude regarding pro-Kurdish reforms.

The report, which was recently released by the Rethink Institute and titled “Turkey's Kurdish Question and the Hizmet Movement,” assesses Turkey's Kurdish question, the decades-old problem caused by Turkey's inability to address issues concerning its ethnic Kurdish populace and the ensuing acts of terror conducted by the PKK since the mid-1980s, and Hizmet's stance towards the settlement process launched in 2011.

In an attempt to solve the decades-old Kurdish and terrorism problems, the government launched talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the incarcerated leader of the PKK, at the end of 2012. The government believes the talks will help push PKK terrorists to lay down their weapons, withdraw from Turkey and thus put an end to the country's terrorism issue.

Erdoğan and the government have on several occasions accused the Hizmet movement of obstructing the settlement process with the PKK and planning illegal operations to sabotage the talks.

The Rethink Institute's report states that Hizmet's position regarding the Kurdish issue changed after two major graft operations, incriminating Cabinet members of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan's government and some members of his family. Erdoğan accuses the movement of being behind the corruption investigation and trying to attempt a “coup” against him and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

Underlining historical backdrops to the current Kurdish problem, the report says: “Going as far back as the 1920s, numerous official documents, military intelligence reports, political party programs and policy papers have proposed ways to address Kurdish demands. Until very recently, however, the Turkish state's position vis-à-vis Kurdish nationalism was primarily one-dimensional, regarding the issue as a security threat.”

Pointing out that as late as the 1980s, the very existence of the Kurds was denied by Turkish state officials, who used to refer to Kurds as “mountain Turks,” the report acknowledges that positive developments began after Turkey's European Union membership negotiations in 1999.

The report also describes Hizmet's position towards the Kurdish problem as a whole, any implementations undertaken by Hizmet to curtail the effects of the problem and the movement's current stance towards the settlement process run by the government. “By recognizing Kurdish identity, the Hizmet movement has taken a progressive attitude by supporting ethno-cultural reforms in both discursive and institutional conduct,” the report states.

Placing the development of the Hizmet movement in Kurdish-populated cities back to the late 1980s, the report, authored by Mustafa Gürbüz, a residential research fellow at Rethink Institute and an expert in Turkish politics and society as well as Kurdish politics, underlines that the first Hizmet institutions were university exam prep centers (dershane) in Diyarbakir and Şanlıurfa in 1988.

The AK Party decided in November 2013 to shut down Turkey's prep schools and passed a bill into law in March 2014. According to the law, prep schools will no longer be able to operate as such after Sept. 1, 2015, and must convert to standard high schools if they wish to remain in operation.

Underlining that efforts by the AK Party government to shut down Hizmet schools in the Southeast have accelerated disenchantment with the peace process among Hizmet participants, the report also states, “As long as the AK Party government negotiates pro-Kurdish rights solely with the PKK, refusing to consult other civil actors including the Hizmet organizations, the movement's constituency may remain skeptical about the peace process.”

Erdoğan has been campaigning for the closure of Turkish schools affiliated with the Hizmet movement, during his visits to countries around the world.

During a recent visit to Ethiopia, he was quoted by the state Anadolu news agency as saying, “In the countries we visit we have been talking about the status of these schools and saying they should be closed down.”

Erdoğan also said he has been telling African authorities that the Turkish Ministry of Education is ready to offer the same service provided by these schools. “The ministry is close to finishing its preparations to that effect,” he said.

Published on Today's Zaman, 16 March 2015, Monday