by Zeynep N. Kaya and Matthew Whiting
Recently a group of politicians and commentators from Turkey visited Northern Ireland to learn about its peace process and explore any lessons this might hold for the ongoing fragile negotiations between the Turkish government and the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan. The visitors met with former rebels-turned-politicians from Sinn Féin as well as senior British and Irish political figures, in a trip that was endorsed by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayip Erdogan.
But not all politicians in Turkey were happy with the direction of the peace negotiations – the leader of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kermal Kılıçdaroğlu, has claimed in the past that Britain’s actions in Northern Ireland were of a fundamentally different nature and cannot serve as a model for Turkey. Today, he is more supportive of entering negotiations with Öcalan, but he is critical of the government for entering negotiations without working through cross-party parliamentary structures. Therefore, it is prescient to ask if the Northern Irish model has any lessons for Turkish officials to achieve peace?
It is easy to see why Northern Ireland has become a tempting model to look to. The IRA and their political wing, Sinn Féin (literally translated as ‘We Ourselves’), emerged in Northern Ireland in 1969 and fought to unify Ireland in a 30-year ethno-nationalist war against the British army attempting to quell the rebellion along with British loyalists fighting to remain part of the United Kingdom. Yet, what was seen as one of the most intractable conflicts in post-World War II Europe was brought to a negotiated end in 1998 through the Belfast Agreement, which established a power-sharing settlement between the local adversaries. Given Turkey’s own ethno-national insurgency led by the PKK since 1984, an organisation geographically concentrated in the southeast of the country, the appeal of the Northern Irish model is strong, especially when it is noted that the conflict there was resolved while still retaining it as part of the United Kingdom for the immediate future.