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Electoral concerns ‘overshadow’ reforms

Panel’s verdict on AK Party’s democratisation efforts in Turkey

Electoral concerns ‘overshadow’ reforms
CEFTUS director İbrahim Doğuş, Professor Bill Park, journalist Eyip Burç, Lord Sheikh Muhammad and BDP Diyarbakır MP Altan Tan

CEFTUS director İbrahim Doğuş, Professor Bill Park, journalist Eyip Burç, Lord Sheikh Muhammad and BDP Diyarbakır MP Altan Tan

THE CENTRE for Turkey Studies hosted a Westminster Debate with Mr. Altan Tan and Mr. Eyup Burç on “Turkey’s Democratisation and Reform Package and Peaceful Solution to the Kurdish question”.

The event’s host, Lord Muhammad Sheikh, underlined Turkey’s leadership role in the region, the Turkish and Kurdish populations’ contributions to the UK, and the enthusiasm of the democratising momentum in Turkey. He culminated his opening remarks by highlighting CEFTUS’s role in building bridges between the UK and Turkey, and providing a platform for neutral discussion of Turkey’s current affairs.


The panel began with Eyup Burç who linked Turkey’s current problems to the borders drawn by the Western powers after the First World War. He contrasted Europe’s liberalising socio-political trajectory, with the continuous ‘othering’ and oppressing socio-political attitudes in the Middle East.

According to Mr. Burç, while the Kurds’ existence has been recognised by the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), this recognition has only manifested itself in the socio – cultural sphere. This, he said continued to be a significant shortcoming of the Democratisation Package.

While recognizing that it was a step in the right direction, Mr. Burç said the problem of educating Kurdish only in private schools went beyond economic discrimination. He observed that the refusal to grant the right to educate Kurdish in public schools was rooted in the government’s refusal to grant Kurds a political identity. He delineated an organic link between education in mother tongue and the right to self-rule. Thus, the Democratisation Package emphasised once again that the AKP government was unwilling to bring the Kurdish identity into the political realm.

Although Mr. Burç was not confident that the electoral system would change at all, he expressed that they could be used as traps to benefit the AKP.

Mr. Burç also observed that although the peace process had been halted, the ceasefire between the Turkish army and the PKK was still in place. Nonetheless, the upcoming local, parliamentary and presidential elections meant that the AKP would focus on gaining victories in elections and thus hesitating to execute radical changes that may threaten its votes.

Burç concluded by saying that “either borders will change or regimes”.

Similar to Mr. Burç, BDP MP for Diyarbakır Altan Tan also began his speech by referring to Turkey’s history. However, Mr. Tan focused on the ethnic and religious pluralism of the Ottoman Empire, and how this pluralism was lost with the formation of the Turkish Republic.

Delegates at the meeting

Delegates at the meeting


Altan Tan stated that as long as democratic rights were not granted to non-Muslims and non-Turks, Turkey could not talk about a pluralist democracy. Thus, added that Turkey needed to reform its singular and exclusivist state ideology.

Mr. Tan criticized the AKP for not making comprehensive reforms, and for not sufficiently eliminating the arrow minded approach of Kemalism.
According to Mr. Tan the negotiations between the government and the Kurdish factions, demand the PKK to realign itself away from Syria, Iran and Hizbullah towards the Western countries. The PKK is also expected to give up armed struggle. Mr. Tan argued that the PKK had largely done its part while the AKP had not sufficiently transformed the state policies towards the Kurds. He reiterated that the AKP was engaged in superficial policies rather than genuine ones.

Agreeing with Mr. Burç, MP Altan Tan claimed that the AKP was pursuing an election policy, where it was avoiding radical reforms in order to sustain its large voters base.


In the question and answer section MP Altan Tan commented on the Democratic Islam Congress. He clarified that this congress would work on establishing the Kurds’ ethnic rights according to Islamic law.

Mr. Tan named the Kurds as the most pious and conservative community in the Middle East, however said this contrasted with the Kurdish political movements which were more leftist and secular. He added that the congress would provide a platform for Kurdish politics that takes into consideration the religious beliefs of the Kurds.

Mr. Tan also answered questions about the Gezi Protests by distinguishing between two types of demands expressed throughout the protests. He conveyed his support for those demanding a new and more democratic Turkey, while clearly opposing any demands for returning to the old exclusivist Turkey.


Meanwhile Eyüp Burç made remarks regarding the release of Abdullah Ocalan. He stated that Ocalan’s freedom demands were not necessarily about being released from prison, however about being able to meet and consult socio-political figures. According to Mr. Burç, Ocalan would like to consult other important figures in Kurdish political circles, in order to be able to make decisions that reflected the demands and realities of the Kurdish population.


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