On November 13, the governing Justice and Development Party released preliminary information on a democratization initiative designed to provide a civil solution to long-standing grievances aired by Turkey's Kurdish minority. At the time of the unveiling, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, described the initiative as a "fresh start" for Turkish-Kurdish relations. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Just over a month later, the government's normalization plan has hit a wall. A Constitutional Court decision December 11 to ban the Democratic Society party (DTP), the country's main pro-Kurdish political force, ignited days of rioting in Istanbul and elsewhere that left at least three people dead.
In the worst episode of violence, a shopkeeper armed with an automatic rifle killed two and wounded seven protesters on December 15 in the southeastern town of Bulanik, Turkish media outlets reported. The gunman opened fire after Kurdish protesters had smashed the store's windows and set his car on fire. The shopkeeper was defying a call by the protesters for stores in the town to remain closed in a show of discontent over the Constitutional Court's decision.
The Court's ruling was based on an assertion that the DTP maintains a close relationship with the PKK, which is recognized in Turkey as a terrorist organization. Such ties, the Court said, undermine "the indivisible unity of the state, the country and the nation." Prime Minister Erdogan quickly denounced the decision. "We think individuals should be punished, not a (party) identity," Erdogan told MPs. DTP officials insist they have no "organic" connection to the PKK.
Over the near term, the ruling to ban the DTP may provoke a constitutional crisis. DTP members of parliament have announced an intention to resign. Such action, however, requires the approval of the entire legislature, and such approval may not be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, some political commentators are voicing concerns about a new round of Kurdish violence. An analysis posted December 16 on the Today's Zaman news website contended that the Court's decision is enhancing the influence of hardliners within the Kurdish nationalist movement.
Other commentators are bracing for developments to get worse before they improve again.
"The bitterness created by three decades of armed conflict is now amplified by tension in big cities in western Turkey between radicalized Kurdish immigrants and nationalist Turks who are fed up with the "Kurdish invasion," wrote Mustafa Akyol in a December 15 commentary published by the Hurriyet Daily News.
"The latest events," Akyol continued, "indicate the dangerous point we have reached: Kurdish youngsters in masks [are] burning cars, storming shops and terrorizing neighborhoods. Inhabitants of those neighborhoods have hit back with knives, axes and even guns."
Jonathan Lewis is a freelance Irish reporter and photographer based in Istanbul.