A peace That Wasn’t

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Dear WORKSHOP Participants

This is a project I have been working on for awhile now. There are several moving parts here:

  1. I am trying to develop a concept: (RE) ENTRENCHMENT to indicate fluidity in seemingly firm positions, and eliminate analytical normativities such as democracy, peace etc… I think theoretical home for this concept is Contentious Politics, but you be the judge of it and also help me to locate it there.

  2. I am trying to indicate that (ensuing) violence is not so much intentional but a by-product of the conflict within the power bloc (with the former ally). Am I convincing? What other evidence you might like to see?

  3. Is the regime shift clear? What other evidence you would like to see

  4. And of course biggest question here, how can I fulfill all these ambitions given the limits of 7000 words!!

Thank you for reading and please please do NOT CITE or circulate.

Looking forward to your comments, suggestions (and also any editorial inputs)


A Peace That Was Not:

Contentious Re-entrenchment of Kurdish Politics in Turkey and Specter of A Former Ally1.


Since its inception in 1923, violence has always been an innate aspect of the Turkish Republic’s relationship with the Kurdish speaking minority residing within its borders2. The Turkish state has always designated the conflict as a matter of security against terrorism which is to be handled via coercive measures; yet, as with any other forms of collective violence, this conflict also needs to be contextualized within broader repertoires of action including non-violent and routine forms of politics. This essay focuses on the negotiations of 2011-15 to understand the multifaceted underpinnings of the political violence that disrupted an ongoing resolution/peace effort that was initiated by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and affirmed by Kurdish political leaders, as well as Kurdish and some Turkish-left publics since roughly 2009. The AKP called these efforts a “resolution process” which was perceived as a “peace process” by the Kurdish public and the progressives of Turkey. As it became evident during the negotiations, the AKP’s aim was disarmament of the rebels, whereas their interlocutors constantly demanded legislative enactments and legal guarantees for Kurdish fighters and political leaders. None came to fruition when the negotiations collapsed in 2015 as publicly declared by the AKP leader Erdoğan and violent clashes were resumed. In his public declaration to end the negotiations Erdoğan clearly stated the end of the resolution process as a beginning of a new regime: “As far as I am concerned the Resolution Process is in the freezer. Yet, as of now the National Unity and Brotherhood Project is active on the agenda and we are willing to walk with those who are here to support us.3” This statement signaled a new era of re-entrenchment of the Turkish state’s Kurdish politics, as well as indicating a breaking point within the power bloc of the AKP regime.

Forms of violence, such as a massive imprisonment of elected local politicians and mayors (referred to as KCK arrests); violent attacks on Kurdish civilians crossing borders (such as the Roboski attack of 2011), or the construction of nearly two hundred high-security gendarmerie fortress stations (Kalekols) along the Kurdish borders, were constant throughout this process. Yet often they are said to be, as evidenced in this essay, initiated by cadres of a former ally of the AKP which was utilizing and manipulating the state’s means of violence to undercut the ongoing negotiations. Consequently, this essay argues that with the collapse of this process, the Turkish state’s policy regarding the “Kurdish Question” as a vital security issue (rather than a democratic dialog) was restored, yet a new regime of violence was established, resolutely excluding former allies from new domestic and regional opportunities and at the same time impediments for all the parties involved. It was a shift from a security-oriented coercive regime to a security-oriented yet a regime of seeking fraternity with Kurds based on religion. This study refers to these regimes as (re)-entrenchments; i.e. institutionalized policies and discursive strategies that are seemingly fixed, yet dynamic and fluid due to their transgressive qualities. Given the inadvertent consequences of contentions, agents of social change are (re-)entrenched in positions of their own making, but not necessarily their own choosing.

Contentious Politics and Entrenchment – A Theoretical Framework

The contentious politics perspective posits political violence as a social relationship and form of political contention generated by the properties of political regimes themselves.4 According to this perspective, an eruption of violence cannot be reduced solely to beliefs, intentions, ideas and attitudes of some actors. Polarization and radicalization of any political conflict is always dynamic, multifaceted, open-ended and subject to contingencies of interactions among actors and processes. The ways in which peace or any form of end-to-violence become unattainable can best be discussed through a contentious politics perspective because according to this perspective, social and political outcomes are not pre-designed entities but rather contingent products of relational mechanisms.5 This theoretical framework does not bracket violence for normative purposes, as it treats both state and non-state actors as valid agencies whether they are recognized as legitimate or not by power holders of all sorts. The outcomes are always contingent concatenations in time and space and the researcher's task is to identify the properties of the mechanisms or processes in their dynamics and fluidity6.

In explaining this political dynamism and fluidity, this study suggests that entrenchment can become a more expedient conceptualization of the process than other normative concepts utilized by the actors themselves. Repeatedly used concepts such as peace, resolution (or even democracy) are normative designations that often have different meanings to different actors and agents who have diverse stakes in pursuing such goals. Hence they are categories of practice that end up having little or no analytical value. Similarly, actors operate with such concepts that ostensibly have essential and universal qualities. The analytic utility of such concepts is close to none when what is often situational and historical is being reinforced and reified in theory. Furthermore, entrenchment can account for the relational quality of mechanisms that operate as concatenations to produce outcomes often different than the original goals and purposes of all actors and agencies involved. More importantly, as entrenchment is often used to describe acts of fixing and freezing, such acts inherently contain elements of erosion because they do not happen in isolation but take place in relational setting. In other words, entrenchment is always a moment of contentious engagement, an interplay seemingly fixed and steady yet more fluid and dynamic due to its transgressive qualities. In military terminology, when one party digs or occupies a trench, such defensive fortification is at the same time infringing/encroaching/ trespassing on someone else’s territory.
This essay develops the concept of (re-) entrenchment of Turkish state policies vis a vis Kurdish mobilizations to show that the peace/resolution process of 2009-2015 did not produce any results intended by any of the parties involved but re-configured the terms of violence from a security-coercive paradigm to a security-fraternity paradigm. What is depicted as peace by some and resolution by others evolved into a re-entrenchment of the Kurdish politics of the Turkish state. The official policy of Turkish state power against the Kurdish minority was always entrenched in coercive measures that considered any form of Kurdish political expression or autonomy an existential threat to its security. This study argues that this security-coercive entrenchment has changed into a new paradigm, i.e. security-fraternity (seeking with the Kurds) entrenchment.

This re-entrenchment has certain patterns of continuity and also indicates change. This change can partially be explained by the imminent presence of a narrative or specter of the former ally over the peace/resolution talks. The specter of the former ally, the Cemaat looming over the negotiations seems to play a substantial role in this policy shift. While all parties were firmly entrenched in their positions, their simultaneous transgressions during this process led to an originally unintended re-entrenchment, which can partially be explained by the constant narrative about the challenge the Cemaat was said to be posing against peace and democracy in Turkey.

Friends, Foes and Kurdish Politics: AKP and Cemaat

As revealed by the notes of official meetings7 between A. Öcalan, the captive leader of the Kurdish armed struggle and the Kurdish parliamentarians, the specter8 of the former ally Cemaat as a threat to the prospect of an AKP regime was looming large throughout this resolution/peace process. It is hard to tell whether Kurdish politics was a breaking point between the former allies or it was simply instrumentalized during their conflict to increase their shares of power, but this conflict was clearly presented as an existential issue for the survival of the dialogue and negotiations, long before the public was made aware of it. The former ally, namely“Hizmet” [Service] as it is called by its members and Cemaat [Congregation] by outsiders, is a Sunni-religious social solidarity network, also known as the Gülen movement (centered around a self-exiled cleric, F. Gülen, residing in the US since 1999), which played or is said to have played a significant role during this process that inadvertently brought about the shifting of the regime’s policy towards Kurds, or in the re-entrenchment of the Kurdish politics of the Turkish state. This study gives an account of this narrative that attaches the responsibility of violent interventions during the peace/resolution negotiations to the former ally of the AKP regime.

The AKP, an Islamist conservative party with staunch neo-liberal aspirations, was created in 2001, came to power in 2002, and has held a majority of the seats in the Turkish parliament for more than a decade. The Gülen Movement was its steadfast ally in targeting the traditional laicist9 establishment and the tutelage regime of the Turkish military.10 Although formed through different religious affiliations, it is hard to deny that the AKP rose to power in Turkey with the massive intellectual, logistic and grassroots support of the Cemaat since their beginnings as natural allies.11 This power bloc planned and built a firm reorganization of state power, mainly targeting the military, instituted as the guardian of the then-existing regime since the establishment of a republic in the country in 1923. Such targeting of the old guard, especially the military, caused many left-liberal segments of the Turkish intelligentsia to provide tacit and critical support to the rise of AKP power,12 effectively creating polarized positions within the left opposition. However, cracks began to emerge within the power bloc constituted by AKP and the Cemaat soon after the massive arrests and convictions between 2007 and 2013 of members of military, bureaucracy and media who were said to be old-guard ultra-nationalists with coup aspirations against AKP rule.13 As their common enemy, the old guard, was successfully marginalized by the AKP regime, the power alliance soon soured and turned into a brutal conflict that led to an abortive coup attempt of July 2016. The public was made aware of this deep factionalism and brewing conflict only around December 2013, and since the July putsch the crack between the former allies has become a cavernous regime issue in Turkey.

Ostensibly extraneous to this factionalism within the power bloc, since 2009 there was some hope amongst the Turkish and Kurdish publics, and anticipation among the politicians left and right, that the AKP regime was willing to broker some sort of peace and/or resolution with the armed Kurdish guerrilla group Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê, PKK) to end a violent conflict that has been going on for more than three decades. Clearly, different segments of the state and society had different expectations, as nationalists left and right constantly attacked these ongoing negotiations. In June 2015, when Erdoğan announced the end of the “resolution process,” he was reacting to his party’s loss of its absolute majority in the parliament during the national elections with the advance of a pro-Kurdish progressive party, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). This party was admittedly a product of the peace/resolution process. As the negotiations halted not many people were yet aware of the specter of the former ally over that process, but any development undercutting Erdoğan’s own power, including the emergence of a peace-oriented Kurdish political party, was presented as the insidious acts of his former ally against Erdoğan himself.

The AKP regime had set out to broker an end-of-violence state of affairs with the PKK around 2009, under the disapproving gaze of the nationalist old-guard. While political alignments may shift very fast in Turkey, it can be said that the AKP regime had also gained tacit yet highly significant support from Kurdish segments of the society given its public expressions and actual attempt to broker some sort of resolution that would end the armed conflict that claimed more than 40,000 lives since the 1980s. Looking at the elections data sheets, it can comfortably be claimed that the religious, traditional Sunni Kurds were already overwhelmingly supporting the AKP.14 The prospects of any form of recognition and end to violent clashes could easily win the support of remaining Kurdish populations, as well as provide firm regional control of the Kurdish mobilizations in the region across the borders of Iraq, Syria and Iran.

The AKP took a series of administrative actions to take over the affairs of the PKK from the Turkish military. Starting in 2009, government officials announced the “National Unity and Brotherhood Project” to resolve the ethnic strife in the country, with “brotherhood” or “fraternity” implying the unity of Muslims rather than union of citizens. The following year, a law was enacted to create an undersecretary of Public Order and Security that reorganized the relationship between the military and civilian administration with respect to terror related issues.15 As a response, the PKK renewed its truce declarations in 2009 and 2011.16 The government allowed the imprisoned PKK leader Öcalan to address Kurds during the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Newroz celebrations, a national holiday for Kurds and other cultures that had been criminalized in Turkey for decades. In return, Öcalan reiterated his call to PKK to leave the territory of Turkey in 2013. There was peace in the air; a peace that never was.

This study surveys the discussions on Cemaat and/or the Parallel State (as the Gülen network was later described by the Turkish government) during the twenty-two mostly monthly meetings between February 23, 2013 and March 14, 2015 at the İmralı Prison, because the ultimate center of these resolution/peace processes was the negotiations with Öcalan who has been kept there since his arrest and conviction in 1999. As a captive interlocutor, he was in close contact with the Turkish Intelligence agency and was allowed to conduct meetings with the leaders of the Kurdish political party BDP [Peace and Democracy Party, later became DBP, Party of Democratic Regions], which thereby eventually established the foundations of the HDP.17 While we do not have access to Öcalan’s negotiations with the government officials, the release of the minutes of meetings with Kurdish leaders has become very informative documentation of domestic and regional political stakes. During these meetings evidently more pressing issues were thoroughly and strategically discussed, mostly around the musings of Öcalan himself. Issues, such as legal protection and guarantees for PKK fighters; dynamics in the Middle East, Syrian crises, and Rojava; local/municipal administration; and questions of women’s emancipation were overwhelmingly the main topics of consultations. The discussions of a “parallel state” formation implying and openly stating that Cemaat was an obstacle for peace and a challenge to the AKP administration also emerges as a recurrent topic of discussion among the parties.18

Cemaat Interference in the Peace Process. As narrated by Öcalan

The first apparent sign of conflict between the AKP regime and Cemaat was the leaking of the secret Oslo negotiations between the Turkish government, namely the intelligence community, and the Kurdish insurgency in June 2011.19 Later, when the prosecutors of the Ergenekon trials summoned Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organization [MIT] for an interrogation in 2012, this investigation was understood as a Cemaat attack, but not much debated publicly.20 The public was never fully informed about the crack until December 2013, when a series of recorded tapes revealing vast corruption and money laundering activities of members of the AKP rule were introduced to the newspapers. It was only then that prime minister Erdoğan started publicly accusing Cemaat as his enemy with his now famous statement: “We gave you everything you asked for. What else do you want?”21 It was only in early 2014 that Erdoğan started publicly referring to Cemaat as the Parallel state, and he began to vilify this community as his enemy number one after July 15, 2016 coup attempt.

It is interesting that long before the Turkish public was aware of the conflict within the ruling party, according to the Imrali minutes, Öcalan was already warning his collaborators about the dangers Cemaat was posing to the welfare of the Turkish democracy and the possibility of a peaceful resolution with the Kurds. Obviously, Cemaat, or the Parallel State as it is only later known popularly, was not Öcalan’s main concern; evidently that was political voice and legal stipulations to secure guarantees for returning PKK fighters. However, as the minutes clearly indicate, his close encounters with the intelligence officers of the Turkish state were urging him to understand and express to his Kurdish bargaining team that a resolution of the armed conflict with Kurds would prevent a possible plot from the Parallel State to destroy the Turkish state and the AKP government. In addition to being a designated interlocutor and unquestionable leader of the Kurdish mobilization, quite often Öcalan presented himself as the only hope of the Turkish state and the AKP government (he was always meticulous in differentiating these two) to prevent a possible coup coming from the formations of the “Parallel State” against democratically elected government. Whether such statements were simple self-augmentations or actually revealing the cracks among the regime partners, delineating their distinctions within the polity is a question that calls for a close reading of the minutes of the İmralı negotiations.

As early as 2010, Öcalan already reckons with Cemaat as a significant force not only in Turkey, but also in the region:

“Both they (Cemaat) and us are significant actors in Turkey and in the Middle East… I do not consider them as a religious community but as a civil society organization and even functioning as a political party. They can play an important role in the democratization and the enlightenment of the society… We are the two dynamic powers here. With mutual acknowledgement and solidarity we can solve a number of fundamental problems in Turkey”22

During negotiations that started in 2013, in the early apparitions of the narrative of the Parallel State, it is not very clear what exactly Öcalan means by the term, as for example when he suggests: “[t]here are three different parallel state formations in Turkey, all three of them have originated from the Anatolian countryside... CHP (the left nationalist party created by the founders of the Republic) and MHP (right nationalist party) are direct reflections of such penetration. So is AKP.” Yet immediately afterwards, he refers to a Parallel State that had “penetrated into and taken over all government agencies except the MIT.”23 During the same first meeting, he warns the BDP officials that a coup-ist mentality will attempt to sabotage the ongoing peace process. He is adamant that the coup mentality of the yesteryears had changed its quality but is still an ongoing challenge against the AKP rule. It is obviously hard to detect Cemaat as the Parallel State that was conspiring a coup against the AKP from such statements. What is clear is that Öcalan was indicating that there were forces within the Turkish state that were working against the AKP’s decision to broker a settlement with the PKK and the Kurdish mobilization.

He even compares his captivity with the self-exile of Cemaat’s leader in the US when he states: “the Cemaat‘s center is USA and I think Gülen is a fool. As I was imprisoned here, at the same time, Gülen was placed in the USA,”24and also “I was brought here [to Turkey and in jail] so that Kurds could be captured and tamed. Soon Gülen was taken to Pennsylvania to do the same to Turk-Islam movement. Consequently, these are all two different operations with the same goal. Is it clear to all [of you]?”25

Later on in June 2013, during an exchange with Selahattin Demirtaş who was then the co-chair of the BDP, Öcalan expresses that a peace with Kurds is not desirable by some folks who are close to the US and positioned within the AKP government:

Öcalan:“Inside of AKP and the inner circle of the prime minister is full of these people. All of them are of that thing in Washington. They want a fake peace by taking us into armed conflict.”

Demirtaş: “do you mean they are doing this in collaboration with the Cemaat?”

Öcalan: “most certainly”26

During this July meeting Öcalan offers a historical clarification on the Parallel State27 which he was convinced was being infiltrated by the AKP’s power ally, Cemaat, as a force constantly working against peace with Kurds: “Within the military there were segments that were seeking to resolve the issue with us. They were liquidated during Ergenekon [arrests and trials] …the US did this. Then they did the same thing with the KCK operations28. All of these were done by the hands of the Cemaat prosecutors and judges.”29 Öcalan at this point steadfastly identifies Cemaat, with its vast infiltration within the judiciary system, as the sole threat to the AKP’s prospects in the peace process. He refers to the Ergenekon Operation, and KCK operations, as Cemaat’s attempt to reorganize state power and hinder the peace process.

The meetings with the Kurdish politicians were almost monthly, and a month later in July 2013 Öcalan identifies the competition between the AKP and Cemaat over the hearts and minds of the Kurdish population:

“They have been busy creating AKP-type Kurds, now they have started creating Cemaat-type Kurds. They want us Kurds to kill, slaughter each other30

By August of the same year, he is even less restricted in his denouncements of Cemaat as the main challenge to the peace negotiations: “There are Cemaat people who are effective in Chicago, Utah, and Brussels. They have financial operations. Their financial operations, terror lists, all operate from that same center. They wanted to obstruct this process the way they did in Oslo. I have been patient all this time… They are in a race to grab power. They bring this to the Prime Minister [Erdoğan] : when elimination is possible why do you continue negotiating?”31
He repeatedly suggests that opposing powers within the state organizations, i.e. the parallel state, try to turn Erdoğan into Mursi, the jailed leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who won the first democratic election following the Tahrir uprising in Egypt.32 While Öcalan is resolute that “[t]he Parallel State intervenes and destroys [all our attempts for peace],”33 he also complains that the “[AKP] is deceived by the Parallel State’s suggestions to eliminate [PKK], they assume that we are helpless.”34
June and July negotiations took place as Gezi protests were shaking the country and the center of the mobilization was brutally suppressed in Istanbul. The BDP’s possible collaboration and forging of alliances with Turkish protestors and progressives became a highly controversial public debate in the Turkish media and during the negotiations in İmralı. Consequently a new political party, the HDP, which would pursue the parliamentary prerequisites of the Peace Process and embrace the progressive segments of the Turkish population, was decided to be formed during the successive meetings in İmralı. Almost all of the members of the negotiation team at İmralı, who were members of BDP, became officers of the new party, effectively collaborating with the non-nationalist Turkish left.35
It needs to be noted that by August 2013, Öcalan was frustrated because the AKP government domestically was clearly reluctant to deliver the legal guarantees he had been demanding, and regionally inclining towards positions that were against the interests of the Kurds in Rojava, Syria. While these two issues are undisputedly more serious concerns of Kurdish politics, Öcalan was beginning to realize that his position was being manipulated by the AKP regime. On several occasions he declares that he was not merely “an instrument” in the hands of the government and his leadership was supposed to be a strategic one and not to be a matter of manipulation36 . His leadership, he declares, is the only rational, strategic move to end the armed conflict and create a peaceful resolution as affirming AKP’s own power against all other forces that are challenging this democratically elected party. He states, “[if I was instrumental] I only did that so young people would not die. But from now on, my role is going to be a strategic one, which is at least the same as being a prime minister, president, or chief of staff.”37 He considers his role essential and critical for bringing peace while eliminating the impact of Cemaat infiltration within the government and state structures. He thus establishes a close relationship between Cemaat and the possibility of ending armed conflict. By that time, the publics in Turkey were focused on and invested in the resolution process and still not informed or discussing such tension within the governing power.
By the September 2013 meeting, Öcalan is manifestly aware that the AKP government’s intention is not to share power or re-organize/reform state as equal partners with the PKK. He states that he is fed up with years of dialogue and what needs to be seen is action in the form of reforming legislation.38 He states “we manage to eliminate violence, but now we need fill up the legal voids.”39 He resolutely reiterates that Cemaat is the force working against stopping the violence:

“The Cemaat is the one that operates the Parallel State; they are forcing [us] towards the inevitability of violence.”40

He defines the Parallel state as the one formation within the state that interjects violence on to negotiations by hollowing out the essence of the process and he therefore gives a warning to the government official present in the meetings:

“Respectfully officer, please take note, this is very important: Hereby we have documented and prove what I have been saying all along. If you cannot prevent such tricks/games [the false pretenses through which KCK and BDP people were arrested by the Cemaat/special forces], you cannot stop the parallel state. Then how shall we continue with this (peace/resolution) process?... If Fetullah Hodja has said those things, that means that they have already taken over the state. They can reach all the way here, any minute now. They have the US, what do we have? End this Parallel state and we shall bring down the guerrillas. While they are still there, what can we achieve.” 41

During the October meeting, he specifies that Cemaat is a horrifying organization whose actions can be followed by focusing on certain cities,42 reading certain newspapers,43 and observing the actions of some high-level security officials, especially in Kurdish cities.44 He convincingly states that the operations against Kurdish civilian political organizations, KCKs, were not carried out by the Turkish Intelligence Organization [MIT] but by Cemaat. In statements like this Öcalan occasionally implies that, as part of the negotiations, he is in close contacts with the head of the MIT who is his negotiating partner in the process.45 He points to the “difference between the Parallel State and the official government,” suggesting that many atrocities against Kurdish activists and civilians were actually committed by Cemaat: “Ooh how I wish I could have written a book on this. Parallel state is a secret phenomenon. For example, the killing of Sakine [in Paris], the murder of Savaş Buldan, village evacuations, the market fire at Cizre, these recent operations [against KCKs] … They might have infiltrated into PKK too, yet it is getting less and less.”46

He identifies three actors that are in the negotiation process; the AKP administration, the Parallel State and the KCKs, and urges the AKP to be clear in choosing its partner, one seeking violence and the other seeking peace.47 According to Öcalan, as had been a pattern in politics in Turkey, there was a pending coup against the AKP. He suggests “there is a battle between a Fethullah-oriented [Cemaat] coup and a Kemalist-oriented [ultra-nationalist old guard] coup48.

While Turkish media continued focusing on the (im)possibility of a peace or a resolution, during the November meeting Öcalan warns the parties regarding an imminent coup against the AKP. According to him, Erdoğan’s government was strategically mistaken in its policies both regionally (Syria, supporting Jihadists and not Kurds) and domestically (submitting the violence-seeking demands of the Cemaat, rather than fulfilling his demands for a reformed legislation to end violence).49

Almost 10 days before the Cemaat-AKP tension came out in public, the İmralı negotiators met again on December 7, 2013, during which they identify this particular tension as the most important topic of the week. However, it is not addressed by the participants as they are more focused on the creation of the HDP and its participatory role in the peace process. Öcalan affirms that the AKP and Kurdish politics have to “establish a common-ground against the Parallel state”50 otherwise no one, including the PKK, can control the ensuing chaos at home and in the region. He reveals that he indicated these prospect to Hakan Fidan, the head of intelligence who had been closely involved in the process of negotiations. Similarly, as the discussions of Cemaat were then widely occurring in the media, during their January 2014 meeting the team does not include this topic in their agenda. As in the previous meeting, they are mainly concerned about the prospects of the HDP which was now understood as a legitimate and effective counterpart of the political negotiations.

As the HDP becomes a critical political actor, during the February 2014 meeting they report to Öcalan that the head of the Intelligence Service, Fidan, had told them that assassinations against PKK leadership (in Paris) and Kurdish civilians (in Roboski) during the negotiations were carried out by Cemaat and the nationalists that had already infiltrated the state structures.51 However, the parties are not convinced that the intelligence community was uninvolved or forthcoming about these incidents. Öcalan refers to the direct involvement of a member of one of the right-wing ultra-nationalist parties with the assassinations in Paris, directly implicating Cemaat.52 The partnership negotiated between the intelligence service and Kurdish politicians was at this point not a matter of trust, but mutual suspicion.

On March 9, 2014, Öcalan proclaims that Kurdish politics had failed to distance Erdoğan from the Cemaat;

“I told him that there is a dynamic motion towards a coup, use caution, protect yourself, there is a big game here. History has proven me correct. That coup was prevented by this table here. Now, they fully seized the Prime Minister, attaching him [to their own interests]. They most recently wanted the directorship of the intelligence community and the Kurdistan Office. They wanted to fully capture and control the state. They were already controlling the judiciary, police, soccer clubs. Why and how this happened? Because the MIT was the team that was carrying on negotiations with us for the last five years. If they [the Cemaat] had been successful, if the Hodja [Gülen] landed down to Ankara like Khomeini did, there was going to be a dark fascism just like in Iran, finishing off all the opposition, as in Iran.53

In the April 2014 meeting Öcalan is exasperated over a release of some recordings of himself during conversations with other inmates; “what is this now? Is this the Cemaat, or the other deep state? I cannot tell the difference anymore... I don’t think the Prime Minister [Erdoğan] or Mr Fidan are capable of protecting themselves either; they are being recorded as well.”54 By then, the fact of fragmented and competing power blocs within the Turkish state posing challenges to the AKP administration seemed to be established as a common concern of all parties involved in negotiations.

During an undated meeting between April 26, 2014 and June 26, 2014 (most likely sometime in May of the same year) Öcalan one more time identifies Cemaat as the promoter of the violence:

“The Cemaat of Gülen always wanted to pull us into war. Each KCK arrest was a call for war. They were calls inviting PKK to a horrible war. [Their journalists, such as] Emre Uslu always did the same. They all did this. If we cannot identify and resolve those who pull both parties blindly into a war, we can never be successful. Now we are witnessing a new parallel formation... A new parallel formation is being organized.55

During the last meeting at İmralı Prison on March 14, 2015, Öcalan, in his characteristically self-promoting manner, elucidates his role and the AKP’s close connections with Cemaat:

“If we follow the AKP’s lead, the ensuing developments would destroy the AKP. When we started talking about the Cemaat here, when the Cemaat was counting its days for a coup, I had said that I took them very seriously. When there was no word of things like the parallel formations, I had mentioned it here. Those were the days when Erdoğan was best friends forever with the Cemaat. ... Those were the days when the AKP was not allowing anyone to speak ill of its ally. That was why I was pushing. Because these were not only organized within the police; they control ten percent of the military... My guess is that the organized force within the military is covering itself up very well. Such powers are actively operating and they are going to use this force. I made the same point when I was meeting with the government officials here. The AKP was in alliance with them for ten years. They are the ones who did the KCK arrests and other such things.”56

He again positions himself as the AKP’s only hope against a coup and warns others: “Selahattin [Demirtaş] and the HDP cannot be instruments of the Cemaat. We are not subjective agents or Gülen’s men, we shall not be instrumentalized by them.”57

Conclusion: Re-Entrenchment

These four hundred seventy-eight pages of minutes of the meetings between Öcalan and the Kurdish politicians in two years reveal the specter of Cemaat over the peace/resolution process. Certainly, it is impossible to know for sure if this concept of Cemaat was being utilized as a bargaining chip while peace was negotiated or if it was an authentic and integral part of the re-entrenchment within the power blocs of the Turkish state. What is clear is that long before the public vilification of Cemaat by the AKP administration, Kurdish leadership and Kurdish publics themselves were fully aware of the threat it was posing to the peace process. This was most evident in the Roboski attack on innocent civilians in December 2011,58 in the aftermath of the assassination of the co-founders of the PKK in Paris in January 2013,59 and particularly in the recurrent arrests of civilian Kurdish politicians as PKK – collaborators.60 Most certainly, all of these incidents are the direct responsibility of Turkish state. However, the governing party, the AKP, later claimed that these atrocities were committed by a parallel state which had infiltrated government structures, and the İmralı minutes attest to that point. Whether or not Cemaat was the stick to the AKP’s carrot at the time of the peace negotiations, the specter of Cemaat pointed to the omnipresence of state violence during peace talks.

The reason why Kurdish politicians were already alert and vigilant about Cemaat’s role may also have to do with the fact that while the rest of Turkish society experienced this religious community as a civil society organization and its leaders as legitimate government allies, Kurds were already experiencing its presence within the security forces as a source of violence. Cemaat already had a well-established anti-Kurd and anti-PKK attitude since 1980s.61 This was becoming more clear with the KCK operations since 2009 and local populations’ distrust of certain security chiefs in the region. In addition, its attempts to organize civil society organizations competing with those that are sympathetic with PKK, or at least with Kurdish autonomous politics, was part of a well-known, well-recognized element of the Turkish state’s traditional policies in the region. In that sense, it is not surprising that Kurdish politicians were already alert about Cemaat, long before the Turkish public.

As it became evident to Kurdish politicians during the İmralı meetings a couple of months into the negotiations, the AKP’s goal was not necessarily achieving a state of peace but merely finding a resolution towards the disarmament of the PKK. While insisting on legal reforms, Kurdish politicians were at least trying to establish a state of non-violence. Such negotiations exposed an even greater crack within the Turkish state. In the process, the AKP lost its most reliable ally, and Kurdish and Turkish populations in Turkey missed their opportunity for a peaceful co-existence. Following the regime established in the aftermath of the 2016 putsch, in addition to Öcalan and other captive PKK and KCK civilians, many HDP leaders including Demirtaş are in jail following an aborted coup that was said to have been organized by Cemaat, the former ally and later enemy number one of the AKP. Violence ensued within and outside the borders of the Turkish Republic, as any likelihood of peace or at least non-violence has disappeared for a very long time since all armed actors are heavily involved with and invested in the regional wars in Syria and Iraq.

When AKP government had officially launched the “National Unity and Brotherhood Project” in 2009, they were specific not calling it a project of unity based on equal citizenship. Brotherhood implied a union based on common religious affinities of Sunni Kurds and Turks. This unavoidably entailed a competition (and maybe a breaking-point) with Cemaat for the hearts and minds of Kurdish speaking populations. According to the narrative of Öcalan and other Kurdish political leaders, Cemaat was already networking in the region to compete with PKK’s appeal over the Kurdish population, creating an untenable situation for AKP to manage a disarmament resolution while being challenged on several fronts. In that sense, the (re-) entrenchment involved not only regime’s policy regarding the Kurds but also its apparent need to eliminate the former ally.

While violence was resumed, a new regime of Kurdish politics was established by the Turkish state. The former security-coercion regime was a policy of fortifying the state’s position through security measures that undermined the rights, demands, claims of Kurdish speaking populations through coercive measures. Since its inception, the Turkish Republic’s policies and discourses were based on such coercive infringements that gave priority to state’s control in the region using means of coercion without explicit recognition of the Kurdish minority while using some implicit deals and bargaining to incorporate local chiefdoms. In that regime violence was diffused and constant.

The peace/resolution process resulted in a re-entrenchment of that policy; a security-fraternity regime which is not exclusionary but inclusionary based on a particular pattern of Muslim unity, as proclaimed by Erdoğan when he was cancelling away the peace/resolution talks. This re-entrenchment is a product of highly contingent and open ended process that produced consequences that was not intended by any participating parties. The priority is still about the state’s capacity and ability to control the Kurdish population, but now recognition of the Kurdish minority is at a point of no-return given the legitimacy of the negotiations among the explicitly consenting parties including members of intelligence community and the government officials. As it was revealed during the negotiations, there was a competition for the hearts and minds of the Kurdish public not only between the Kurdish leaders and the AKP, but also between the AKP and the Cemaat. While violence is still inherently present in this regime, it may not be inherently diffused and constant. In other words, while AKP regime still pursues certain patterns of the old regime, it has opportunities to pursue policies, such as providing provisions of consumerist modernity to appease Kurdish publics62.
In that sense this re-entrenchment has certain patterns of continuity and also indicates change. The continuity is clearly that Kurdish politics is still a vital matter of security for the Turkish state. However, as revealed in the Imrali notes, more than three decades of armed conflict and emergence of a robust and vocal Kurdish political representation had unmistakably become an item of contention and competition among the new ruling power bloc. The former allies, as they were competing to replace the old guard, were also challenging each other’s influence over the Kurdish-speaking population who are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims. Consequently, denying a Kurdish presence, an authoritarian measure adopted by the Turkish military guided principle since 1923, has already become an untenable policy. Since the collapse of the peace/resolution talks, the AKP regime or any subsequent power is bound to develop some sort of forbearance that seeks approval of the Kurdish publics. Such re-entrenchment is the unintended consequence of the peace/resolution process of 2009-2015, which was not only a negotiation between the Turkish state and the Kurdish mobilization, but also a controversy within the power bloc.


Aras, R. (2014) “The State Sovereignty and Politics of Fear: Ethnography of Political Violence” in Kurdish Question in Turkey: New Perspectives on Violence, Repression and Reconciliation, ed by Gunes and Zeydanoglu, Routledge, 2014;

Bozaraslan, H. (2000) “Why the Armed Struggle? Understanding Violence in Kurdistan of Turkey” in The Kurdish Conflict in Turkey: Obstacles and Chances for Peace and Democracy, St Martin’s Press,

R. Cakir and S. Sakallioglu (2014) 100 Soruda Erdoğan-Gülen Savaşı [Erdoğan-Gülen Battle in 100 Questions], Metis Publications.

Demiralp, S. (2016) “The “New Turkey”? Urban Renewal and Beyond” Sociology of Islam, 4 :3. Pp. 215-235

Ersoy, D. and Üstüner, F. (2016) “Liberal Intellectuals” narration of Justice and Democracy Party in Turkey” Turkish Studies Journal Vol. 17, Issue 3.

Gunay, O. (2013) “Towards a Critique of Non-Violence” Dialectical Anthropology.37:1.

McAdam, D. Tarrow, S. and C. Tilly (2001) Dynamics of Contention, Cambridge University Press;

Ocalan, A. (2015) “Demokratik Kurtulus ve Ozgur Yasami Insa: İmralı Notlari” [Democratic Emancipation and Construction of Freedom: Notes from İmralı], Mesopotamien verlag und Vertriebs GmbH

Tilly C. and Tarrow S. (2007) Contentious Politics, Paradigm Publishers

Tilly, C. (2003) The Politics of Collective Violence, Cambridge University Press.

1 I am grateful to G.I., I. D. and M. T-P for their help in research and editing.

2 On Kurdish Mobilization and Violence following works can be a good starting point: Aras, R. “The State Sovereignty and Politics of Fear: Ethnography of Political Violence” in Kurdish Question in Turkey: New Perspectives on Violence, Repression and Reconciliation, ed by Gunes and Zeydanoglu, Routledge, 2014; Bozaraslan, H. “Why the Armed Struggle? Understanding Violence in Kurdistan of Turkey” in The Kurdish Conflict in Turkey: Obstacles and Chances for Peace and Democracy, St Martin’s Press, 2000; Gunay, O. “Towards a Critique of Non-Violence” Dialectical Anthropology.37:1, 2013.

3 http://aa.com.tr/tr/turkiye/buraya-gelip-yaptiklarinin-hesabiniverecekler/17220?amp=1

4 C. Tilly (2003) The Politics of Collective Violence, Cambridge University Press.

5 So much so that, for example mechanisms and processes that produce democracy or peace are very similar to those that produce authoritarian coercion or violent clashes.

6 D.McAdam, S.Tarrow and C. Tilly (2001) Dynamics of Contention, Cambridge University Press; C. Tilly and S. Tarrow (2007) Contentious Politics, Paradigm Publishers

7 The minutes of the negotiations are published in Turkish in November 2015, by Mesopotamien verlag und Vertriebs GmbH, entitled “Demokratik Kurtulus ve Ozgur Yasami Insa: İmralı Notlari” [Democratic Emancipation and Construction of Freedom: Notes from İmralı]. The text also exists online. All discussions in this essay are from the actual volume authored by Öcalan.

8 As presently, in the post-putsch 2016 Turkey, it is close to impossible to gather information about Cemaat’s position on the peace process, I use the term specter to indicate that the narrative presence of the former ally throughout the negotiations. The former power ally of AKP, its shadow/ghost/phantasm was overwhelmingly present during the peace/reconciliation process and its power was haunting the process, and it has been obvious that it had a presence that amounted to more than a shadow. This article cannot pinpoint the power of that presence, but lays out the omnipresence of the shadow of this former ally.

9 I prefer to use the term laicism to describe French-type authoritarian state policy models that establish full control over religious expressions and institutions, as opposed to Anglo-Saxon secularism which separates state affairs from religion. For this variation see C. Taylor (2009) “The Polysemy of the Secular” Social Research, Vol 76: 4, pp/1143-1166.

10 H. Tas (2017) “A History of Turkey’s AKP-Gulen Conflict” Mediterranean Politics, published on line May 16, 2017

11 http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/01/akp-Gülen-conflict-guide.html

12 See D. Ersoy and F. Üstüner (2016) “Liberal Intellectuals” narration of Justice and Democracy Party in Turkey” Turkish Studies Journal Vol. 17, Issue 3.

13 For Ergenekon (and Balyoz) operations see http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-23581891 and https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21583312-harsh-verdicts-are-handed-down-ergenekon-trial-justice-or-revenge

14 For a discussion on this topic see http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/02/turkey-Erdoğan-new-kurdish-allies.html and http://www.nationalia.info/new/10639/hdp-lost-votes-following-a-campaign-of-fear-against-kurdish-voters

15 2010 , 2/17 law # 5952. The law was later fortified with law # 6551: “law to end terror and fortify national unity;” amendments to the Criminal Procedures and Penal Code in 2014, and finally legislation amending the law # 6638 “Security Package: Legal Package to Protect Freedoms” in 2015. While the underlying intention of law #5952 was clearly establishing a civilian oversight, the later legislations aimed to criminalize all forms of opposition including the ones based on ethnic strife.

16 The PKK has declared a series of truces in1993, 1995, 1998, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2011. In addition, Öcalan called the PKK fighters outside the borders of Turkey, effectively positioning them in Kandil, Iraq and eventually in Rojava, Syria in 1999.

17 BDP was a Kurdish-interests centered party which had effective municipal representations in Kurdish towns and cities. It gave birth to the HDP with the goal of reaching out larger Turkish population with a demand of peace enhanced with progressive rights and freedoms for all. Now jailed co-leader of the HDP, Demirtaş, was originally the leader of the BDP.

18 In the absence of a quantitative analyses of the texts, I can claim that the list somehow follows the order of importance of these topics. Other than those, the parties also discussed to a lesser extent the role of Turkish progressives and the influence of religion, in addition to Öcalan’s musings on historical topics.

19 For the demise of Oslo negotiations see https://www.chris-kutschera.com/A/Oslo.htm; http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/01/08/turkeys-pkk-talks/; and for a chronology see http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/chronology-of-oslo-dialogues-with-pkk.aspx?pageID=238&nID=31190&NewsCatID=338

20 The corruption revelations were a response to the AKP’s attempt to close down private tutoring schools mostly run by Cemaat. The AKP was most likely trying to curb the revenues of the Cemaat that was challenging its policy directions, especially with respect to Kurdish politics. See https://www.ft.com/content/12733aa0-5328-11e1-8aa1-00144feabdc0?mhq5j=e1

21 A quick media search of this statement interestingly shows that there was no clear understanding of who Erdoğan was addressing with such a statement; while some interpreted it as he was addressing the PKK, others understood the target as Cemaat. See https://www.ft.com/content/1b1d4ea0-ab8e-11e3-8cae-00144feab7de?mhq5j=e1

22 December 6, 2010 Öcalan “hakikat komisyonu marta kadar kurulmali” [“the truth commission has to be created by March”], Bianet

23 p.17

24 p.20

25 p. 41

26 p.90

27 p.107 However, it should be noted that each time Öcalan refers to the Parallel State, he does not necessarily mean Cemaat. Often, he uses the same term to identify NATO, global imperial forces or some other historical dynamics. “Let me clarify this Parallel State thing: Ever since Turkey has become a NATO member, they have been working across three distinct lobbies.” . It seems that at this point the Parallel State is understood as being infiltrated by Cemaat. Since July 15, 2016, the AKP regime only refers to Cemaat, as the Paralel.

28 KCK operations are the occasional rounding up and arrests of thousands of civilian Kurdish officials as PKK collaborators since 2009. KCK (Koma Civaken Kurdistan in Kurdish; Union of Communities in Kurdistan) was created as umbrella organization for all peaceful activism and civilian local politics in 2005. Turkey’s security forces and judicial system often treated them as urban infiltration by the PKK itself.

29 p.108

30 p. 110

31 p. 123

32 occasionally on pp.125-130.

33 p. 126.

34 p. 127.

35 Most of these BDP/HDP officers are presently imprisoned following the State of Emergency rule established by the AKP regime since the aftermath of 2016 putsch

36 p. 124, 126, among others.

37 p. 127

38 pp.139-141

39 P. 143

40 P. 145

41 p.145

42 p.160. Urfa is identified as one.

43 He singles out Taraf (a left-liberal) and Zaman (intellectual religious) papers (p. 154), both of which were banned after July 15, 2016. It is still not possible to reach their digital archives. He also names especially two journalists Emre Uslu and Mehmet Baransu, who are as of now self-exiled and in jail, respectively.

44 Specifically, Diyarbakır and Siirt and many drug operations carried out by local security forces.

45 p.155

46 p. 153

47 p.156

48 pp177-180

49 pp. 182-184

50 p.198

51 p. 231

52 p.233

53 p.264-265

54 p.274

55 p.305

56 p. 443

57 p.445

58 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-16352388

59 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-20968375

60 http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/3047/turkish-politics-kurdish-rights-and-the-kck-operat

61 In the absence of public availability of any Cemaat publications, it is at this point not easy to document this position. Further research on Cemaat publications and interviews with Kurds persecuted by local Cemaat-oriented security chiefs may clarify this assertion. A starting point for this research might be in R. Cakir and S. Sakallioglu (2014) 100 Soruda Erdoğan-Gülen Savaşı [Erdoğan-Gülen Battle in 100 Questions], Metis Publications, pp.48-62.

62 Construction and redevelopment which seems to be a preferred policy of AKP populism also overwhelmingly targets Kurdish cities. The head of TOKI, the government agency in charge of urban development announced in 2016 that his agency has already completed 126.788 modern residential buildings and by the end of 2017 this number will reach to 144 thousand. http://www.milliyet.com.tr/yazarlar/abdullah-karakus/dogu-ve-guneydogu-da--yeni-sehirler-kuracagiz-2228915/ On urban development projects and AKP’s consolidation of power see S. Demiralp (2016) “The “New Turkey”? Urban Renewal and Beyond” Sociology of Islam, Volume 4 Issue 3. Pp. 215-235

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