VIENNA – Turkey is moving into unchartered political territory, following the failure of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to retain its parliamentary majority in the country’s recent general election. The choices that Turkey makes in establishing a new government will not only be pivotal to shaping the future of democracy there; the next administration could also play a decisive role in a series of peace processes vital to restoring stability in the wider Middle East.
First and foremost for Turkey, there is the ongoing peace process with its own Kurdish population. At its core, this process is about redefining the secular, unitary state created in 1923. Everyone in the new republic who was not explicitly defined as a member of an officially recognized minority was supposed to merge into a new Turkish identity.
But this did not happen as Atatürk planned. Kurds held fast to their own ethnic identity. Eventually, the suppression of the Kurdish language and culture fueled a brutal insurgency, led by the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) which has cost the country more than 30,000 lives.
It is to the great credit of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that he had the courage to launch an open peace process with the PKK in 2013. Since then, that process has made progress that seemed unthinkable only a few years ago. Yet key steps toward lasting peace remain to be taken.