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A Ceasefire and an Apology

For those who follow closely, exciting and encouraging developments have been taking place recently in my native country of Turkey. Just last Thursday, the jailed Kurdish separatist leader of PKK (the Kurdistan Workers Party), Abdullah Ocalan, declared a "formal and clear cease-fire" with Turkey to end the bloody conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives since it began in 1984. Ocalan's call to end the armed resistance was immediately acknowledged and agreed upon by the acting leaders of PKK, most notably by Murat Karayilan, who has been leading the group as its field commander from the remote mountains of northern Iraq.

Only one day later--as if this ceasefire wasn't already a sufficient present to all who have been looking forward to the end of the painful, internal bleeding in Turkey--another piece of good news occupied the headlines. President Obama masterfully engineered a phone conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during his final hours in Israel. This phone diplomacy, which has been negotiated for many years by diplomats and others on both sides, effectively ended the frozen and troubling status of the relationship between the two countries and served as a first step to normalizing relations between them. Both leaders vowed to restore the diplomatic and friendly relationship after years of counterproductive hostility.

I am under no delusion that these developments are the final say in this complex situation. The decades-long destruction cannot be repaired overnight with one ceasefire declaration or a formal apology. The challenges and issues related to the Kurds in Turkey are far from being solved, and Turkish-Israeli relations still have a long way to go. However, I personally welcome these events as significantly important and encouraging steps in the right direction.

At this critical moment, the ball is entirely in Turkey's court. Turkish society should step up, putting pressure on the country's political, religious and civic leaders to respond to these developments wisely and not miss the opportunity to achieve peace, prosperity and happiness, both in Turkey and the region.

On the Kurdish issue, Turkey, now that they have no armed separatists to blame as an excuse, must seize the moment and move decisively to restore the honor and dignity of her Kurdish citizens. The country should learn how to bring herself, in all humility and honesty, to acknowledge the suffering that the Kurds have endured since the foundation of the republic. Without acknowledging the history of systemic human rights violations against Kurdish citizens of the country, no real peace should be expected. There is no room for silly chauvinism and useless defensiveness here. And I say this as a Turk who has not a single drop of Kurdish blood in me (at least not that I know of) with very strong conviction. As we want others to publicly acknowledge and apologize for the pain and suffering that they have inflicted on us, we should at least have the decency to do the same, especially to those who are our own rightful citizens. The country as a whole should strive to remove the deeply rooted legal, political, economic and cultural discrimination and inequality against Kurds.

Turkey must act quickly to repair the burned bridges with Israel, work hard to build new economic, cultural and political ties and restore its unique position as a Muslim-majority country that has a friendly relationship with the West, Israelis, Arabs and Palestinians. No good will come for Turkey or Israel in ruining the exceptionally precious Turkish-Israeli relationship. To me, it seems idiotic and self-destructive for either Turkey or Israel to lose the other as an ally. These two countries can potentially do so much good for their citizens, as well as the Middle East.

With its military tamed and domesticated and given the economic growth the country has enjoyed in recent years, Turkey has all she needs to score a spectacular home run now. If Turkey misses this providential opportunity and does not respond back to these calls, the country has no one to blame but itself. The successes and/or failures on these critical issues will be telling indicators to all whether or not Turkey is the prime candidate for producing the first modern, homegrown Muslim democracy. I hope and pray that the country's leadership will learn from previous mistakes and not disappoint us again.

This column ( http://www.dukechronicle.com/articles/2013/03/26/ceasefire-and-apology ) was originally published in the Duke Chronicle (http://www.dukechronicle.com . It has been reprinted with permission.

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