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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s victory in Turkey’s presidential election will likely help peace talks between Ankara and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), experts say. 



Erdogan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), won just over 51 percent of the votes in the country’s first public presidential election on Sunday.


"By voting for Erdogan in such large numbers, voters have sent a message of 'Yes, you can go ahead with the peace process' to Erdogan," Mehmet Necef, associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Denmark, said.


In an historic move that boosted his standing with many Kurds in Turkey, Erdogan, then prime minister, initiated talks in March 2013 with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. Turkey and the US consider the PKK, which has been at war with the Turkish state for 30 years, a terrorist organization.  


The biggest competitor to Erdogan, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu won 38 percent of the vote in the presidential poll while the pro-Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas from People’s Democratic Party (HDP) won 10 percent. 


"The peace process has two actors: the AKP and the Kurdish movement. The two are now strengthened by the election and can now continue the peace process," Necef said.


Huseyin Seyhanlioglu, associate professor at Dicle University in Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey, shares the optimism. He referred to the remarks from the Kurdish politician Leyla Zana in 2012 that "Erdogan is the man who will solve this conflict."


"Those who want the peace process have been strengthened in this election," Seyhanlioglu said. 


Turkey’s Parliament passed a bill last month approving a legal framework for negotiations with the PKK. In addition, Erdogan’s previous government granted Kurds unprecedented rights, including restoring Kurdish village names and establishing Kurdish media outlets. 


"It’s not enough, as several basic rights must be guaranteed for the Kurds," said Seyhanlioglu. "But it's progress and is much better than if Ihsanoglu had won the presidency." 


Ihsanoglu was nominated by the Nationalist Action Party (MHP,) which opposes minority rights in Turkey. 


"Ihsanoglu perceives the Kurdish issue with Turkish nationalist glasses," said Seyhanlioglu, who met with Ihsanoglu during an election rally in the Kurdish-dominated city of Diyarbakir. 


Jacob Lindgaard, a Turkey expert, is optimistic about the prospects of the peace process. He said that Turkey’s long-standing identity issues no longer center on the ethnic Turkish-Kurdish divide but are based on religion. AKP is a relatively conservative Islamist party. 


“This provides an opportunity of inclusion of conservative Sunni Muslim Kurds,” Lindgaard said. 


Erdogan wants to increase presidential powers by creating a federal system, which might be supported by the Kurds, Lindgaard said. But the Kurdish and Erodgen’s expectations for a federal system meet “like oil and water,” Lindgaard said.


“Decentralization, regional autonomy and a significant degree of power sharing are hardly what Erdogan has in mind,” he said.


Professor Abbas Vali from Bogazici University in Istanbul is more cautious because the details of the peace talks are unknown. He argued that the Kurds have limited political capital because Erdogan won the majority of votes in the first round.


"If he had (to campaign) in the second round, he would have had to turn to the Kurds for support and give them something afterwards. It would have strengthened the Kurds' position," Vali said. 


An important part of the Kurds' demands are mother-tongue education in Kurdish in public schools, a right that requires a constitutional amendment. Kurdish language rights face strong opposition from the MHP and the Republican People's Party (CHP), two parties that AKP must work with in Parliament. 


Overall, however, Erdogan has been strengthened by the election and it bodes well for peace talks with the PKK.


"He will complete this process with his own vision," said Vali. 


Martin Selsoe Sorensen, a Danish journalist living in Diyarbakir, said it is too early to determine if the election result will impact the peace process. 


"Erdogan has paved the way for progress. He has repeatedly promised to resolve the conflict, but there haven’t been any concrete results," Sorensen said. 





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