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Michael M. Gunter is a professor of political science at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee and the author of numerous critically praised scholarly books on the Kurdish question, the most recent being Kurdish Historical Dictionary, 2nd ed., 2011; and The Kurds Ascending: The Evolving Solution to the Kurdish Problem in Iraq and Turkey, 2nd ed., 2011. Currently he also is the secretary-general of the EU Turkey Civic Commission, an NGO promoting further democratization in Turkey to facilitate its accession to the EU.

"Despite initiating the effort, the AKP quickly demonstrated that it had not sufficiently thought through its Kurdish Opening..."
"Another problem for the Kurdish Opening remained the question of with whom among the Kurds the government could negotiate..."
"One reason for Erdogan’s newfound interest in reopening Turkey’s closed Kurdish Opening might be the Turkish local elections to be held in 2013..."
"The government should accept mother-tongue education and usage in courts, and drop its prosecution of Kurdish politicians, lawyers, and civil society leaders..."


During the summer and fall of 2009, the continuing and often violent Kurdish problem in Turkey seemed on the verge of a solution when the ruling Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) or AK Party (AKP) government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul announced a Kurdish Opening. Gul declared that “the biggest problem of Turkey is the Kurdish question” and that “there is an opportunity [to solve it] and it should not be missed.”Erdogan asked: “If Turkey had not spent its energy, budget, peace and young people on [com- bating] terrorism, if Turkey had not spent the last twenty-five years in conflict, where would we be today?” Even the insurgent Partiya Karkaren Kurdistan (PKK) or Kurdistan Workers Party, still led by its imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan, briefly took Turkey’s Kurdish Opening seriously. For a fleeting moment optimism ran rampant. That optimism, however, would ultimately go unfulfilled. What happened?

The Kurdish Opening failed to live up to expectations because of roadblocks it encountered before it had a chance to get off the ground. Decades-old resistance to decentralization and an unwillingness to negotiate seriously with the PKK additionally worked to undermine the stated goals of the Kurdish Opening. This article will provide historical background to the recent efforts as well as a timeline of the government’s initiatives and the Kurdish response regarding the Kurdish Opening. The question of why the Opening has failed to date will be examined. Recent developments including the civil war in Syria, which suggest that some possibility for progress on the Kurdish question remains, will also be discussed. Finally, the article puts forth recommendations to facilitate progress on finding a political settlement between the Turkish government and the PKK. (purchase article...)