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Turkey's Kurdish leadership debates the definition of terrorism

Members of Turkey's Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) proposed a more decentralized Turkish government at a Brookings Institution panel on Tuesday.

"We don't believe that a centralized system of government that manages all of these different ethnic groups and communities is viable and productive," said BDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas. "We see this [decentralized government] as the most viable alternative."

Demirtas also emphasized that he is not calling for a completely independent Kurdish entity:

"We are not talking about the Kurdish people [living] in a region called Kurdistan."

Though he stressed that the BDP has no "organic relationship" with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classifies as a terrorist organization,  Demirtas noted that the PKK is not the problem, but a result of the problem:

"We believe the PKK is part of the reality of this conflic, and we believe that they should be communicated with.... We don't see the PKK as a problem, we see it as a result of the problem."

Ahmet Türk of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) agreed, and urged the audience to consider that the Turkish government's longstanding policy of denying its Kurdish citizens their civil rights might be the root of the problem.

"You don't provide Kurds an opportunity to express themselves, so the PKK emerged."

While Demirtas made sure to explain that his party does not condone violence, he did take issue with the Turkish government's definition of terrorism:

"This means of violence that is being used has to be understood correctly. The simple, traditional [definition of] terrorism cannot be used here. This is a 100-year-old conflict.... As long as you are unable to define it correctly, the wrong definition will cause misunderstanding."

BDP member and Turkish parliamentarian Gülten Kisanak argued that the PKK's numbers are evidence that the government must rethink its position toward the organization:

"According to data provided by the Turkish chief of staff, since 1978 40,000 Kurds have participated in the PKK and lost their life in fighting the struggle. I believe these numbers cannot be seen as terrorism in that sense."

The BDP may support President Abdullah Gül's call for a new "flexible and freedom-based" constitution, but its forward-thinking notions about the PKK isn't going to win it many points with Ankara.

ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images

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Haitian former soldiers demonstrate why Haiti probably shouldn't have an army

Last year, Haitian President Michel Martelly announced plans to recreate the country's military. The army had been disbanded in 1995 after a decade that included its killing of some 3,000 people. Given that military coups have traditionally been more of a threat to Haiti's security than foreign invasion, a number of critics questioned whether a new army was really a good use of Haiti's scarce resources, rather than improving its regular police force so that it could take over policing responsibilities from the unpopular U.N. peacekeeping force. 

The recent actions of a renegade group of former army officers, who are essentially attempting to take the elected government hostage in order to get their old jobs back, aren't exactly reassuring: 

A rogue band of armed men pushing for revival of Haiti’s military are refusing to disband and clear out of old military bases, the leaders of the group said Tuesday, despite repeated orders from the government.

In a news conference at an army barracks just outside Haiti’s capital, several veterans of the defunct army said Haitian officials broke a promise by failing to appoint them to the helm of an interim force until the military is officially reinstated.[...]

The Haitian government has repeatedly ordered the former soldiers and their followers, which number about 3,500, to vacate the old bases they seized several months ago, but it has taken no concrete action. Since then, the rogue force has paraded around the country in pickup trucks and carried weapons as if on patrol.

Last week, about 50 men in military fatigues, some of them armed, disrupted a legislative session when they showed up to speak to lawmakers about the government's plans for them.

Jeff Frankel recently wrote for FP about why more countries should consider going without a standing army:

It's hard to quarrel with the need for a permanent military establishment in many countries. But in many others, a standing army is a bad deal all round. It doesn't make borders any more secure if neighbors respond by raising armed forces of their own. It creates the permanent threat of a military coup -- or, at very least, limits the range of policy options of civilian government. And of course, it costs resources, diverting money, foreign exchange earnings and manpower from conventionally productive activities (like making stuff people want).

Such arguments haven't carried much weight, though; once an army is created to meet a threat (real or imagined), it's almost impossible to get rid of it. But two developing countries have managed to remain military-free for generations. Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948 after a bloody civil war -- a decision made in part because the United States believed its interests lay in blocking a return to power of the losing side. And Mauritius chose not to create an army after it was granted independence by Britain in 1968.

Obviously, it wouldn't work for every country. But Haiti seems like a textbook example of a place where an army would create more dangers than it prevented.

BOB PEARSON/AFP/Getty Images