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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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