Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 224

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will target Kurdish voters in the run-up to the March 2009 local elections, AKP Deputy Chairman Hayati Yazici has announced. Yazici said that the AKP had set its sights on taking control of the municipality in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey which is currently run by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) (Vatan, December 4).

In the July 22 general election, the AKP emerged as the largest party in southeast Turkey (see EDM, July 23). Its main rival was the DTP, whose candidates ran as independents in order to overcome the 10% nationalist threshold for representation in parliament. In recent months the DTP has come under increasing pressure from the authorities for its alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). On November 16, Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya formally applied to the Turkish Constitutional Court for the closure of the DTP (see EDM, November 19). Several of the DTP’s 20 MPs also face individual charges related to their alleged support for the PKK. The Constitutional Court is not expected to rule on the case against the DTP until late 2008 at the earliest. However, the mere threat of closure appears likely both to disrupt the DTP’s future political campaigns and push it closer to the PKK. A number of mass rallies organized by the DTP to protest the closure case have already turned into pro-PKK demonstrations and led to violent clashes with police. Yesterday (December 3), police prevented DTP MPs from distributing leaflets protesting the closure case in the heart of Istanbul (Milliyet, December 4).

Under Turkish law, local authorities receive most of their funding from the central government; with the amount determined by the official estimate of the local population. DTP-run municipalities in southeast Turkey are already at a disadvantage, as the population of all of the cities in the region has been swelled by migrants from the countryside who have never been registered, including several hundred thousand people whose villages were burned down by the security forces in the 1990s. Local DTP officials frequently complain that, in order to discredit them in the eyes of the population, the central government withholds a portion even of the funds they are owed under the current system.

Yazici admitted that the AKP was attempting to outflank the DTP-controlled municipalities by financing job creation schemes and providing funds to charitable foundations affiliated to the AKP for distribution to the local population.

“We are currently sending YTL 35 million ($32 million) a month to foundations there,” he said (Vatan, December 4).

An opinion poll conducted by the Turkish Metropoll research company suggests that popular support for the AKP among Turkey’s Kurdish minority is already increasing (www.metropoll.com.tr). In a survey conducted on November 1-3 in 14 provinces in eastern and southeastern Turkey, a total of 68.3% of respondents said that they were planning to vote for the AKP at the next general election. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also the most popular politician at 59.9%. His nearest rival was former AKP foreign minister and current President Abdullah Gul with 13.3%.

The survey suggested that the majority of the people in eastern and southeastern Turkey are bilingual. Some 52.8% of respondents said that they spoke both Kurdish and Turkish at home, while – in a reminder of Turkey’s often ignored Arab minority — 13.5% said that they spoke Turkish and Arabic. Only 33.2% of those questioned spoke Turkish as a single mother tongue.

The poll also confirmed previous surveys that suggested that people in the region are more concerned about job security than the PKK. A total of 41.9% named unemployment as the biggest problem in the region, followed by 14.7% who cited terrorism, ahead of economic underdevelopment (10.9%), illiteracy (6.6%) and social and cultural underdevelopment (4.4%).

Only 19.7% of those questioned believed that a Turkish cross-border military operation against PKK bases in northern Iraq would eradicate the organization, while 40.1% did not believe that it would have any long-term impact on the PKK. Significantly, 54.2% of AKP supporters were opposed to a military operation because they believed that it could trigger ethnic clashes between Turks and Kurds. Another 24.3% of those who voted for the AKP in the last election said that they disapproved of the party’s anti-PKK policies.

Although such incidents as have taken place have so far been relatively minor, there is increasing evidence that the fears of the respondents to the Metropoll survey about the possibility of ethnic violence between Turks and Kurds are not misplaced. Yesterday, an as yet unidentified group began distributing badges in Istanbul calling for a boycott of all stores and products owned or sold by ethnic Kurds. The badges, which could be pinned to a lapel or bag, stated: “I do my shopping from a Turk. My money doesn’t go to the PKK” (Vatan, December 4). Although there are historical precedents for such campaigns in Turkey, in the past they have all been directed at non-Muslims. This is the first time there has ever been such a campaign against ethnic Kurds.