AKP Unable To Decide on Its Kurdish Policy

On November 2 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the eastern province of Hakkari to deliver a speech at a congress of his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) local branch. In Hakkari, where the Democratic Society Party (DTP) has a strong municipal presence, DTP supporters held street protests and closed stores on Sunday objecting to Erdogan’s presence. The Turkish press reported that approximately 3,000 DTP supporters gathered on the streets of Hakkari shouting “Murderer Erdogan!” There were also clashes with police in the town of Yuksekova (Dogan News Agency, November 3).

In response Erdogan slammed the DTP by charging them with helping terrorists: “Terror and democracy can not coexist. [DTP] Deputies backed by terrorism are in Parliament” (Hurriyet, November 3). Erdogan went even further to say, “What have we said? We have said, ‘One nation, one flag, one motherland, and one state.’ They are opposed to this. Those who oppose this should leave” (Today’s Zaman, November 4). Erdogan received support from pro-state intellectuals for his stance against the Kurdish protesters (Hurriyet, November 4) but was harshly criticized by liberal intellectuals (Milliyet, November 4). Ahmet Turk, the head of the DTP, criticized Erdogan, saying, “isn’t this land the homeland of all of us? Erdogan is serving the imperialists who want to divide the country” (Yeni Safak, November 4).

Although many observers believe that Erdogan is making these statements to win the upcoming regional election in the Kurdish region in March 2009 (Hurriyet, Milliyet, November 4), it is not clear why the Kurds should support the AKP, when its leader asks those who do not accept the concept of “one nation” to leave the country. It has been observed, in fact, that the closer the AKP comes to the state establishment, that is, the military, the less likely it is to win in the Kurdish region (see EDM, October 28, 30)

The tension between the AKP and the DTP is reflected in society as well. A small clash between Kurdish protesters and ordinary citizens took place in Istanbul. A civilian even fired his gun in the air to scare the protesters, who were throwing stones at the small shops on the street (Hurriyet, November 3). The prime minister made the injudicious statement that “I ask my citizens to be patient but I am concerned about when people’s patience will end… If one really needs [to fire a gun] to defend himself against those who throw stones at his shop and endanger his life, he [is allowed to] try to protect himself in this way” (Hurriyet, November 4).

Despite the tense atmosphere, Erdogan and six cabinet members plan to visit the Egridir military training facilities this week to watch military exercises conducted by commando units and the Special Forces units that are assigned to fight terrorism by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in the Kurdish region (Radikal, November 4).

It appears that the street protests helped Kurdish nationalists label the AKP the party of the state establishment, that is, the military, bureaucracy, and judiciary. The Constitutional Court has been reviewing a court file against the DTP, accusing the party of having connections with the outlawed PKK (Zaman, November 17, 2007). After the recent demonstrations it will be very difficult for the DTP to explain why it supports violence in the Kurdish region. The street protests have increased the likelihood that the court will shut the DTP down. Before the DTP organized the violent protests, a majority of Turkish intellectuals and associations were opposed to its closure (Yeni Safak, October 17). It is not known how DTP supporters would react if the court dissolved the party.

To ease tension between Kurds and Turks, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek proposed to “all political parties, the ruling party (AKP) and the opposition [parties], that they should visit the Kurdish region together to show the people that the ‘state’ is nearby to help them” (Hurriyet, November 4).

Although Cicek asked all political parties to visit the Kurdish region together, it is still not clear whether the AKP would want to go there together with the DTP. Moreover, the DTP has not yet indicated whether it would join the AKP for such an action. Leaving the other political parties aside, however, a joint visit by the AKP and DTP to the region would certainly have the potential to open a new chapter in solving the Kurdish question. It will be interesting to see how the PKK reacts. At this stage it is up to the DTP to accept or reject the proposal. No matter what the DTP’s response is, the AKP will have a chance to push the DTP into a corner. If the DTP accepts the proposal, it will help ease the tension, which would ultimately help the AKP win. If the proposal is rejected by the DTP, the AKP will have a chance to criticize the DTP for not cooperating in dealing with the problem.