Firat Resignation May Indicate a Hardening of AKP Kurdish Policy

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 216

On November 7, after the Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), it was announced that Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat had resigned from his position as a deputy chairman of the (AKP). Firat is known for being a relative of a former Kurdish rebellion leader and for taking liberal positions on such issues as the Kurdish question, the EU membership process, and a new democratic constitution. While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was harshly criticizing Kurdish nationalists, Firat met with the Kurdish nationalist Democratic Society Party (DTP) deputies to discuss the Kurdish predicament (CNNTurk, October 19). Because the statement about his resignation did not elaborate on why Fırat had decided to resign, political observers tend to believe that he quit because he was not pleased with his party’s stand on the Kurdish question (for the AKP’s recent stance on the Kurdish issue, see EDM, November 4).

Mehmet Firat was replaced by former Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu. Aksu is known to be of Kurdish origin; but unlike his predecessor he has always had good relations with the state security apparatus. Observers believe this replacement is an important signal that the AKP’s position toward the Kurdish problem has shifted in the direction of the military elite (Yeni Safak, November 11).

Whatever the reason behind Firat’s resignation, “the fact is successive resignations within the AKP will have great implications for the ruling party’s electoral campaign in the approaching local elections” (Today’s Zaman, November 10). The Kurdish AKP deputies are, in fact, concerned that they will not be able to explain Erdogan’s recent “love it or leave it” statement to the Kurds, which could damage the party in the region (Vatan, November 11).

There are two explanations about what led the AKP to leave its democratic approach and adopt the same old security-oriented polices toward the Kurds that have not worked in the past three decades. First, an anonymous source who is “very close to the prime minister” told a reporter that:

When he was slamming the Kurdish nationalists, the prime minister showed his reactions to the foreign intelligence services, namely American and Israeli intelligence services, which are believed to be behind the recent news leak to Turkish press about the failure of the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) to prevent the PKK’s attack on Aktutun military outpost (Milliyet, November 11; for the Aktutun incident, see Terrorism Focus, October 30).
If the people close to the prime minister have this paranoid outlook toward the United States’ support of Turkey and have forgotten that it was the U.S. that provided the intelligence for the TSK against the PKK, it could be a sign that the AKP is ready to blame the United States if the TSK fails to weaken the PKK with its air and land operations in northern Iraq.

A second explanation of why the AKP has adopted a security-oriented approach is related to the DTP’s recent campaign to organize violent protests against state policies in general and the AKP’s presence in Kurdish politics in particular. A group of political observers led by Erdogan’s close friend, the journalist Fehmi Koru, thinks that Erdogan came to power, like Barack Obama in the U.S, under slogan of “change” but ended up dropping his policies of renewal and becoming another George W. Bush (NTV, November 6). Another group of intellectuals argues that Erdogan in essence still firmly believes that the Kurdish question cannot be solved through military means but his recent statements against the Kurds was a reaction toward the DTP-led unrest in the Kurdish region (Bugun, November 11).

No matter how pro-AKP intellectuals try to justify the AKP’s recent stand on the Kurdish problem, Erdogan’s “love it or leave it” statement and his deputy chairman Firat’s resignation give the impression that the AKP has become the party of the status quo. Although the Interior Minister maintains that the “AKP will not sacrifice democracy to fight terrorism” (Zaman, November 11), the impression that the AKP has created reduces the likelihood of a possible AKP victory in the Kurdish region.

Now the question that remains is whether the AKP will continue to advocate Erdogan’s “love it or leave it” point of view? Given that the tension between the DTP and the AKP is related to the upcoming regional election, the DTP might want to escalate the violence for the benefits it brings them. By escalating violence in the Kurdish region the DTP puts the AKP in a dilemma in which it must choose between its Kurdish and Turkish constituencies. On the one hand, if the AKP does not react against DTP’s violence the way that Erdogan did, it could lose its Turkish constituencies in the western part of the country. On the other hand, the AKP’s harsh reaction toward violence could harm its position in the Kurdish region and lose it Kurdish voters.

Recent poll results show that 49.5 percent of Turks still support the AKP. More importantly, 42.0 percent of the people show their confidence in Erdogan by saying “if Erdogan says it, it is true” (Yeni Safak, November 10). Given that the AKP, at least in Turkish region, would win decisively in the upcoming election, there is no reason for Erdogan to step back from his “love it or leave it” posture, unless he faces the danger of losing support among intellectuals or the PKK intensifies its terror campaign to create the impression among Turks that the AKP cannot protect the country.