The CHP’s Role in Pushing Turkey toward a Cross-Border Operation

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 4 Issue: 24

The attacks by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that have resumed since the summer of 2004 have left behind an unprecedented number of casualties. In the face of the deteriorating situation in its struggle against the PKK, the Turkish military has, on a number of occasions, iterated its request to undertake a cross-border operation. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, however, has resisted these repeated calls (Terrorism Monitor, July 6). The debate over whether or not a military operation is necessary or if such an operation could resolve Turkey’s terrorism predicament has been widened both in scope and content with the involvement of actors other than the AKP and the military. Political parties, interest groups, NGOs and intellectuals have all expressed their opinions for or against such an operation. Among this crowd of opinion makers, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) has come to the fore with explicit and sustained support for a cross-border operation.

There are a number of reasons why the CHP seems to have become invested in this issue. First, the CHP has traditionally endorsed the founding principles of the Turkish Republic since the Lausanne Treaty of 1923. During the Lausanne negotiations, the “Mosul problem” was a major challenge for the Turkish delegation headed by Ismet Inonu, who was Ataturk’s “brother in arms,” Turkey’s second president and the prime minister and leader of the CHP. In Lausanne, Ismet Inonu defended the view that the Mosul province of the Ottoman Empire—now northern Iraq—should remain within the territory of the Turkish Republic. He experienced difficulty, however, convincing his counterparts of this, especially Lord Curzon from Great Britain. The issue was not resolved during the Lausanne negotiations and was postponed to a later date. Following the long deliberations afterward, Great Britain, Turkey and Iraq signed a treaty in 1925 that established Iraq. The young and war-weary Turkish Republic agreed to the creation of Iraq comprising the Mosul province. Implicit in this approval, however, was the condition for Iraq to remain as one unit.

Hence, with the historical legacy of their ancestors, the CHP leadership today has behaved true to the founding philosophy of both the republic and the party, and it objects to the persistent claims of Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and other Kurds who have pronounced their desire to separate from Iraq. The CHP leadership is also on the record with its accusations toward Barzani for giving wide-ranging support to the PKK. Under these circumstances, the CHP believes that only a military operation into northern Iraq may prevent the dismemberment of Iraq in the hands of secessionist Kurdish factions and may also diminish the frequency and effects of PKK attacks.

A second reason why the CHP is pushing for a cross-border operation stems from the similar world views of both the military and the CHP concerning foreign and security policy matters. Both groups uphold Ataturk’s “peace at home, peace in the world” principle. Yet, they both also agree that “resorting to force may be necessary and legitimate if Turkey’s vital national interests are at stake,” as was emphasized by Ambassador (ret.) Sukru Elekdag, a member of parliament from the CHP, on a live TV program on CNN Turk on July 17. Since Ataturk and his principles, including “nationalism,” are the common denominator of both the military’s and the CHP’s value and belief systems, the reasons that motivate the military to push for a cross-border operation are naturally shared and endorsed by the CHP.

With the parliamentary elections over, and the CHP taking approximately 21% of the vote, one may expect an increase in the tone of the statements made by its leadership cadre. One particular reason for this may be to keep the tension in the political domain controlled by the CHP, so as to affect the process of constitutional changes concerning the presidential elections (Terrorism Monitor, July 6).