Category Archives: Turkey

Erdogan’s presidential system already on show as Davutoglu stands down

To say that Turkey is passing through a sensitive juncture is a big understatement. A rekindled and bloody war with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the ever-present threat of the Islamic State (IS), millions of refugees from the Syrian civil war and a headache posed by growing Syrian Kurdish autonomy is underlined by political uncertainty.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) may have attained the majority it craves at the poll but only at the second time of asking with the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) breaking the 10% threshold to enter parliament on each occasion.

However, as much as polls revealed strong support for the AKP, it also underlined growing polarization between those who firmly support the policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and those keen to derail his desire to implement a presidential system.

Continuous crackdown on dissidents and opposition voices under the terrorism banner blur the lines yet further. Erdogan is at the forefront of moves to change legislation to strip HDP politicians of parliamentary immunity.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been at Erdogan’s side throughout the rise of the AKP over the past 14 years. However, running as a foreign policy advisor and then Foreign Minister is very much different to that of Prime Minister.

In theory power lies in the hands of the Prime Minister and not the President in Turkey. The president is meant to distance himself from the any particular party. But Erdogan has not kept his ambitions of a strong presidential system or rewriting of the Turkish constitution a secret whilst retaining a strong influence over the AKP. In other words, the current system has a presidential overtone in all but name.

If there was any semblance of unity within the AKP or a party wide endorsement of Erdogan’s policies or goals, then this was shattered by the announcement of Davutoglu that he will be standing down later this month.

Resignations simply don’t just come of nothing and a central point of contention is likely to be a grapple of power between Erdogan and Davutoglu.

Turkey has become accustomed to quelling dissident voices and it just so happened that one of those voices was the Prime Minister himself.

If there was any doubt as to who was in charge then this has now vanished. Erdogan has already insisted that that there is no turning back on plans to implement a presidential system.

Erdogan’s tough stance was on fully display as migrant deal with the EU was on the brink of collapse. “We’ll go our way, you go yours” Erdogan exclaimed at any notion that EU could pressurize Turkey to taper down its broad anti-terrorism laws.

Davutoglu on the other hand was the central architect of the migrant deal and viewed by the EU as a more constructive and balanced figure. The official line would be that agreements are negotiated with states and governments, not individuals, but the EU are clearly weary of a tough and unwavering Erdogan calling the shots.

Erdogan has proven to be a strong and resilient leader who refuses to be pushed around by the EU or the United States.

Even if Erdogan gets his way and brings about a strong presidential system, this doesn’t equate to peace, national harmony or stability.

For one, Erdogan’s continued tough line on the PKK, HDP and any sense of Kurdish nationalism will ensure that the doors to any peace process will remain firmly shut and violence rages on.

It doesn’t mean that Erdogan will be unpopular, it just means that the camps of unpopularity will be just as strong and determined, creating a deadly split that will divide and paralyze Turkey at home and abroad.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Turkey’s battle against PKK – why washing blood with blood will never see a victor

As Turkey’s peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) grinded to a comprehensive halt with the resumption of deadly violence in July 2015, Ankara has made a crucial error by shutting the “Kurdish opening”.

Describing the Kurdish issue as a “terrorism” problem merely scratches the surface and opens the door to more violence.

The truce between the PKK and Turkey that largely held for 2.5 years may be shattered, but can any side really argue they have benefited or have the upper hand from the new status quo?

After a recent bombing in Diyarbakir claimed by the PKK, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed that the government will not stop until every street and home in southeast of Turkey finds peace and security. Davutoglu also previously pledged that militants will be “wiped out from the mountains.”

But if there were a military solution to the conflict, would it really have taken one of the most formidable armies in the world over three decades and billions of dollars to achieve?

In reality, tying the PKK noose around the Kurdish problem has narrowed the real issue. The majority of Kurds feel stuck by years of harsh government policies and militant tactics.

There is also fuel for hatred and animosity from both sides. With every death come new motivations to vengeance and a new score to settle, each of which inaugurates a ritual of washing blood with blood that might take decades to end.

The punitive curfews imposed, such as those in Cizre, invariably kill more hope amongst civilians than any number of rebels. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently claimed that over 5,000 PKK rebels had been killed or injured since last July. Some analysts had put the PKK force at about the same figure, yet where is the victory for Ankara?

As so many deep historical conflicts in the Middle East have shown, a vicious cycle of bloodshed has no restriction in supply for those willing to sacrifice for their cause.

The Kurdish south east of Turkey desperately needs investment and an escape from the shadows of the rest of Turkey. Years of impoverishment and suffering has taken immense toll on the region. High unemployment, especially among the youth, perpetuates disenchantment and bitterness.

At a very sensitive juncture for the Middle East and Turkey, simply focusing on the PKK in the war on terror avoids the real issue – combating the Islamic State (IS).

As Syrian Kurds press on towards increasing autonomy, Turkey has little choice but to accept regional realities—much in the same way that autonomy in Iraqi Kurdistan was heavily feared but eventually embraced by Ankara leading to strategic ties.

It would be unwise to suggest this can happen with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) overnight, but Turkey must separate its concepts of terrorism and Kurdish nationalism. Not every Kurdish nationalist is a terrorist and not every Kurd is a PKK sympathizer.

Neither the Kurds nor Turks are about to disappear from the regional scene. One way or another, the future of both nations is intrinsically linked. Turkey must do what it can to avoid continuous polarization of the Kurds. If the southeast starts to flourish and feel like real partners to Turkey, the rebel cause will swiftly lose its appeal.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As Turkey downs Russian jet, a rightful defense or a disproportionate move with a bigger picture in mind?

With the Syrian skies crowed as ever with planes from dozens of countries primarily fighting the Islamic State (IS), an “accident” was bound to happen. However, the jury remains firmly out whether Turkey was right to shoot down a Russian jet straying seconds into its airspace or if it was a disproportionate move made with a bigger picture in mind.

Jets flying at super-sonic speeds can cover kilometers in seconds and the notion of border lines and airspace zones can be a murky affair, even for Turkish jets. The downing of the Russian jet comes at a sensitive conjecture when a sense of coalition between Russia and the US-led coalition was forming and there were tentative but encouraging steps at reviving the peace process in Syria.

The vicious Paris terrorist attacks shortly after the bombing of a Russian airliner flying over Egypt had introduced a sense of a broader perspective to fighting IS as well as kick-starting talks at an elusive political transition in Syria.

Whilst the events that led to the downing of the Russian jet are widely disputed between both sides resulting in an escalating war of words between Turkey and Russia, Turkey could have easily held fire and opted for a strong diplomatic protest.

However, Turkey remains at odds with Russia over the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Russian military intervention that has revived Assad’s fortunes, even as Russia has also attacked IS positions.

Not only was Turkey already angered by Russian attacks on Turkmen rebels close to the border but Russia has brazenly intervened literally on Turkey’s doorstep and sphere of influence.

No doubt Turkey wanted to send a strong message to Russia that it was not bluffing, it would protect its areas of interest and that it remained a strong player in the Middle East.

Turkey wants a resolution to the Syrian war but it can ill-afford a resolution which it doesn’t have a strong hand in. for example, Turkey has made it clear that it cannot accept an IS collapse at a cost of further strengthening Syrian Kurdish forces.

Syrian Kurdish forces have largely closed the border doors to IS with only one stretch of the border remaining that Turkey has insisted should be enforced as a buffer zone. With so many players in the mix, there are eyes firmly on the future ramifications as much as the short-term battle against IS and Assad.

Directly or indirectly, Turkey has a major hand in the Syrian war with the large porous border that is difficult to control acting as the gateway for so many forces including IS. The last stretch of IS border control can be easily sealed with a coalition of Syrian opposition and Kurdish forces, but of course it would effectively mean that the north of Syria would be more or less controlled by the Kurds that perhaps for Turkey poses a much bigger dilemma than the IS presence it can somewhat contain.

Turkish shooting of the Russian jet complicates NATO relations with Russia and opens the door to further escalation. Russia is Turkey’s second largest trading partner and Russian President has already vowed serious consequences including cancelling join projects and introducing a visa system between the countries.

Russia has also deployed its most advanced air defense system, the S-400, as well as deploying the Moskva cruiser just off the cost of Latakia.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried to downplay the incident by suggesting that Turkey would have taken a different course of action if they had known it was a Russian jet. However, any sense of reconciliation was quickly lost as Putin continued to demand an apology that Erdogan has refused and ratcheted his rhetoric.

Whilst NATO and other powers will ensure calm for now, it leaves little margin for error in the future.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

AKP’s sweep to power in Turkey raises more questions than answers

As the Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept to a single-party majority for the fourth time since 2002, this was much to the surprise of many.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP won 316 seats in parliament in stark contracts to June elections.

The snap elections would afford a second chance to make amends and coalition talks were always going to collapse. It was merely months between the elections but many key events transformed the picture on the ground.

Erdogan argued that only the AKP could provide elusive stability at a time of increasing security threats and chaos and the people were seemingly swayed by this stance.

Turkey witnessed deadly Islamic State (IS) inspired bomb attacks, joined the war against IS, saw media raids on opposition media outlets linked to Fethullah Gulen but above all it was the restart of the war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that changed the dynamic.

Without a doubt, the rise of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) led by Selahattin Demirtaş, gaining 13% of the vote in the June elections that directly led to AKP’s loss of the parliamentary majority.

The renewed violence with the PKK, which resulted in deepening unrest in the south-east, curfews and dozens of tit-for-tat killings, become a noose to tie around the HDP.

And it’s no coincidence that the AKP took significant votes from the HDP, who crucially still surpassed the 10% threshold to enter parliament, and also the anti-Kurdish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Ultimately, it was the millions of undecided voters that transformed the electoral landscape, opting for stability of a single-party rule against fragile coalition governments that have traditional failed in Turkey, amidst new regional sandstorms.

Erdogan used the security chaos to good affect but once the dust settles what kind of Turkey will be left?

First of all, for all of AKP’s significant support, the other 50% or so are deeply against them. With media raids before and after the elections setting a marker for dealing with Gulen-backed opposition, Erdogan is in no mood to relinquish his quest to eradicate the “parallel state” that he firmly believes is undermining government.

Secondly, Erdogan promised to continue the campaign against the PKK until the organization was “eliminated”.

Finally, Erdogan has made no secret of his desire to change the constitution to afford the presidency the power he craves. He is 14 seats short of the 330 seats needed to call a referendum on constitutional change but faces fierce opposition.

Above all, this leaves a Turkey that is as polarized as ever. There are more questions than answers despite the AKP’s sweep to power.

Does it indefinitely insist on a military solution against the PKK even when decades of such a formula have proved fruitless? How about the millions of Kurds that feels trapped between PKK violence and harsh government policies that ultimately voted for the stability of AKP?

The Kurdish question is not just a PKK question. Further democratic reforms are urgently needed to appease sliding Kurdish sentiment.

Then there is the fight against IS. For too long Turkey sat on the fence and the IS problem on its doorstep will only get worse. Turkey may want stability at home but it has to make tough calls to achieve this.

Insisting that the Syrian Kurdish forces, who are key players against IS, are no different to the PKK or not accepting the reality of Kurdish autonomy across the Syrian border, benefits no side.

Economic and foreign relation challenges only add to the complex picture.

Erdogan needs to make tough decisions if he is to bring Turkey the stability he preaches.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Transformation of realities on the ground in Turkey since June polls but snap election outcome unlikely to follow suit

Less than 5 months after the historic national elections on 7th June, Turkey heads to the polls once more on 1st November. In such a short period of time, a lot has happened in Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost their majority and much of that was owed to the success of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) led by Selahattin Demirtaş who gained 13% of the vote.

Coalition talks were destined to fail and the snap elections affords Erdogan and the AKP a second chance to win back their majority. Since June, the government has taken a number of steps home and abroad to transform the political calculus and its waning relations with the West.

A deadly Islamic State (IS) inspired bombing in Suruc not only opened the door to Turkey finally join the war against IS that the West long demanded but was also the basis for an agreement with the United States to use their strategically important Incirlik military base. This should have been a milestone but was quickly shadowed by Erdogan’s decision to expand the war on terror to its longtime foe the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and since then the reality of deadly conflict, curfews and instability threatens a return to the dark days of 1990’s.

The AKP’s start of a twin war against IS and PKK was a risky gamble and the polarization of Turkey has accelerated. For Erdogan to win back his majority, he needs to secure votes from the anti-Kurdish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and dilute the gains of HDP or even push their votes back below the 10% threshold by tying the PKK noose firmly around Demirtaş.

The worst terrorist attack in the history of Turkey on 10th October in Ankara left over a 100 dead. IS were the prime culprits for the bombing but nevertheless the fact it was aimed at a Kurdish rally only made sentiment worse. HDP have complained of a number of other attacks on its party since June.

Then in recent days the government stormed the headquarters of an opposition media group linked to Erdogan’s longtime rival Fethullah Gulen and his Hizmet movement.

In terms of foreign relations, Turkey has also tried to mend bridges by agreeing a deal with the EU on Turkey’s substantial Syrian refugee population that has caused a major migration crisis with the majority travelling through Turkey, in return for kick-starting stalled EU accessions talks. In recent weeks it has even shown flexibility to the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in line with its Western allies.

But while AKP has undertaken steps to reheat its frosty relations with the US-led coalition, it’s hardly convinced with US policy in Syria that has moved the Syrian Kurds to the forefront of the struggle against IS as the as most trusted and capable allies of the US.

Turkey has vowed to do “whatever necessary” against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) amidst increasing Kurdish autonomy and power in Syria that only fuels the PKK dilemma in Turkey.

Whilst the actions home and abroad have changes the calculus, it is unlikely to result in a major transformation at the polls.

AKP votes are unlikely to shift sufficiently to harness a majority and once the votes have been cast, Turkey has to come to terms with its growing polarization, its renewed military struggle against the Kurds with the prospects of peace an increasingly distant reality, its fallout from media raids, the constant threat of IS and the growing power of Syrian Kurds on its door-step.

Similar to first election, the AKP is likely need to negotiate with coalition partners, if it was difficult the first time, then it’s a much tougher predicament this time around with hard compromise needed.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Turkey’s vicious cycle of conflict can be broken

A week-long curfew in Cizre was finally ended on Saturday but the fallout is likely to linger much longer and serve as fuel for more violence.

Since the ceasefire was shattered in July, the war between Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has intensified threatening to return Turkey to the dark days of the 1990’s.

With every death come new fuel for vengeance and a new score to settle. As the past three decades has proven, the end result is a vicious cycle that benefits no side.

If there was a military solution to the conflict, it would not have taken many decades and billions of dollars to achieve one.

The underlying problem is that the Kurdish issue has been invariably tied to the PKK dilemma. Kurds have become stuck between punitive government policies and the PKK.

The quest to eradicate the rebels has lost perspective and this is highlighted by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s recent comments that the militants can be “wiped out from the mountains”.

It’s an age-old problem of cutting branches versus addressing the roots. For every rebel that is taken down from the mountains, many more are keen to join the mountains.

The Kurdish populated areas have long been disenfranchised and impoverished compared to the rest of Turkey. The high percentage of unemployed youths needs jobs and prospects of a brighter future, away from the appeal of militancy.

One can only imagine what could have resulted in the Kurdish areas if the billions spent on the war were spent on the local economy and infrastructure.

The need for greater Kurdish rights and constitutional amendments goes beyond the PKK question – Kurdish disenchantment and disillusion goes back long before the PKK arrived on the scene.

As the doors to the peace process appear firmly shut, Ankara will make a big mistake by equally shutting the Kurdish opening. By leaving the Kurdish question merely to a terrorism problem – the only door that remains wide open is that of decades of more conflict.

The success of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the first Kurdish party to break the 10% threshold and enter parliament, could have been the springboard to kick start the peace process. In contrast, it can be argued as the government motive for the new round of violence.

HDP gains at the polls were clearly to the loss of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) who as a result of the HDP gains in parliament lost their majority.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan become embroiled on a quest to reclaim lost votes when snap elections beckoned after many doubted that coalition talks would succeed with a fine balance of votes and reluctant participants to any coalition.

Proposed snap elections on 1st November will prove even more crucial than the elections in June. The burning question is whether AKP can woo nationalist votes as it has sought by scrapping any peace deal with the PKK.

At the same time, with the escalating violence, Erdogan has attempted to tie the PKK noose around the HDP and ultimately portray the HDP as a “terrorist” party to dilute their voter base.

The crisis over Cizre, where the Council of Europe had urged Turkey to grant access to independent observers, servers to intensify the polarisation of Turkey.

The only solution is the promotion of a new Turkey where Turks and Kurds are equally represented. The south east must be allowed to come out the shadows of the west with investment, employment, infrastructure and renewed hope.

If the Kurdish question is not addressed, Turkey will retain a handicap that will continue to prove a detriment to its growth, stability and immense potential.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Turkey’s snap election promises yet more political deadlock and instability

Turkey faces a snap election on November 1st, just months after its last election. The elections of June 7th bore great significance as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority owed to the success of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) that saw a Kurdish political party comfortably pass the 10% election threshold for the first time with 13% of the vote.

The first elections were symbolized by fierce rhetoric between HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And the stage is set for a similar showdown ahead of the snap elections.

A few months may have passed since June but a lot has happened in this short time. The failure to form a coalition with either Republican People’s Party (CHP) or Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) was worsened as the wounds of war were re-opened with Erdogan declaring war on the Islamic State (IS) and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), with the PKK taking by far the brunt of air strikes.

By re-opening the conflict with the PKK and effectively ending the peace process after relative calm since 2012, Turkey entered a dangerous phase.

For many critics, the PKK conflict was orchestrated with snap elections in mind, echoing concerns that coalition talks were always designed to fail.

Erdogan and the AKP have eyes firmly on a re-shot at gaining a parliamentary majority. Attacks on the PKK which have resulted in the death of dozens of security forces in return, may net nationalist votes which were unease over the Kurdish peace process but this further entrenches the Kurdish voter camp with the HDP.

It is not clear how many nationalist and conservative votes the AKP could really grab from MHP or the CHP or if the MHP or CHP would in fact be real benefactors in any nationalist swing. The election re-run introduces more questions than answers. The AKP may increase its voter base but ultimately the HDP is unlikely to drop below the 10% threshold that the AKP desperately needs to form a majority government.

With the renewal of the PKK conflict, this put the HDP in a difficult corner. Erdogan has persistently tried to tie the PKK noose around the HDP. At the same time, the pro-Kurdish party has felt compelled to protect Kurdish interests and condemn government actions.

Erdogan has insisted that the November election is about choosing between “stability and chaos” – Turkey is certainly in a phase of chaos with two new fronts against IS and the PKK, failure to form a coalition government for first time in its history and not forgetting the economic alarm bells that will ring louder in the event of more upheaval.

The question that the electoral will have to ultimately decide is whether this chaos has been fermented by Erdogan.

In an ironic twist, the CHP and the MHP refused to take part in the first interim government in Turkey’s history, but the HDP accepted 2 seats, meaning the AKP was effectively in short-term coalition with the HDP and numerous other independents.

This scenario is hardly a coincidence but a ploy by the MHP and particularly the CHP who were incensed at not been given the opportunity to form a coalition, to put the AKP in an awkward position of a de-facto coalition with the HDP.

Come November, Turkey will be in a similar positon of having to form a coalition government. This time negotiations and terms will be even more painstaking and the AKP will be in a more difficult corner if it fails to achieve the majority that it craves with the war on PKK and IS festering long beyond the elections.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

With eyes on a new election, Erdogan takes a dangerous gamble by attacking PKK

After decades of a bloody war between the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and Ankara, lessons are not been learnt with the peace process effectively dead in the ground and all the signs pointing to a swift return to the dark days of the past.

Decades of assimilation policies failed and now after the death of thousands on both sides of the divide, billions of dollars wasted and wounds that become more difficult to repair by the day, the lessons are been ignored. A military solution simply cannot serve either side.

But with Syrian mess becoming messier with Turkey joining fray against the Islamic State (IS) but simultaneously attacking PKK bases in Iraq, the ramifications of the renewed Ankara-PKK bloodshed goes well beyond the Turkish borders.

Many point to Turkey joining the IS fight as a sideshow to the main priority of hitting the PKK and undermining the Syrian Kurds whose territory and autonomy has grown with a series of victories over IS.

If Turkey fully commits to the fight against IS in Syria then it is no doubt a game changer, especially with the US-led coalition gaining vital access to Incirlik air base.

But the agreement poses many questions. Which force will man the proposed buffer zone? There are increasingly calls for a Syrian Turkmen force to take the lead in filling the vacuum, in which case it reinforces Kurdish anxiety that the buffer scheme is merely designed to curtail their expansion west of Kobane.

Furthermore, there are open contradictions on the role of People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the coalition campaign. Some Turkish officials have made it clear that coalition jets from Turkish bases will not be assisting YPG forces, whilst White House officials have stated to the contrary.

US is in a difficult position over the YPG who have been vital in stopping IS across the north with US air support.

It becomes difficult to differentiate the YPG and PKK forces when the PKK fighters have played a big role in Syria. Such PKK fighters may well shift their focus back to Turkey as tit-for-tat retaliation gathers speed.

It becomes clear that the “package” agreed between Turkey and US would comprise of Turkish action against the PKK as much as Washington has denied.

There have been skirmishes before between the PKK and government forces that saw the peace process intact. The decision now to open a new front has wide political connotations.

The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) led by Selahattin Demirtaş was the main benefactor of the June 2015 national elections securing a historic 13% of the vote.

Erdogan has eyes firmly on a new election as early as November as coalition talks point to increasing failure. This gives the Justice and Development Party (AKP) party a second lifeline to readjust and take power again.

The renewed conflict opens up the nationalist debate, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to muster nationalist voters he lost with a new hardline view on the PKK. By ending the peace process, Erdogan achieves what the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) promised, potentially luring MHP voters.

HDP stands to become the biggest losers in any new election. It successfully wooed liberal, non-Kurdish votes but is increasingly taking political center of the PKK fallout. Erdogan has tried to tie a political noose around Demirtaş and fierce rhetoric emanating from the HDP camp as they defend the Kurdish position implicates them further with the PKK.

Even an investigation was recently launched against Demirtaş for allegedly provoking protesters last October over Kobane.

If HDP drop below the 10% threshold then the AKP gains dramatically in parliament. But if HDP politicians have legal cases launched against them, if any imprisonment is imposed or if the HDP is suddenly sidelined, then the bloodshed will simply intensify.

Either way, the AKP is taking a very dangerous gamble.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Turkey, Kurds and ISIS: Who is fighting whom?

As Turkey finally comes off the fence and decides to take part in the ongoing collective fight against ISIS more actively, its decision to suspend the reconciliation process and open a simultaneous front against the PKK has costly ramifications

For many, the deadly Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) bombing of the Kurdish town of Suruç in Turkey was a long-delayed wake-up call for Turkey. Thirty-two students were killed and over 100 injured in the suicide attack that sparked public outrage. Directly or indirectly, Turkey was already a key player in the Syrian civil war. However, this week spelled a new phase in Turkey’s policy on ISIS and one that will have large ramifications in Syria and also Turkey.

Turkey largely employed a “no peace, no war” stance on ISIS, and such a standpoint was influenced by the increasing autonomy of the Syrian Kurds who have been pitched in deadly battles against ISIS forces. For the Turkish government, the threat of the Democratic Union party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), was also of a concern than an ISIS that effectively contained Kurdish ambitions. As Turkey enters a new phase against ISIS with a series of airstrikes with the agreement for the U.S.-led coalition to use the İncirlik Air Base and also the provision of a buffer zone that Ankara has so fiercely insisted, these events have long been in motion, but the bombing in Suruç was the final catalyst.

ISIS, which was already feeling the heat from a Turkish crackdown and the onset of tighter security measures, something that the U.S. has long insisted that Turkey was not doing enough of, sent a number of messages with the recent bombing in Suruç. The tragic death of so many Kurdish youths stoked the fire among many Kurds who were already skeptical of Turkey’s Syrian stance, which they deemed as being designed to undermine the Kurds. The anger and protests that erupted was a clear message that many felt that Ankara had brought this on them with months of dithering owing to their much deeper anxiety regarding a de-facto Kurdish state developing on their southern border. The bombing in Suruç by an ethnic Kurd was orchestrated in order to warn the Kurds that ISIS ideology appeals to deeper than ethnic lines that the Kurds had used so well in their defense of Kobani and other Kurdish towns in Syria. It also stirred debate among some locals of who are the protectors of the Kurds, Ankara or the PKK?This very point was exposed as the PKK retaliated with revenge killings of police officers. ISIS aimed to relieve the heat on the Syrian battlefronts with the YPG by shifting focus further north.

Turkey has always maintained that they see no difference between ISIS and the PKK, and there is no doubt that the PKK and Syrian Kurdish ambitions were at the forefront of the “package” agreed on between Ankara and Washington that has led to the new Turkish attitude. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that safe zones would “form naturally” once the areas under ISIS control were cleared. This is firstly against ISIS, and secondly against any YPG expansion west of Jarablus, which Ankara has openly dreaded. Turkish involvement deeper in Syria will certainly focus on keeping Syrian Kurdish ambitions in check, but this leads to a series of deadly double games that may ultimately backfire. The cease-fire with the PKK has been shaky to say the least, but in spite of increasing skirmishes over the past several months it has remained intact. As Turkey launched a series of airstrikes on PKK strongholds in northern Iraq, the door was swung firmly open to a new dawn of confrontation.

Turkey has responded with a strong message to PKK attacks in recent days in conjunction with its attacks on ISIS positions to keep true to its word that it does not see any difference between the two groups. However, this is a dangerous game that could spectacularly backfire. ISIS has kept a largely neutral view of Turkey, but this has long vanished. After hundreds of arrests and now airstrikes, the building of concrete walls along its border and allowing the U.S.-led coalition to use Turkish military bases, Turkey has finally come off the fence in the fight against ISIS with all the repercussions this will now bring.

But simultaneously opening a second front against the PKK is under question. After decades of violence, thousands of deaths and great animosity, a return to the dark days of the past will lead to a new and unprecedented polarization of Turkey. The Kurdish question in the Middle East has moved on a great deal since the harrowing days of conflict in the 1990s. The reconciliation process was a bold and welcome step by Erdoğan in 2012. And only lasting peace in Turkey can ever be the way forward.

Reform packages and greater rights for the Kurds in any new constitution should not be tied to their PKK dilemma. Not all Kurds are PKK sympathizers and many Kurds become trapped between alienation, harsh government policies and the PKK. Turkey can continue cutting branches, but without addressing the root of the problem the vicious PKK-Ankara struggle will continue for more decades with more bloodshed. This is also true for the Syrian Kurds. How about the dozen or so other Kurdish political parties? Kurdish autonomy in Syria is unlikely to reverse and Turkey must adjust to this new reality. Any confrontation with the YPD or continued Turkish policy against Syrian Kurds will simply turn greater Kurdish sentiment across the divide against Turkey.

Immediately after the Turkish attacks on the PKK, the White House urged the continuation of the reconciliation process and a de-escalation of violence, but also stressed Turkey’s right to self-defense. But the situation becomes more complicated when the most effective fighting force in Syria against ISIS are indeed the YPG. The U.S. continues to list the PKK as a terrorist organization, and yet ironically enjoys increasing strategic ties with the YPG. Seldom does such a precarious web of inter-relations remain intact for long. Turkey is at war with ISIS and the PKK, the PKK is at war with ISIS and Turkey, the U.S. is at war with ISIS and is helped by the PKK, Turkey is helping the U.S. fight ISIS, the PKK are helping Kurdish forces in the Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey is enjoying good relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government. The complex map is riddled with ironies and contradictions and the scene is set for greater fallouts and casualties in these relations.

First Published: Daily Sabah

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

HDP’s historic triumph at the polls renews focus on peace process in Turkey

History was achieved at the polls in Turkey as the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) became the first pro-Kurdish party to enter parliament as it emphatically surpassed the traditionally elusive election threshold with 13% of the vote.

At the same time, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were the biggest losers even as they amassed the most votes.

The electoral outcome means that Turkey returns to the days of coalition governments and instability that blighted the country prior to the onset of the AKP in 2002. The elections results were also seen as a major dent in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quest to amend the constitution and for a stronger presidential system.

The manifestation of 80 seats in parliament in many ways builds a new bridge between East and West of Turkey. For too long, the Kurdish problem was reduced to a terror problem. In fact, various Kurdish parties suffered under the PKK label and were quickly shut.

However, 13% of the national vote is a strong political mandate and not a voice of terror. The people clearly strive for peace and a strong voice in parliament is the vehicle for the Kurdish card to firmly enter Turkish politics.

Importantly, the HDP were able to successfully muster non-Kurdish votes which is important in its ambition to become a progressive party of Turkey.

The peace process became a key battleground between the AKP and HDP as fierce rhetoric resonated on the issue.

The peace process has somewhat stalled ahead of the elections with the PKK not willing to giving up arms outright without certain conditions been met and the AKP not willing to alienate its nationalist voter base by succumbing to PKK demands.

HDP has worked as a key interlocutor with a measure of influence with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, but they have stressed that the power to instigate the giving up of arms is with Ocalan and not them.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş hit back at criticism of interim Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the issue of laying down of arms, as heated rhetoric continued in the aftermath of the elections, stating that only Ocalan is capable of this and “Ocalan will make the call, and he is ready in İmralı to do it.”

A HDP delegation is seemingly ready to visit Imrali where there is optimism that Ocalan could set a date for the party’s congress to convene discussions on laying down of arms. Ocalan has undoubted influence but from an isolated prison other wider PKK circles have to be appeased, and it’s not clear how far or how willing a potentially weaker new government in Turkey would be to meeting key demands.

Elusive peace has many obstacles and many foes. Deadly bombings at a HDP rally days before the elections, increasing skirmishes between the PKK and Turkish forces and most recently a number of fatalities as the leader of a charity linked to the Kurdish Islamist political party Huda Par, with traditional animosity with the PKK, was killed.

It is clear so soon after the elections that these provocations are intended to stir unrest in the south east of Turkey and derail peace. This could be from nationalists who want to undermine the success of the HDP at the polls or sideline any peace with the PKK or show that HDP has unsufficient weight to placate the Kurdish region, from Huda Par seeking to stir old tension with the PKK or even elements from the PKK who believe their armed struggle is not over.

Demirtaş lashed out at the lack of government response, “People are taking steps to push the country into a civil war, and the prime minister and president are nowhere to be seen.”

From essential non-existence to a strong role in parliament, the Kurds have a come a long way in Turkey, the implementation of the peace process is now of critical importance for a better Turkey for both Turks and Kurds.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc