Tag Archives: Erdogan

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

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

As Biden flies in to Turkey to repair dwindling sentiment, Ankara show-cases its strong ties with the Kurdistan Region

As much as Turkey has tried to steer clear of the Syrian civil war and the battle against the Islamic State (IS), it has found itself at the centre of the conflict in one way or another. Turkey has found itself embroiled in the conflict with the flood of millions of refugees, an extensive IS oil smuggling network and flow of foreign fighters and arms across the border.

At the same, Turkish relations with the United States have deteriorated rapidly. Relations may have cooled with increasing harsh rhetoric setting the tone but Turkey remains centre stage to the battle against IS as well as the eventual quest to topple Bashar al-Assad.

This week US Vice President Joe Biden flew into Turkey with the aim of reaching a compromise and patching ties. Public smiles and upbeat tones aside, privately the talks between Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will be anything but straight forward.

After all, this is the same Biden who caused heated controversy with suggestions that Turkey helped Islamic fighters seeking to depose Assad, which fast turned into a did-he or did-he not apologise farce.

Biden and Davutolgu struck a conciliatory tone at their press conference and played down differences stressing their relations as long-time allies.

The question remains as to whether Biden can achieve real compromise. Turkey has insisted that it’s already an active part of the coalition against IS but US knows it can simply do a lot more.

Turkey has reservations about supporting Syrian Kurdish forces in Kobane, labelling them as terrorists, while conversely they have become one of the only reliable US partners in the fight against IS.

Talks with Erdogan are likely to be much tenser. Erdogan has shown that Turkish interests come first regardless of any international backlash and he has become somewhat unpredictable in nature, pursuing an independent foreign-policy.

Whilst Erdogan may work with the US it will certainly not bow to any pressure nor is he afraid of any fallout if his demands are not met.

Turkey demands are clear. The US must have a comprehensive strategy that also deals with the removal of Assad. Ironically, the IS emanated from Assad-fuelled Syrian conflict, but the US is far from willing to replace him in the tougher fashion demanded by Ankara.

US has insisted its hands are already full with focus on the removal of IS in Iraq and Syria but for Turkey this is just more foot-dragging from the US believing that the road to defeating IS runs through Damascus.

Unless there is real compromise on the part of the US, Erdogan has already warned that the Turkish position will not change. “From the no-fly zone to the safety zone and training and equipping – all these steps have to be taken now,” Erdogan said in mid-week. Before reiterating a common stance “The coalition forces have not taken those steps we asked them for. … Turkey’s position will be the same as it is now.”

Without meeting the main Turkish demands, compromise may be small and ineffective. For example, after US officials visited Turkey in recent weeks, there is already an agreement to train and equip approx. 2000 moderate Syrian fighters. Previously, Turkey allowed 150 Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga to cross into Kobane.

None of these are real game-changers when Turkey’s immense military might is at a viewing distance from the Syrian conflict.

US will continue to reach out to Turkey, in reality it has little option but to keep Ankara on-side as they remain key actors even with a growing feeling of animosity and reluctance.

No image summed up the downward spiral in relations better than that of three American sailors from the USS Ross been hooded and roughed up by an anti-American mob in Turkey.

In knowledge of the deteriorating relations with the US and the international out-cry at the perceived lack of Turkish action over Kobane and the battle against IS, Turkey has tried hard in recent days to emphasize solid relations with the Kurdistan Region and also a Baghdad who under the rule of Nouri al-Maliki saw increasingly frosty ties with Ankara.

In recent months, there has certainly been a patching-up of ties between Ankara and Baghdad with prospects this week after talks with Davutoglu and Iraqi officials of Turkey training Iraqi forces. Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi is also scheduled to visit Turkey next month to seek further normalisation in ties.

In a recent visit to Erbil, Davutoglu, under-scoring the close strategic and economic relations with the Kurdish Region, stressed “Turkey will provide support through any necessary means for the Kurdistan Region’s security”.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Emboldened by local elections, Erdogan looks to the Kurds in presidential bid

The local elections in Turkey were widely touted as a pivotal landmark and referendum on the 11 year rule of AKP and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Whilst Erdogan has been under great pressure of late and has endured much publicity, he was not only able to come out the elections fighting but emboldened to the contrary of expectations from opposition circles.

This goes to show that in democracy even if 1 million come to the streets in stern opposition, it is relative and not always a reflection of the sentiment of millions that decide not to take to the streets. His opposition cannot be taken lightly but his support is evidently greater.

In the end the Gülenists failed to demonstrate that they have the political clout to strike a real blow to Erdogan and the AKP. The resounding victory gave Erdogan renewed confidence to undermine and attack the Gülenists and Erdogan hardly hid his desire to root them out, holding them responsible for unrest in Turkey and smear campaigns against the government.

The election results provide a platform for Erdogan to pursue his long-time ambition of replacing Abdullah Gul as president at the presidential elections in August, where for the first time the president will be elected by popular vote and not by government.

The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) had a decent showing at the elections even if they failed to woe their targeted number of votes, but AKP continued to fair strongly in Kurdish districts.

There is popular consensus amongst Kurds that Erdogan, who has been the instigator of much welcome reform of Kurdish rights and gradual steering away of nationalist hysteria against the Kurds, is the key to the continuation of the peace process.

Even though the pace and scope of the peace process has disappointed and not met Kurdish expectations, Erdogan has taken political risk amidst a backdrop of nationalist opposition.

In this light, dealing a blow to Gülenists and secular nationalists alike was a common agenda of the Kurds and the AKP.

Erdogan secured 46% of the vote but must now strive to build on this especially if he is to succeed in the presidential elections. An alliance with the BDP is a seemingly logical step for both sides.

The BDP (and their sister party HDP) mustered just over 6% of the vote having won 3 metropolitan municipalities, 8 provinces and 66 districts.

Kurds represent a signifiant portion of the elctroate and between those that voted for AKP and the BDP, a coming together to support Erdogan‘s candidacy will almost certainly tip the scales favourably.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Turkish opposition in historical step to end Kurdish insurgency

Historical talks between the Turkish opposition party CHP and ruling AKP promises much, but without a change in ideology and outdated principles and new tangible measures, can a new political process really achieve a different end result?

While Turkey’s current Kurdish policy is a far-cry from the dark days of the past, its “democratic openings” have often stumbled to a halt before they have gained any real motion. Turkey has tried to implement bold measures without a real change in ideology, in parliament, in nationalist circles or in tangible measures.

Contrary to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previous statements that there is no Kurdish problem but only a terrorist problem, the Kurdish problem rages on and if anything has gained new momentum.

With rapidly changing political realities in the Middle East, Turkey risks been left behind unless it readdresses its strategic role in the region, starting with its greatest problem, its Kurdish minority

Turkey has been waging a war against the PKK and trying to contain its Kurdish population for decades without success. It has to finally come to terms that its real problem is not a few thousand PKK guerillas but its millions of disenfranchised and largely impoverished Kurdish citizens. Its only solution is to resolve the Kurdish issue through parliament, with new legislature and through common dialogue. Turkey cannot continue its failed ideology that PKK can be destroyed by force alone and yet expect to resolve its Kurdish dilemma. You have to address the root of the problem, before wasting energy at merely cutting the branches.

New angle to Kurdish issue

The PKK is clearly enjoying a new lease of life with support from Damascus much to the dismay of Ankara and deriding the government’s belief that they will “render terrorists ineffective”. These days, the Kurdish issue in Turkey is far from been confined as a domestic issue. The Kurdistan Region, with its own escalating crisis with Baghdad, is heading closer to self-sufficiency and independence through new oil infrastructure and new sway on pan-Kurdish nationalism, and more importantly a new alliance with Ankara as Turkish relations have wavered with neighboring countries.

The situation of the Syrian Kurds, with or without Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has drastically shifted and they will enjoy new leverage. The PKK is enjoying fresh support amongst the already fractured Syrian Kurds, serving to create another headache for Ankara. One way or another, the Kurdish issue is no longer a domestic issue and needs a fresh approach, and new forward thinking away from outdates ethos.

Opposition plan

Against a backdrop of the Syrian crisis, escalating PKK violence, Ankara’s cooling of ties with Damascus, Tehran and Baghdad and an increasing wedge between its Kurdish citizens, Turkey cannot stay idle.

As such, the main Turkish opposition’s proposed initiatives this week in tackling the Kurdish problem and ending the insurgency, the first time the opposition have instigated such measures, is a positive development.

The leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, had a historic meeting with Erdoğan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) where he put forward a 10-point solution to the ending the vicious violence with the PKK that for decades has crippled much of the south-east and to reconcile with its Kurdish citizens.

The principle behind Kılıçdaroğlu approach is that a solution to the Kurdish problem requires a “national contract”. A measure he believes that can only be achieved through a parliamentary process.

Kılıçdaroğlu attributed blame to the political process for failure to resolve its age-old dilemma, “Why could this problem not be solved over the last 25, 30 years? Why could terrorism not be ended? The only responsibility for this is with politics as an institution,” he asked.

The proposed measures include the creation of create an eight-member cross-party Social Consensus Commission augmented by a 12-person non-parliamentary committee selected by the four parliamentary parties.

Both the Erdogan and Kılıçdaroğlu labeled the meetings as positive which also had support of the pro-Kurdish BDP. However, the nationalist handicap, one of the reasons why Erdogan backtracked on the 2009 Kurdish Opening against a backdrop of hawkish circles and nationalist anger, will likely derail the plans for cross-party consensus.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) did not take part in the talks with party leader Devlet Bahçeli accusing the government of “legitimizing terror”.

Change of direction from Opposition

Erdogan and Kılıçdaroğlu seldom meet and have often clashed over granting Kurds greater rights and thus their rapprochement is the right tonic to kick-start resolution of its Kurdish problem.

The seemingly change of heart from the opposition may not be purely due to a desire to finally come to terms with the Kurdish equation.

The CHP also sense a political chance to win-over the Kurdish vote at a time when frustration with the AKP is rife with the perceived insincerity of the government towards the unfortunate Roboski massacre and its stalled Kurdish initiative. It is an opportunity to build links in the south east where social-democrats are a scarcity and also tap into the liberal support.

It is also an opportunity for the CHP to weaken any reconciliation between the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in particular over the new constitution. AKP controversial policies such as those proposed over abortion also serve as an opportunity for CHP to secure more points.

The bottom line is that CHP can no longer stay on the side-lines of the Kurdish issue and forgo the Kurdish vote if it has any aspiration for power for the sake of its outdated ideals.

The way forward

If the killing of 34 young villages of Uludere by Turkish forces in a case of mistaken identity was a sincerity test for the government, then the government has badly failed. This further alienated the Kurds and exposed limits to the AKP reach out to the Kurds.

However, above all else, it is lack of real intent and sincerity that has crippled previous democratic openings.

It’s not arriving at a political process that will resolve the Kurdish issue and put an end to the insurgency, but concrete measures and a new dose of reality in applying practical solutions.

Turkey cannot change the end result, no matter what process it ensues, with the same historical ideology.

On the one hand it reaches out to the Kurds, on the other it arrests thousands of Kurdish political figures including BDP mayors and most recently Leyla Zana under the same harsh penal code of yesteryear.

It has too often overlooked the BDP and its previous manifestations, and has been too quick to label any nationalist Kurd or Kurdish political party as a supporter of the PKK.

Ankara has also tried to end the insurgency without paying any relevance to serious dialogue with other party in the military equation, the PKK.

The PKK, in spite of a nationalist reprisal that will inevitably come, must form a direct part of this initiative. Their support base has swollen over the years, with the government playing a big part in this, and changes in Kurdish sentiment will not be wholesale overnight.

However, what is clear is that most Kurds are long-fed up of been caught between PKK violence and outdated and insincere government policies. The new initiative must give the Kurds a way out and a new vision that they can truly buy into. Pro-Kurdish should not automatically be labeled as pro-PKK.

Facing facts

Facing facts is the only way Ankara can shatter old conceptions and herald a new dawn with its Kurds. Millions of its citizens need to enjoy the same rights as anyone else in Turkey. The millions of its citizens should not be punished only because their ethnicity and heritage is not Turkish. Kurdish culture and history should be embraced as a core component of the Turkish landscape.

The Kurdish nationalist vehicle is gaining momentum and either Turkey can keep pace and try and influence events to its advantage, or it can be a passive bystander as winds of change rapidly rattle the very nucleus of the Middle East.

The initiative promises renewed hope, but is uncertain whether Turkey has the stomach for real compromise, swallowing of nationalist pride or swaying from the foundations of Kemalist ideology.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Kurds caught in the middle as tensions in Iraq are stoked by regional jockeying

With the political crisis in Iraq already at a critical juncture, domestic and regional events this week served to intensify tensions.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki formally suspended a number of ministers from the predominantly Sunni-based al-Iraqiya list after weeks of boycotts. As internal parties continued frantic jockeying to soothe friction and find a way forward, fierce rhetoric from rival factions only further highlighted the prevalent fractured landscape and a strong sense of animosity.

Over the past weeks, with realization of the great perils that the current sectarian stand-off threatens to unearth, regional neighbours particularly Turkey have been getting overly anxious.

The reality of Iraq”s diverse socio-ethnic mosaic and its fractured foundations is hardly new, the threats and problems that exist today have not developed overnight and have existed for decades were they only become more magnified after 2003.

However, the ever evolving Middle Eastern struggle for influence and supremacy has left the likes of Turkey on the edge. Turkey realizes that with the highly-volatile and sensitive Middle Eastern climate, it can either wait on the side and become consumed by the end products that ensue or actively try and influence the current tides for its ultimate benefit.

Iraq has often been a playground for regional powers and the current predicament is only a by-product of this. The current standoff that began with the arrest warrant of Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and the resulting acrimonious fallout has as much of a regional footing as a local one.

The Arab Spring which is still ongoing in Syria has set a new benchmark in the Middle East and along with it a lot of political, sectarian and strategic wavering.

Add the US withdrawal in Iraq, Turkey”s frosty relations with Israel and its continuing struggle with the PKK, a new round of sanctions to punish Iran”s growing nuclear clout, Iran”s increasing faceoff with the Sunni Arab Gulf states and one can see that the Middle East is a deep interconnected web of ties and proxy battles.

Turkey has acknowledged and highlighted the dangers of Iraqi fragmentation before any other side due to sensitivities with the preservation of their own borders, but they have become more vociferous in recent weeks amidst what they deem as a Shiite grasp of power aided by an increasingly isolated Iranian regime. Tehran”s relations with Ankara have certainly cooled and Iran has used its immense leverage on Iraq and Syria to show that it still has plenty of strings to pull.

Iraq”s continuous solidarity with Syria is a byproduct of Iranian influence and is a stark contrast to the Turkish stance on Bashar al-Assad”s waning regime.

Tensions between Baghdad and Ankara were deepened when the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Iraq”s ambassador to Turkey, Abdulemir Kamil Abi-Tabikh, to its headquarters in Ankara to express their anger at al-Maliki growing hard-line statements and criticism towards Turkey. This was just a day after Baghdad had done the same to show their displeasure at what they saw as Turkish interference.

The attacks on the Turkish embassy in Baghdad are only likely to stoke sentiments further.

The Kurds are not a party to the sectarian battle in Iraq but nevertheless become ubiquitously sucked into the standoff. The Kurds were often looked at by Turkey as an instigator of a future breakup but Turkey has to soon come to terms that an Iraqi split will not be on a part of the Kurds and plan for the eventuality that sooner or later that they will need to embrace an independent Kurdistan.

Turkey is already relying heavily on the Kurds to maintain equilibrium and leverage in Iraq. The shift towards sectarianism by Baghdad is evident in the eyes of Ankara who perceive the dilution of Sunni power in parliament and controversy around al-Hashemi as testimony to this view.

While Turkey has warned that current political antics risk the break-up of Iraq, ironically al-Maliki has in turn warned that “Turkey is playing a role that might bring disaster and civil war to the region and will suffer because it has different sects and ethnicities.”

No doubt the growing prominence of the Kurds in Iraq and ongoing disgruntled noises of millions of Kurds in south eastern Turkey is keeping Turkey restless at night. Not to mention that Turkey may end up a passive player in the shape of proceedings in spite of all its efforts as changes unravel around it.

As we have seen with the Arab Spring, it doesn”t take much to create a political avalanche that can bring more change in mere weeks than decades prior.

Turkish warnings over the current state of regional meddling in Iraq may speak true but are certainly contradictory. The same regional influence that they fear that Iraqi blocs will fall under has been raging for over 8 years and Turkey has been a key component of this.

Although, many had hoped that al-Hashemi would be giving a fair trial with a legal rather than a political underpinning and that the tensions could be cooled by an all-inclusive national conference, the suspension of al-Iraqiya MP”s placed further cloud on the prospects of near-term compromise and concord.

Al-Iraqiya leader, Ayad Allawi warned this week that Iraq needs a new prime minister or new elections to prevent the country from falling apart. Both these demands may not come anytime soon. Al-Maliki still enjoys fair amount of support in Baghdad and crucially still has Kurdish backing.

The key task for the Kurdistan leadership is play their cards wisely but also do what is the interests of Kurdistan and not simply aid political jockeying in Baghdad. The Kurds could well pull the rug under the feet of al-Maliki and after this week”s turn of events, Ankara will be siding and pressurizing the Kurds closely to contain al-Maliki.

As the KDP resumes the premiership with the imminent return of Nechirvan Barzani to spearhead the next Kurdistan government, the Kurdistan Region finds itself at a crucial but highly delicate juncture. What dice the Kurds roll and what cards they play could echo for many more years. As Kurds realized to their detriment for decades after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, missing historical opportunities can set-back a nation many more years.

If their yearly ploys to glue Iraq together bear only counterproductive fruit for the Kurdish people, then the serious question must be asked of the Kurdish leadership. If Iraq continuously deploys policies that are counter to the principles of voluntary union and national harmony, then the Kurds must formally declare their independence.

The situation in Iraq after 8 years of fierce pushing, hand holding and direct support from Washington didn”t bring much joy, and it is unlikely that the current situation in Iraq can be magically transformed.

Deep rooted problems need deep rooted solutions. The simple reality is that as a majority and with significant backing of Tehran, the Shiites are not about to relinquish power in Baghdad anytime soon. The Sunni will continue to feel marginalized unless they can win some form of autonomy or real decision making posts in Baghdad which as witnessed under the State of Law coalition, will not be easily ceded.

As part of the current coalition underpinned by the Erbil agreement, al-Iraqiya was to be afforded executive decision making posts which never materialized. Al-Iraqiya discontent was already at tipping point long before the al-Hashemi debacle.

It is the political environment that often makes a leader and thus even if al-Maliki was replaced, it is not certain that significant outcomes can be achieved. Furthermore, new elections will only result in another de-facto national census, with no clear winner due to the factional split and thus the same arduous process of coalition building.

The regional turmoil itself is only just brewing. If Iran carries out its threat to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz then it places regional governments into a tougher corner. Iraq itself could find itself in a precarious position against its allies, as the closing of the Gulf passage would cripple the Iraqi economy. Meanwhile, Turkey is unlikely to heed al-Maliki”s warnings not to interfere when they have so much at stake.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

The vicious cycle of ‘no peace, no war’ bites Turkey once more

Hope and growing expectation that the age-old Kurdish issue could be finally resolved in Turkey, underlined by the government’s bold and historical undertaking referred to as the “Kurdish opening”, quickly evaporated.

The derailment of the brief positivity that was sewn in the much impoverished and conflict scarred east of Turkey is highlighted by the dramatic escalation of events in Turkey this past week.

The PKK have evidently escalated attacks in recent weeks, but the death tolls marked by a string of deadly attacks over the past number of days has rocked Turkey and stirred nationalist anger.

A bomb attack on a bus in Istanbul, claimed by an off-shoot of the PKK, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), brought the number of soldiers killed to 17 in less than week.

This has placed immense pressure on Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, already under broad attack from the opposition and nationalist circles for his attempts to reach out to the Kurds and ultimately reach out to the PKK to lay down their arms.

This all begs the question, where did it all go wrong? Surely, all sides would seek to capitalise on positive motions to bring peace to Turkey and a democratic settlement to such an age old problem that has left scars on both sides? The simple answer is no. This is Turkey after all, and cracks formed from decades of nationalistic policies, disenfranchisement, bitter feelings from both circles and a raging guerrilla war that has claimed thousand of lives, will not be papered over all too easily.

Turkey has finally come to the realisation that cutting the branches of your problem is not equivalent to cutting its root. As long as the PKK machine is fuelled by government policies, peace will not be achievable and bloodshed will continue.

The greatest goal of the Turkish government should be to isolate the PKK, not militaristically or economically but emotionally. Not all Kurds support the PKK and certainly only a very small minority of Kurds prefer bloodshed to peace.

However, even as Kurdish political parties with firstly the DTP which was dramatically ousted last year for alleged links with the PKK and was the first fatal blow to the peace process, and there successor the BDP, have had presence in the Turkish parliament, they have failed to become the true representatives of the Kurds and have succumbed under the great PKK shadow and persistent attempts in Turkey to clip their wings, before the political birds could even fly.

However, the Turkish government hardly helped their cause, in spite of what initially seemed positive developments between the AKP and the now defunct DTP last year.

Nationalists and Kemalists have gulped at the mere idea that the Kurdish problem should be drawn on a democratic or ethnic basis and have persistently acknowledged the battle with the PKK as a fight against terrorism. In truth, the root of this battle is for greater cultural and democratic rights, freedoms and social development in the Kurdish region.

As such, these democratic openings and initiatives can only be attained in the Turkish parliament, not in the mountains or by the sheer military might of any army. Therefore, the more the Kurdish issue is rendered to a battle in the distant mountains, whilst the situation on the ground deteriorates, this only entices Turkey into a vicious “no peace, no war” cycle that as history has shown has blighted both sides.

In spite of widespread public pressure and the recent attacks, Erdogan maintained his pledge to the Kurdish opening and the broadening of Kurdish rights. However, as violence escalates, Erdogan will have a fight on his hand to instil any motion in parliament against a backdrop of opposition and sheer animosity. Constitutional changes, the fundamental aim of the Kurds, will become almost impossible in such a tense and nationalistically polluted climate.

In reality, ongoing tension in many ways supports the nationalist and Kemalist circles, the Turkish military as well as the PKK. As peace and democratic moves falter, the PKK continues to be the flagship of the Kurds.

It is important for Turkey not to rescind on its pledges, lest allow the PKK to take centre stage again. It must support and encourage Kurdish political evolvement, which has historically been starved and facilitate true representation in the Turkish parliament, rather than pressure, alienate or as has been common place, shut down Kurdish parties all together.

The peace initiative took a great blow when the government was largely embarrassed, as what should have been a milestone for the Kurdish opening with the surrender of a number of PKK rebels last year turned into a pro-PKK ceremony.

Currently, there has emerged a huge vacuum in the peace process that can not be so easily bridged. The Turkish government will simply refuse to ever negotiate directly with the PKK, let alone be seen to succumb to the rebels. The war with the PKK has become far too bloody, too many scars have developed and too much pride is at stake for that to ever happen.

Yet as long as the PKK continues to be the representative voice of the Kurds, then the process is stalled without true recognisable and widely respected Kurdish interlocutors on the ground.

The aim of Turkey should remain unhindered. Reach out to the Kurds and entice them into a genuine alternative between separatism and violence on the one hand, and historical repression by successive Turkish governments on the other.

The tears of a mother, whether Kurdish or Turkish, are sacred. Violence serves no gain and only deepens scars. The more deaths that emerge, the more that both sides reach deeper into the position of no return.

When the Kurds see development of their region, democratic rights, employment and a firm place as true partners of the Turks, Kurds will themselves turn on separatists or those who seek violence or bring instability.

For now, the situation will get worse before it gets better. With imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan openly abandoning efforts to seek dialogue, this has culminated in a fresh wave of violence, with the PKK threatening more attacks until its demands for greater rights are fulfilled.

While Erdogan remains persistent on his bold and historical opening, he can not at the same time watch as attacks escalate and pressure mounts. A dismayed Erdogan accused European countries of not doing enough in its combat against terrorism.

This was an all too frequent criticism of the US in the past, even as the US have openly denounced the PKK and publicly defended the Turkish government while often overlooking Turkish actions in Iraq.

As Turkey continues to flagrantly breach Iraqi sovereignty with military incursions and air raids, this places the Iraqi Kurds into a more precarious predicament. Iraqi Kurds, who have often been blamed for aiding the PKK, have repeatedly refused to fight fellow Kurds.

However, with the much welcome thawing of relations between Turkey and Kurdistan in recent times resulting in the landmark visit by Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani, the Iraqi Kurds may well have a price to pay for the new strong bond with Turkey.

Barzani pledged “all efforts” to assist Turkey on his visit, and the Turkish government may well give the Iraqi Kurds more support and official recognition, including annexation of disputed territories, for their hand in further alienating the PKK.

This places the Kurdistan government into a tough situation. It needs the strategic support and recognition of Turkey to prosper and develop, while at the same time it does not want the PKK problem to become a greater Kurdish issue. After all, no matter how you look at it, the Kurdish dilemma in Turkey is a cultural and democratic one, specific to Turkey alone and can only be resolved in the Turkish parliament – and no where else.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Peyamner, Various Misc.

DTP ban clouds quest to mend bridges in Turkey

Two months can be a relatively long-time when it comes to politics in Turkey. Only recently there was widespread optimism and hope that Turkey was finally intent on tackling its age-old Kurdish dilemma head-on. However, hope quickly turned into despair with the contentious decision to ban the Democratic Society Party (DTP) by the Turkish Constitutional Court for its alleged links to the PKK, a claim that has long reverberated in hawkish circles.

Big Swing in Turkey

When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a historic speech, widely referenced as the “Kurdish Opening”, his vision was as courageous as his boldness to pass momentous democratic measures in Turkey against a backdrop of opposition.

The plan itself took several more weeks to be unveiled as widespread bickering, controversy and debate gripped Turkey around the ground breaking measures proposed.

Whilst the steps finally unveiled fell short of Kurdish expectations and was undoubtedly watered-down under heavy criticism and pressure from the Turkish opposition, it was nevertheless for a country that long denied even the existence of its Kurdish population an important step that was hoped would finally bring unison and stability to the south east of Turkey.

DTP banned

The decision to ban the DTP in many ways has been long-time coming. Almost as soon as the DTP became the first Kurdish party in the Turkish parliament for 14 years, the party found itself under pressure from many a circle intent on clipping the wings of a growingly influential party in the much disenfranchised Kurdish quarters.

Although the decision is bitterly disappointing especially in light of the great deceleration affect it has had on the Kurdish initiative, until mindsets are greatly changed in Turkey such decisions are unsurprising.

The closure of the party is the last in the line of 10 Kurdish parties to be closed down by Turkish authorities. Under the orders of the prosecution, 37 party members including DTP leader Ahmet Turk have been banned from politics for five years. The harsh penal codes when it comes to preserving the foundations of the Turkish republic has meant that even the ruling AKP party has not been immune to the viciousness of the Turkish constitutional courts.

Once sentiments had somewhat calmed, Ahmet Turk strongly indicated that the remaining politicians where the DTP held 21 seats in the 550-member parliament, would form another group and remain in parliament.

Whilst the disillusionment of the politicians is understandable, it is of paramount importance that the Kurds remain on the democratic road. Regardless, of whether another 10 pro-Kurdish parties are banned in subsequent years, it remains very clear that the only place that Kurdish issue can be solved is via parliament and not in the mountains via sheer military force.

Who represents the Kurds?

Clearly, the PKK continues to assume strong support amongst the Kurds in Turkey. Although the DTP made fundamental gains at the municipal elections earlier this year, the PKK continues to be the common denominator when it comes to any discussion around the Kurdish issue.

Whilst the DTP could have done more to take over the new mantle as the chief representation of the Kurds and distance itself emotively from the PKK, the PKK cloud continued to linger in the DTP window. The PKK trace is deep-rooted in south east, namely as the Kurds have had no parliamentary representation in successive decades and thus in reality a lack of political alternatives to dilute the PKK influence over the years.

Certainly for Turkey, the decision to ban the only legal Kurdish body will have an adverse affect on democracy in the region. Ironically, this position places the PKK closer to the fore as the bastion of Kurdish identity.

Years of bloodshed and billions of dollars of expenditure has continually highlighted that without addressing the root cause of the Kurdish struggle, gulfs will continue to widen in Turkey.

Whilst Erdogan’s guile stirred Kurdish optimism and at least theoretically placed the long-term role of the PKK in jeopardy, the decision to ban the DTP once again leaves a feeling of despondency and a lack of faith amongst the Kurds.

Furthermore, as it currently stands almost 2.5 million people have affectively lost their representation. Unless this political gap can be urgently filled, then this will stir more bitterness and disappointment.

This is not the first time, and many suspect not the last, where Turkish rhetoric around resolving its Kurdish dilemma has not been met with real intent or concrete steps.

Opposition backlash

After much promise from the Turkish government, there is a big feeling of Turkish backtracking over the historic steps. The immense pressure from nationalist circles in Turkey placed severe pressure on the government and Turkish courts not to be seen as weak or undermining the foundations of the Turkish republic, which for many has almost mystical importance.

The surrender of a small group of PKK guerrillas was designed as a test of Turkish desire and it was hoped that this would be the first of many.

However, the surrender was met with such high-profile jubilation from Kurds that it almost felt like a victory parade for the PKK and this has proved a counter-productive step by the Kurds. It yet again placed focus on the PKK as the real front of the Kurdish initiative, which for the government was embarrassing and emanated weakness in the face of their arch enemy.

The intense media coverage this received placed a devastating knock on Erdogan’s initiative. This was a fundamental chance for the DTP who were key actors in the historic surrender to firmly assume the mantle piece as the chief interlocutors of the Kurdish movement. However, in many regards the DTP failed to truly out-strip the PKK shadow as the new champion of the Kurdish movement.

Widespread riots in Kurdish cities over the prison conditions of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan followed by a number of high-profile clashes between the PKK and the Turkish army only added fuel to a raging opposition fire.

While Erdogan, who was strongly critical of the decision to ban the DTP and vowed to press on with his vision of reforms, became increasingly isolated the Turkish government realised that changing mindsets would be a much more difficult task than they imagined.

In a twist of irony, not long ago Erdogan held a number of meetings with Ahmet Turk regarding the initiative which he hailed for its positive impact and productive influence.

Pressure from EU

The decision to band the DTP was met with disappointment from the EU, which has placed the enhancement of minority rights as a keystone of Turkey’s bid to join the EU.

Whilst this saga has served a significant blow, it simply must not detract either Kurds or Turks from reality. The future of Turkey relies on the affective integration of the Kurdish population. Decades of nationalistic polices has served no side and if Turkey harbours any glimmer of aspirations to join the EU then this must come with the realisation that this can only occur if the Kurds and Turks enter the EU hand-in-hand.

The era of violence in any struggle is over. The world is exponentially smaller and much more transparent than ever before. No nation can systemically deny another lest if the world turns a blind eye. Support for the PKK remains strong but to dwindle this down Turkey must take more courageous steps and embark on a long-term opening with patience and perseverance than expect that Kurdish sentiments can be easily swayed.

Just as it is difficult to sway Turkish nationalist sentiments towards the Kurds, it will take just as long to convince Kurds that the Turkish government is sincere in finally embracing them as a fundamental cog of the Turkish landscape.

With the DTP vowing to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the ruling of the Constitutional Court, this episode may just receive the global spotlight that will put pressure on the Turkish government to reenergise its widely-highlighted goal of broadening Kurdish rights.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Online Opinion, eKurd, Peyamner, Various Misc.

Building new bridges in Turkey based on old realities

The time has come to usher a new era of peace and brotherhood. This no longer has to be a distant pipedream but an emerging reality that can propel Turkey to new cohesion and unity.

After 25 years of bloodshed and missed opportunities, Turkey must realise that cutting the branches of your problem is fruitless without addressing its root.

After much blood has been spilled, thousands have been killed, billions of wasted expenditure and decades of ethno-social animosity, Turkey got no closer to resolving its most prevalent issue since the formation of the republic. By the same token, as far as the PKK are concerned, violence and insurrection is no longer the solution to addressing its goals in the modern era. The opportunity for long-term peace has not been greater than at any time in history.

In the context of past policies, whilst recent reform and democratisation measures may have falling short of expectations, they still serve as remarkable progress for a country where the word “Kurd” has been a deep-rooted taboo. Now the times for ubiquitous promises are over and the Turkish government must implement concrete steps to back its rhetoric.

Greater consensus

Last month, the AKP government spearheaded by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, announced a new democratisation motion in the shape of a package of landmark reforms designed to address the Kurdish issue through greater rights and recognition. In the governments own words the initiative was a “courageous” step aimed at ending the violence and building new bridges in Turkey. 

Whilst the contents of the plans have been concealed, measures by the government have been met with resistance from opposition parties and also from the “guardians of the republic”, the nationalist army.

It says a lot about the high sensitivity that prevails on the Kurdish topic that the government is anxious to ascertain broad public approval for the plans across the Turkish mosaic and has frequently defended its plans. Divided opinion remains common on the Kurdish issue and the nationalist circles remain highly-emotive about any plans that are deemed to break the mystical foundations of the republic.

Clearly, the problem for Turkey has never been a few thousand rebels in the mountains but the issue of 15 million Kurds, a great portion of its society. Kurdish rights and freedoms have been quelled for decades for simple fear that the Kurds endanger the sovereignty and unity of the republic. Such fears have resurfaced with warnings from Turkish army chiefs and opposition parties that any plans must not endanger unity or age-old Kemalist principles.

As a non-Turkic entity and the perceived potential harm they can cause to the foundations of Turkish society, successive governments have gone to great lengths to repress and assimilate Kurds and to eradicate elements of culture and “Kurdishness” from the Turkish landscape. However, this has failed to mask the fact that Kurds are a distinct ethnic entity and have every right to enjoy an equitable existence in lands they have inhibited for thousands of years.

A Turkey for both Kurds and Turks

Even the staunch nationalist army has realised over time that they can not defeat the PKK through sheer force alone without dealing with the heart of the issue and enticing the Kurds into brotherly ties. Whilst it may be easier to focus on ridding the mountains of the rebels, the real focus should be to ascertain why the rebels remain grounded with support in their battle.

The majority of the Kurds do not decree separatism and prefer to remain in a prosperous and modern European state with aspirations to join the EU. The advantages of the Kurds becoming a key productive component of Turkey are endless. If the Kurds were effectively enticed with more rights, employment and investment in the region, support for armed struggle in the midst of such greater benefits and gains that come from been part of a major European state would rapidly evaporate.

The Turkish “fear” culture of the Kurds should diminish and Kurds should finally be embraced as an essential and rightful cog of Turkish society. Antagonism must end and bloodshed must cease. The face of a mourning mother on either side of the divide is a tragedy, the life of a Kurd and Turk are just as sacred as another.

For wounds to heal between Kurds and Turks, one must look to the future and not the past. The past may have been grim and harsh but a solid future could be built based on harmony, peace and prosperity and above all else equality.

Diversity in Turkey should not be masked and repelled but embraced. Ethnic and cultural diversity of a country say much about its fundamentals, heritage and history. While nationalists will embrace every inch of Turkish land then by the same token it is unacceptable that large swathes of the Turkish southeast remain impoverished and lacking key infrastructure. Why shouldn’t all parts of Turkey treated by the same regard in reality as it is enshrined in the constitution?

With a more open society and breaking down the Kurdish fear factor, perhaps it may not be too long before Turks from the west of Turkey can visit the southeast in greater numbers through tourism and taste another flavour of Turkey. Any why not? The southeast of Turkey has as much of a fascinating history and culture as anywhere else. It is a part of Turkey after all and therefore should not be treated as a distance neglected land inhibited by a people who “despise” Turkey.

The path to reform

Whilst reform over past several years has been welcome, it has essentially been in dribs and drabs rather than wholesale measures aimed at resolving the problem. True reform as the government have seemingly proposed must be all encompassing and not implemented in half-measures.

At the core of “courageous” reforms must be the advent of constitutional changes. No reform or initiative that addresses the heart of the republic can be ultimately successful without amendments to the blueprint of the country – its constitution. The principle that Turkey is for Turks only is an outdated ethos. This doesn’t mean that the greater foundations of the republic will necessarily unravel, it just means that Turkey can finally get away from a nationalist mentality that was planted at such contrasting times in history to the current era of globalisation, democracy and diversification that we find ourselves in today.

Kurds must be recognised as a distinct minority within Turkey with the Kurdish language noted as one of the official languages of Turkey. The Kurdish population should be allowed to exercise more language rights in the south east and a level of autonomy must be granted to municipalities in the Kurdish parts of the country. Kurdish names should be freely used in public and villages should be renamed to their original names.

The Kurdish “region” should now be treated as a distinct part of Turkey, not to promote separatism but to build a bridge based on this reality to create a new unison.

Although, the government has pledged a “democratic path”, it has ruled out direct negotiations with the PKK or greater amnesty. The PKK is a key actor in the region and if the Turkish government refuses a bilateral peace with view to dissolving the PKK as a military force, reforms may prove counterproductive.

Rallies in Turkey

Recent celebratory military parades were used as a show of force by the army that it still holds the aces in preserving the core foundations of the republic. The Turkish army chief recently stated that he “respects cultural diversity” but was opposed to the politicisation of the issue, a thinly-veiled caution that major changes to the blueprint of the Turkish republic would be blocked.

Rallies were also organised in Diyarbakir to promote peace initiatives and Kurdish rights. Arguably, announcement of reform packages were pushed through by the Turkish government in light of Abdullah Ocalan’s own declaration of a “road map” that he plans to release on resolving the Kurdish issue.

Whilst Turkey has ruled out negotiations with the PKK, in what would arguably be portrayed as a major “defeat” for Turkey by opposition parties, the government has held encouraging talks with the Democratic Society Party (DTP) after previously contentious relations, an important development since in practice the DTP has become the bastion of the Kurdish political movement.

A great platform has been afforded for peace and brotherhood in Turkey. If the measures are enforced in the same vigour as intent then a great future can be forged in Turkey for both its Kurdish and Turkish constituents.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.