Friday, 8 June 2012

A Fragile Détente on Turkey’s Kurdish Issue


Turkish politics recently has been like a rolling avalanche. Issues and controversies get picked up and never dropped; instead, they get tangled up together until every part of political life is made up of myriad, interlocking dramas.

For instance, the historic negotiations between the AKP government and the main opposition CHP over the Kurdish question cannot be disentangled from: the bad blood between the two parties, PM Erdoğan’s alleged authoritarian streak and his war of words with the pro-Kurdish BDP, the new constitution, the clampdown on the KCK, foreign policy, the aftermath of the Uludere airstrike, the role of the military in politics and the internecine battles between the military, government, and intelligence services.

With all that in mind, there are grounds for a bit of scepticism over the negotiations between the main parties to find a kind of grand bargain over the Kurdish issue. For one thing, there is no love lost between the prickly Prime Minister and the CHP’s Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who has largely shed his professorial image after a series of bruising clashes with the government and with party rebels. The body language in this photo is pretty indicative of their frosty relationship.

Nonetheless, what is significant is not the CHP’s 10-point proposal on settling the conflict, but the fact that they – and not the AKP – proposed a new ‘roadmap’, and that the government was prepared to listen. At this stage the debate is about methodologies and confidence-building, not concrete steps, but that is still quite an achievement given the bitterness of political discourse in Turkey recently. Both sides are being rather polite about each other.

However another stumbling block is the continued absence of the nationalist MHP from the process. The party has refused to join the CHP’s initiative, insisting that the issue is one of terrorism, not of the Kurds.

This could be a break between the MHP and elements of the AKP. There was a brief moment a couple of weeks ago when it seemed that the government and the nationalists were aligned on the fight against terrorism (and by extension the wider Kurdish issue) after Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin accused the 34 victims of the botched Uludere airstrike of collaborating with the PKK, a stance backed by the MHP.

But subsequent criticism by senior AKP mandarins, and now the truce between Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdoğan, suggests that the government prefers to have the CHP on board than the nationalists. As columnists have pointed out, a Kurdish roadmap backed by both parties would represent about 75% of the electorate, unlike previous government-led initiatives.

There are many possible pitfalls ahead, which underlines the complexity and the rapid shifts in Turkish politics:

1)  Where does the BDP stand? So far the pro-Kurdish party, which has been hammered by arrests, judicial pressure and harsh criticisms by the AKP, has expressed cautious support for a process based on dialogue. There seems to be a sense that the CHP can act as a middleman between the government and the Kurdish party.
2)   What will the MHP do? One way it could act as a spoiler is to cause problems in the process of drafting a new constitution, due to be complete by December. The party has been clear about its red lines on issues such as language and national unity, areas which any Kurdish roadmap could cause difficulties. The MHP may use this as an indirect tool to influence the AKP-CHP process.
3)   What will the PKK do? As usual in such situations the militants appear to be divided between pro- and anti-reconciliation elements. The hardline elements will view any talks as a betrayal of the dream of Kurdish independence, and would be likely to ramp up attacks and kidnappings to derail the negotiations. The pressure on both the AKP and CHP – within party ranks and without – to call off talks could soon become insurmountable.
4)   On a related issue, what will the process even be? Who will the government talk to, and in what format? The CHP’s proposal for commissions on the subject are all very well, but how will these work and how will they interact with the panels drafting relevant sections of the constitution?
5)   What does the process mean for the CHP? It remains unclear why Kılıçdaroğlu has chosen to reach out his hand to a man he called a “post-modern dictator” back in February. Is the party seeking to become a new and more liberal force which can resolve the Kurdish issue? Or is it merely angling to have more influence on the new constitution? And how does this affect the CHP’s relationship with the remnants of the avowedly secular, anti-AKP and anti-Kurd ‘deep state’?
6)   Can the AKP-CHP alliance endure? Even recently the two leaders were at loggerheads and appear to viscerally dislike each other (particularly Erdoğan, who could be an Olympic champion for grudge-holding). Previous alliances have crumbled. Given the sensitivity and complexity of the issue at hand, this may soon disintegrate too.

1 comment:

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