The CHP is about to miss the train
Turkey has been suffering from its Kurdish problem for almost 100 years now, with the first 30 years having been painful following the launch of a violent, armed campaign by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) the aim of which was an independent Kurdish state.
After three decades of fighting, some 40,000 bodies have been left behind, at least $300 billion of estimated direct cost and an incalculable political cost in terms of poor democracy, it finally became clear in the Turkish establishment’s mind that it was not possible to beat up PKK using only counterterrorism measures as the organization had gained considerable social and political support among the Kurdish population in the country. It also became clear in the minds of the PKK that it was not possible to beat the Turkish military with Latin American revolutionary methods and that carving out an independent state by force would be difficult.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has started a dialogue process to find a political solution to the Kurdish problem via National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Chief Hakan Fidan and Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, who is imprisoned for life. The Kurdish problem focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which shares the same grassroots as the PKK joined the process and so far two BDP Parliament members have visited Öcalan on İmralı island, a prison south of Istanbul, to consult with him about a possible roadmap. Contrary to concerns, a majority of people had given cautious consent for the talks as a sign the public wanted an end to this undeclared domestic war, with the exception of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) who thinks there is no Kurdish problem but only separatist terrorism.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has a unique position in this picture. Its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was elected as party chairman in 2010 and from day one he adopted a social democratic, anti-militaristic rhetoric, underlining freedoms that include a dialogue-based solution to the Kurdish problem. This contradicts the traditional CHP policies, which could be summed up as more for the Republic than for the People.
It was Kılıçdaroğlu who in 2010, when Erdoğan was not very welcomed, went to the predominantly Kurdish populated southeastern city of Diyarbakır to chat with people on the streets and in coffee houses and also proposed a “third way,” a reconciliatory way to the Kurdish problem. When the first round of talks between the MİT and the PKK collapsed in 2011 following elections, it was Kılıçdaroğlu who went to Erdoğan in 2012 proposing a four party Parliamentary commission (just like the one established to write a new Constitution) for a Kurdish solution.
But when Erdoğan agreed, raised the bar and said that a co-action between his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and the CHP would be a better idea since a four-party co-action was almost impossible (mainly because of the MHP), Kılıçdaroğlu declined. In his declination, pseudo-nationalist pressure from the traditionalist wing of the party, some call them radical “white Turks,” played a role. And Kılıçdaroğlu’s rhetoric started to deviate from giving passive support to the dialogue process to a quarrel with Erdoğan over nationalism and national identity, which not only took the CHP nowhere in terms of popular support, but also caused Kılıçdaroğlu to lose time for him and his party. There is another factor: More concessions to “white Turks” will only empower them to topple Kılıçdaroğlu as prior CHP experience has shown.
It is true that there are concerns in the political arena that Erdoğan could want to surf to a strong presidential-based constitution for him as he raises the perception of a Kurdish solution among members of society. But it is also true that if the CHP actively contributes to the Kurdish process (and Erdoğan’s promise to have a two party collaboration is still valid, according to his latest statement) it would not only bring about a better Kurdish solution, but the CHP could also improve their dialogue with the AK Parti on the issue of the Constitution as well as produce a new Constitution with better a checks and balance system. The political atmosphere enables that for now, but tomorrow if the process fails Erdoğan will probably put the blame on Kılıçdaroğlu. If it is a success, the CHP can only watch Erdoğan’s victory train leave the station in the presidential elections of 2014.