Erdoğan’s big poker game

Erdoğan’s big poker game

It was different in Diyarbakır for Nevruz this time. Three long years had passed since the first letter was read in the big Bağlar Square. Those sentences were still fresh in the memories of the Kurdish youth.

“From this day on, will either live like never before or fight like never before,” Sırrı Süreyya Önder had said, citing jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan’s letter. Indeed, times were a’ changin’.

This time, not even one single Turkish word was spoken from the podium except the letter. No Turkish/Kurdish songs of unity and solidarity. No Turkish slogans were chanted. Not even one emergency ambulance call in Turkish. Among all the pictures you did NOT see on your televisions that day, Kurds had one big slogan: “AZADI ÖCALAN” (FREE ÖCALAN). This Nevruz was all about him and his freedom. But no TV screen showed you that. No pro-government “pool” newspaper wrote that.

This was a stark difference compared to three years ago, when most of the crowd in Bağlar was chanting for joy after Önder’s letter rather than Pervin Buldan’s Kurdish version. Experts we had talked to had underlined the fact the new generation of Kurds spoke little Kurmanchi or Sorani. They would eventually prefer speaking Turkish and this would be the cement of the peace talks. But then came Kobane. The fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) had given a new identity to the Kurdish youth who were preparing for their place in the sun in peacetime, and probably not in a united Turkey.

So it is not a coincidence that the president is switching gears in the peace talks. After years of complaints from the military about how they were harassed by Kurdish militants in the southeast, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided to put on the brakes, as if he was not aware of the checkpoints installed by PKK youth and as if he was living on another planet, when commanders were almost begging governors to respond to occasional PKK fire. All of a sudden, the ballot box became an enemy for the president himself even though he would not be running for office. All of a sudden, he felt like he was out of the loop. All of a sudden, he felt Öcalan and himself would no longer be on the Nobel shortlist, like Nelson Mandela and Frederik de Klerk. All of a sudden, the magic was gone.

Time had come to raise the stakes on the poker table. Friend and foe alike should have known he was holding the destiny of the talks in his hands. First he confined to the soldiers in Military Academy in Istanbul. “Mea Culpa we were cheated,” he said about the hundreds of soldiers jailed for court cases. Then, he punched everyone one in the head with sentences like, “I am the founder of this process, how dare you keep me out of your conversations.”

Not to be distracted by the groundbreaking Bülent Arınç-Melih Gökçek fight, I would sincerely urge our gamers to keep their cards close to their vests and not shake when Erdoğan is exploding. After all, this is his game and we are barely influential on how he decides. Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş, for example, quickly made a U-Turn on the Kurdish demands of a “third-eye watch committee.” Next thing you know, he may be easily tangoing about that historic “As long as we breathe in this land, thou shalt not be president” tirade.

Erdoğan knows his public well. When he gets mad, he gets respect. When he screams, even Kurds cave in. So until the votes are in, there will be a series of nationalistic, militaristic charm offensives from Beştepe.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your cards please.