No change expected in Kurdish policies
Since the June 2015 general elections, after which a ceasefire between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ended, the Kurdish issue has been confined to an all-out military, political and psychological campaign against the PKK inside and outside Turkey. That campaign has also been waged against what the government sees as the PKK’s political affiliations.
The recent “Operation Olive Branch” military campaign in Syria came especially in order to roll back the gains of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian wing of the PKK. It also aimed to target the self-confidence gained by the PKK after gaining the military support of Americans and Europeans for fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Turkey’s military campaigns were later expanded toward Iraq.
Inside Turkey, many of the municipalities under the governance of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have been transferred to government-appointed trustees. Many of the HDP’s key leaders, including its former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş and many of its local representatives, are currently in prison.
Excluding Kurdish votes, the election results can be read as meaning overwhelming support for these policies. Even non-Kurdish votes that are estimated to have moved from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) to the HDP do not necessarily represent opposition to these policies, but rather a strategic vote aiming to make the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lose its majority by helping the HDP pass the 10 percent threshold. Probably only a small portion of those votes genuinely supported HDP policies or wanted to show solidarity with the HDP.
Looking at the numbers and the general message that comes out of the elections on the Kurdish issue, can one say that nationalism is on the rise in Turkey? After all, in addition to the AKP’s 43 percent, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) got just over 11 percent and the İYİ (Good) Party, which split out of the MHP, got around 10 percent.
The answer of Bekir Ağırdır, the general director of the Konda research company, to this question is negative. “Nationalism is learned by heart in Turkey. It is taught by the state itself through the education system, or via the media or legal system,” he told me in a recent interview.
“We asked recently: ‘From one to 10 how nationalistic would you identify yourself?’ AKP and CHP voters both gave an average of around 7 points for themselves. Those who said they voted for the MHP gave an average of 8.5. But if you ask CHP supporters, they would mostly not primarily identify themselves as nationalist,” Ağırdır said.
One of the most important elements of Turkish identity is paranoia about the division of the country, which can be traced back to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, according to Ağırdır. “The security anxiety is so high in Turkey and the name of this anxiety is nationalism,” he said.
Looking at Turkey’s political map after the election, we have on the one side Kurds standing behind their party but overwhelming majority of the rest supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s policies on the Kurdish issue. And because Erdoğan was elected thanks to the MHP, and because his parliamentary majority depends on the MHP, it would be unrealistic to expect a change to current Kurdish policies.
Ağırdır said the Kurdish issue cannot be solved by ignoring the HDP. But he does not expect a change to hawkish policies either.
“The MHP’s alliance with the AKP is not about nationalism or the MHP’s institutional structure being embedded in power. The MHP is a partner of the governing power as the representative of the traditional statist mentality,” he said.
That mentality has never been a fan of initiatives like peaceful reconciliation or peace processes that were endorsed in the past by the AKP.