Secular Turks fear Kurdish–Islamic synthesis after presidentials

Secular Turks fear Kurdish–Islamic synthesis after presidentials

For Turkey’s secularist elites, for years Kurds were “mountain Turks.” For decades, they had a condescending attitude toward Kurds and turned a blind eye to their plight and demand to enjoy cultural rights.

I am sure it must be hard to digest for staunchly Kemalist secularist women to learn the best practices for gender equality from Kurds. However, the only political party that has a system of co-chairpersons - with male and female leaders heading the party - is the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which currently goes by the name of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Unfortunately, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which is supported by those secularist women, cannot even properly apply a 30 percent female quota.

Listening to Selahattin Demirtaş, the HDP’s presidential candidate, reveal his roadmap, one could get the impression that Turkey has imported a politician from Scandinavia, rather than the majority-Kurdish southeast of the country, which in the eyes of many happens to be one of the most backward regions in Turkey.

For someone unfamiliar with politics in Turkey, it would be hard to guess that he was actually the candidate of the Kurds. His roadmap was not exclusively devoted to Kurds. Far from it, in fact; so far that some observers close to the Kurdish political movement think this might create some resentment among Kurds loyal to the movement. Any democrat would put his or her signature under that roadmap, as it foresees a fully functioning democracy with everyone, including minorities, enjoying their universal rights.

It is tremendously encouraging to see that the Kurdish political leadership foresees a vision for all who see themselves as part of this country. Everything Demirtaş said sounded like music to the ears - apart from one exception where there was a discord in the tune. That is the gist of the whole matter, as it sets a contradiction between what is promised and what might happen.

That gist of the matter concerns how Kurds will vote should there be a second round in the presidential elections. It is impossible to decouple the negotiations between the Kurdish movement and the government from the presidential elections. Many Turks are convinced that the Kurds will push for more “concessions” in exchange for supporting Erdoğan’s presidency in a possible second round. There is a fear that, in the words of a political scientist I talked to recently, this might take the country to a “Kurdish–Islam synthesis,” replacing the “Turkish–Islamic synthesis” blend of conservatism, nationalism, and religion that is abhorred by those who see themselves as being at the center or the center-left of the political spectrum.

So, the probability that Kurds will carry Erdoğan to the Çankaya presidential mansion as a result of a “give me autonomy, take the presidency” type of exchange, makes many shiver. Therefore, while Demirtaş has created a wave of enthusiasm among some intellectuals, the fact that he has refrained from making clear what will happen in the second round will remain one of the main reasons for some to refrain from supporting him.

Looking from the perspective of pro-HDP Kurds, it is only natural to enter into such a negotiation with Erdoğan. But this could turn out to be a short-sighted approach. There could be two negative consequences in the mid-term:  Firstly, the opponents of Erdoğan will blame the Kurds for consolidating a system based on one-man rule, which would bode badly for genuine reconciliation between Kurds and Turks. Secondly, the Kurds could in the end themselves become victims of the one-man rule that they may help take root in Turkey.