Terrorism consolidates the anti-democratic climate in Turkey
There is no doubt that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is responsible for the spiral of violence that has shaken this country ever since the June 2015 election.
But let’s face it, the violence has brought the Justice and Development Party (AKP) back to power alone. That’s why the government’s arguments about its offensive against the PKK lose some credibility in view of the fact that operations against the group restarted after the June election (in which the AKP registered losses), which made it impossible for a single-party government to come to power. Seeing that his aspiration for a presidential system was in danger, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not only obstructed efforts to form a coalition government, he also gave the go ahead for military operations against the PKK.
The terrorist organization, on the other hand, was extremely happy to see that change in the government’s stance, as it felt very irritated by the success that the Kurdish political movement, represented by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), had registered at the ballot box. The war lords of the PKK were losing ground. They jumped at the opportunity to fuel the violence once again.
As a result, conservative Kurds in the southeast who had deserted the AKP in the June election in favor of the HDP’s peace promises returned to the AKP in the November reelection. This gave the government to the AKP like a present on a silver tray.
Since then, the operations against the PKK have stepped up and become very ruthless. With weeks-long curfews taking place, the outcries of human rights activists have fallen on deaf ears.
The indifference of the West, which raised hell in the 1990s when the fight against the PKK was equally ruthless, is not so surprising. But one also needs to think about the silence of Kurds living in the western part of Turkey who are sympathizers of the PKK or, at the very least, of the Kurdish cause. We have previously seen thousands of them taking to the streets on special days like Nevruz, or May 1, or whenever there were calls from Kurdish quarters to take to the streets in urban centers. But their inaction now cannot be explained solely by the heavy police presence in cities, which leaves no room for protests and demonstrations. It can perhaps also be explained by the fact that just like the conservative Kurds in the south, they feel disappointed by the PKK’s excessive enthusiasm to go back to arms and the desperation of the HDP.
At any rate, whatever progress was registered during the period of the cease-fire is being rewound in Turkey.
The spiral of violence is not only harming the country in an economic way; it is also consolidating the anti-democratic climate.
Kurdish parliamentarians risk losing their immunity. Academics are put in jail and threated with a revocation of Turkish citizenship for making calls of peace to the government.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader’s calls to completely level Nusaybin, a district in the southeastern province of Mardin, is particularly alarming. “Call on our citizens in Nusaybin and other provinces and districts where operations are ongoing. Grant them three days and take them to secure places by ensuring that they evacuate the cities. Afterwards, level Nusaybin to the ground and leave nobody alive,” said MHP head Devlet Bahçeli.
President Erdoğan has closed the doors on all compromises, as the climate of violence seems to be consolidating his constituency.
The PKK, meanwhile, is not showing any sign of stopping its attacks. It seems to rely on a newly founded, indirect “alliance” with the U.S. through the People’s Defense Units (YPG), the Syrian Kurds who have become the “useful idiots” for Washington in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The Obama administration remains indifferent to the fact that terrorism consolidates democratic backsliding in Turkey. But any successful advances by the YPG against ISIL will infuriate Ankara, which sees no difference between the YPG and the PKK. Despite official rhetoric, Turkey sees a lesser evil in ISIL compared to the PKK/YPG. That will in turn weaken the fight against ISIL.
Washington needs to realize that unless the PKK stops attacking Turkish targets, Ankara will not tolerate the YPG’s presence on its Syrian border after the eventual expulsion of ISIL from the border region.