Erdoğan shifts to a harder Kurdish policy

Erdoğan shifts to a harder Kurdish policy

Either stay in the Parliament and earn respect, or go to the Kandil Mountains, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan challenged the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) members of Parliament on Sunday, in a speech to the provincial chairmen of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).

A range located along the Iranian border of Iraq, Kandil is a byword in Turkish politics for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has had its headquarters and military camps there for nearly twenty years, from where it has carried out an armed campaign that has claimed more than 40,000 lives in the last three decades.

For some time, Erdoğan has been accusing the BDP parliamentarians of being “tools” and the “extended arms” of the PKK, lacking any initiative independent of the PKK and failing to clearly condemn the PKK for its acts of terror. In his Sunday speech, he escalated his rhetoric against the BDP: “You will either serve the people who have voted for you, or serve your armed masters,” he said.

Erdoğan has become more furious with the BDP since the PKK escalated its acts of terror in July. The last example must be painful for Erdoğan, with his provincial chairmen gathering in Ankara with one absence this time. Mecit Tarhan, the AK Parti chairman for Hakkari province, which borders both Iraq and Iran and which contains both Şemdinli and Beytüşşebap – the site of the latest PKK attacks – is currently being held as a hostage by the PKK. When main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said that Tarhan’s brother had asked for his assistance in securing a release, Erdoğan also called the brother and later denied that the family had asked for the CHP’s help.

The Syrian situation is another reason for the hardening of the Turkish government’s policy on the Kurdish issue. Some Syrian towns and border posts on the Turkish border are under the control of militia groups related to the Kurdish-origin Democratic Union Party (PYD). The PYD is parallel to the PKK, like the PJAK in Iran. Turkish intelligence believes that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have left these posts for the PYD in order to cause a further pain in Turkey’s neck.

What Erdoğan meant when he said “either Parliament, or Kandil” is a direct threat to the BDP to strip them of their parliamentary immunity, which might well lead to trials, them being thrown out of Parliament, and ending up in jail. Referring to the group of BDP members of Parliament who were photographed embracing and saluting a group of militants (who are wanted by security forces on suspicion of a number of killings) during a road block a few weeks ago, Erdoğan said he thought “the judiciary would consider that a warrant of arrest.”

“If the judiciary does what is necessary, we will do what is necessary in Parliament,” he said, implying that the necessary vote would be taken in Parliament following a legal probe. Here, he also took the risk of being accused of intervening in judicial affairs by the opposition.

The Turkish government of 1994 walked a similar path, kicking a number of Kurdish deputies out of Parliament and into jail, which only resulted in an escalation of the clashes-operations cycle. There is now a totally different set of national and international circumstances, and the chances of a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem is nowhere in sight, at least not in the short run.