How will Erdoğan handle the Kurdish issue?

How will Erdoğan handle the Kurdish issue?

Turkish Parliament yesterday was dominated by the Kurdish issue over the argument on the killing of 35 villagers by fighter jets the night of Dec. 28, 2011. The villagers were mistaken for militants of the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) allegedly due to an intelligence failure while trying to smuggle cigarettes and diesel fuel from Iraq to Turkey near Uludere.

All four parties took a different stance on the subject.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) questioned the government for being careless to carry out a military operation upon its unarmed citizens depending on unreliable intelligence; the CHP questioned the source of intelligence as well.

Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supported the air raid and went further, asking the government to get into Iraq and finish off the PKK bases there; the MHP tendency regarding loss of lives was a “Sorry, but this is war” type.

Selahattin Demirtaş of the Kurdish-problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) put the whole blame on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, saying his words in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) group were a shame and claimed that the Uludere affair was not a mistake but a planned attack to deter Kurds.

Erdoğan’s speech to the AK Parti group was a strong one signaling that the political climate is going to get harsher because of the Kurdish issue.

He said he was sorry about the loss of lives in Uludere and from now on security forces would be more careful in order not to repeat it, but the operations against terrorism and against the PKK would continue with determination.

Erdoğan’s words reflect an ongoing political struggle within the AK Parti regarding the Kurdish problem and the fight against the PKK.

There are two main approaches within the AK Parti on how to handle the Kurdish issue:

1. Those who say “Let’s smash the PKK first and then consider talking about a political solution for the Kurdish problem.” Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin is the spearhead of this group. It has supporters in the security bureaucracy, especially in the police and gendarmerie forces.

2. Those who say “Let’s resume talks with the PKK or with the BDP and fight the PKK at the same time if they attack.” Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay (as the executer of the failed Kurdish opening in his former interior minister post) is leading this group.

Erdoğan used to favor the approach of the second group, even shortly after the 50 percent election victory in the June 2011 elections. But his stance started to change as the PKK attacks stepped up in the summer months and especially after the leak of tapes about secret talks with the PKK.

From Erdoğan’s words yesterday, it seems that Erdoğan tends to favor the approach of the first group for now, which is not very good news for the political climate, especially during the process to write a new constitution with hopes to give ground to solve the Kurdish issue as well.

Will Erdoğan stick with this policy or give another chance for those who talk support and fight at the same time? The options in Ankara nowadays, as you might have understood by now, are not between hawks and doves but hawks and eagles.