The CHP’s call for peace and the tension on the border

The CHP’s call for peace and the tension on the border

It was interesting to see that one of few strong messages Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu gave in his opening speech at the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) congress in Ankara yesterday was about foreign policy.

Kılıçdaroğlu has been escalating his salvo against Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu quite harshly for the last few days, claiming that his “zero problems with neighbors” policy had turned into a fiasco and his Syria policy in particular discredited Turkey in international circles.

In his address to the CHP congress, Kılıçdaroğlu asked thousands of delegates and supporters twice to repeat what he said aloud. The first time he repeated a phrase from Kemal Atatürk, the CHP’s founder, which has been adopted as the motto of Turkish foreign policy: “Peace at home, peace in the world.” Kılıçdaroğlu was referring to the need to find a solution to the Kurdish problem as an example of peace at home, and for the latter he asked the CHP members to repeat a second phrase, or rather, slogan: “We do not want war.” This phrase reflects the general attitude (of about 70 percent) of Turkish people, according to a poll recently printed in the Star newspaper, which is supportive of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) line. Kılıçdaroğlu called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government to lend an ear to the Turkish people’s words, and not fall into the trap of “imperialist powers” in Syria, taking a populist line to demonstrate his current desire to set the party on a European-style social democratic track.

The call is interesting because the CHP had previously made a similar call back in 2003, on the eve of a critical vote in the Turkish Parliament to allow American troops to use Turkish territory to open a northern front in their operation to invade Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s rule. The Turkish people were against that move, and with the help of a crack within the AK Party, Parliament did not approve the government motion and Turkish-U.S. relations experienced some difficult years as a result.

Coincidentally, Iraq, a country which has yet to form a proper air force, warned Turkey yesterday about airspace violations. The Turkish “airspace violations” in question are the Turkish Air Force raids on military camps of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the Kandil Mountains along the Turkish and Iranian borders, in land that is under the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), in reaction to PKK attacks in Turkey, crossing the Iraqi border.

But that is not the whole story. Turkey has been hosting Iraq’s Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, whom is wanted by Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri el-Maliki, and is on trial in absentia, accused of conspiring against the prime minister. Baghdad and Ankara are also involved in a dispute over Ankara’s oil trade with the KRG. Ankara had snubbed Baghdad’s call to stop the trade because it violates the sovereignty of Iraq a day before the air space violation warning was issued. Erdoğan and al-Maliki are not on the best of terms due to the ongoing unrest in Syria: Erdoğan wants Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to go, and al-Maliki does not favor that, in line with Iran. Erdoğan is expected to meet today with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Putin remains the main supporter of the al-Assad regime currently.

So the CHP leader’s anti-war rhetoric at the party congress can find a reflection at home and in the region, while also giving him some extra time for his in-house reorganization.