The Kurdish issue and the local elections

The Kurdish issue and the local elections

Turkey’s chronic Kurdish problem could play an important role in the March 30 local elections in certain constituencies.

There is no surprise expected in the predominantly Kurdish-populated southeastern provinces of Turkey; the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is focused on the Kurdish problem, is likely to win many mayoralties there.

In those provinces, Ankara’s main worry is the BDP’s already-announced plans to declare (what they call) “democratic autonomy” with flags and “self-defense units,” etc. That has actually long been the plan of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which shares the same grassroots as the BDP. Those scenarios were discussed in the National Security Board (MGK) meeting on Feb. 26, along with Syria, election security and the “threat” posed by Gülenists.

Gülenists, the followers of Erdoğan’s former ally, the moderate U.S.-based Islamist scholar Fethullah Gülen, has a role in Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s Kurdish policy as well. Erdoğan, who started a dialogue with Öcalan through National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan in pursuit of a political solution, suspects that Gülen wants to sabotage that dialogue.

There is another dimension to the post-March 30 situation regarding the Kurdish issue. If Erdoğan has to ask for a military intervention in an extreme possible case of a declaration of “autonomy,” the military would not volunteer unless there are written orders within the framework of the law. It’s not just the whole Ergenekon and “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) court cases – which Erdoğan now blames on Gülenist police, prosecutors and judges – but also after the Uludere disaster in which 34 villagers were killed by the Air Force after they were mistaken for PKK militants, soldiers would prefer written orders so as not to be blamed later, just as NATO standards impose.

But that may not be needed. There are indications that Erdoğan might have hinted at more flexible local rule after the March 30 elections in return for a continuation of the existing de facto cease-fire; after all, no one has been killed as a result of PKK attacks or military operations in the last one-and-a-half years thanks to that dialogue process.

Perhaps that is why Öcalan said in his Nevruz message on March 21 that, despite the slow pace of the government, there is a chance to alter the 200-year-old paradigm if the current political balance is maintained.

That implied possible local collaborations between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and the BDP. Actually, there are reports that the AK Parti would like to replace the support it has received from the Gülenists in the last few elections with support from the BDP. There are claims that in some towns of the eastern province of Erzurum, AK Parti supporters are going to vote for BDP mayors, and the BDP will do the same for Erzurum Metropolitan Municipality.

Also, there are reports of similar collaboration in İzmir, where the AK Parti really wants to gain the support of Kurdish voters to close the gap with the Republican People’s Party (CHP) there. For three relatively Kurdish districts of Ankara, there are similar speculations. The AK Parti wants to compensate for the loss of Alevi votes in the Syrian border province of Hatay with BDP votes. And claims that the BDP has asked for 10,000 jobs in Istanbul in return for AK Parti support have not been denied yet.

All of this has room in daily politics. But autonomy is a different and much bigger story, and that is something that will be observed after March 30.