What actually happened in Ağrı?

What actually happened in Ağrı?

Ağrı is an eastern province close to Turkey’s borders with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran. It is a rather small and underdeveloped province, and will send only four deputies to the 550-seat Turkish Parliament in the June 7 general election.

Under other circumstances, a clash between the security forces and militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) would be annoying, but it would probably not trigger a major political debate as has happened this time.

But it is election time and the nerves are tense. What’s more, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government has been engaged in a dialogue process with the PKK in pursuit of a peaceful solution to the chronic Kurdish problem.

The fact is that gendarmerie forces acting upon the instructions of the local governor – apparently based on police intelligence - engaged in a clash with PKK militants near the Diyadin township, where the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) had organized a “Spring Festival.”

For nearly two years, taking advantage of the peace process - throughout which governors have instructed the military or the police not to conduct operations - PKK militants have worn guerilla uniforms for armed propaganda. 

Perhaps they took for granted that the same would happen this time too. Despite an important statement two days ago by a leading PKK spokesman to a German TV station that they did not want to fight against Turkey any more, an armed PKK band showed up at the festival area, for their armed propaganda. This time, the security forces were instructed by the governor to stop them. As a result, according to official figures, five PKK militants were killed and four gendarmerie soldiers were wounded.

HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş immediately denounced the incidents as a “government scenario,” in which soldiers were used in order to isolate the HDP in the eye of the electorate, thus preventing the party from exceeding the unfair 10 percent election threshold to get into parliament on June 7.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu scoffed at those words and said it was actually the PKK that wanted to use force to deter citizens from casting their votes for parties other than the HDP.

More interesting was a statement issued by the military thanking the citizens – HDP sympathizers in this case - who carried the wounded soldiers to local hospitals. Demirtaş claims that the wounded soldiers had been left behind by the authorities in order to have a longer causality list, which would cause a greater public reaction against the HDP. President Tayyip Erdoğan strongly condemned that claim on April 14, claiming that the ambulance helicopter could not reach the area because of PKK militants firing at it. Erdoğan also vowed that the Ağrı incident would not halt the dialogue process with the PKK.

Not only political parties, but also ordinary people are worried that an increase in such incidents could take place over the course of the election campaign. These worries add to concerns about the security, fairness and freedom of the election - for the first time in many years in Turkey.