Something worse on the Kurdish front

Something worse on the Kurdish front

These days, the Turkish parliament has repeatedly become the scene of physical fights, reflecting what a beautifully harmonious nation we are. Fists and feet fly through the air when the heated words of elected deputies are not enough to let off their steam. 

All this is happening due to deep-seated social and historical problems, for sure, but also due to an ongoing legal process in parliament. The “constitutional commission” has been debating a new amendment to the constitution which would abolish lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution. And while that might sound nice in theory as more rule of law over the lawmakers, in practice it has a more specific goal: Putting on trial, and perhaps in prison, many deputies of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). No wonder that while the HDP has strongly opposed the amendment, the three other parties have supported it. 

The reason for this focus on the HDP is understandable. Since last July, Turkey has been going through a period of re-escalating violence between its security forces and the armed and outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its offshoots. The PKK leaves no doubt that it is a terrorist threat to Turkey, a fact proven by recurrent suicide bomb attacks in major cities. So, Turkey has its own “war on terror” going on, and it is only a legitimate war. 

What connects this violence on the ground to parliament is the HDP’s unmistakable ideological links with the PKK. It is so obvious that some HDP deputies even visited the home of a suicide bomber to offer their condolences — and without a single tone of criticism. So, many people think that HDP deputies are “the voice of the terrorists” and that they should be in jail rather than in parliament.

But, alas, I rather think that HDP deputies must remain in parliament precisely because they are “the voice of the terrorists.” Their presence in the political realm presents a hope that violence can stop and peace talks can begin again. Putting them in jail will not only kill this chance, it will also make the PKK’s base more agitated. 

Moreover, we have seen this doomed film before. The exact same thing happened in the 1994, when pro-Kurdish deputies in parliament were arrested and jailed. This did not end the PKK’s terrorist campaign; it made it only more aggressive. It also empowered the PKK, for many Kurds felt that since they were given no political ground, the armed route was the only way forward.

Why then, you can ask, are the Turkish authorities willing to make the same mistake over and over? 

One answer is that the Turkish authorities are not very smart people. It has been the habit of our state to try to solve problems by merely exercising more authority and force. With regards to especially the “Kurdish question,” which is as old as the republic itself, that is the state’s habit. And while the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) opposed this habit in its earlier years, it has been “staticized” enough.

The alternative answer is that Turkish authorities are actually very smart – but in a cynical way. If the HDP loses dozens of seats in parliament, guess what happens next? There will be a mini-election to fill those empty seats. And guess who will win them? Word has it that this is the way the AKP hopes to garner the 14 additional parliamentary seats it needs to make a constitution of its own – a constitution tailor-made for our glorious president. 

So, I worry these days that worse things can happen on the Kurdish front, and worse things can happen to Turkey itself. Let’s all hope that I am unnecessarily worried.