Government, demonstrations and the future of talks with the PKK

Government, demonstrations and the future of talks with the PKK

Demonstrations in Istanbul spread to other cities. They will probably continue for a while. Everyone is discussing their causes and consequences. The government’s disregarding of a large section of the society and the excessive force used by the police against the demonstrators are subject to harsh criticism. Prime Minister Erdoğan is both claiming that his policy is right and he won’t retreat and also trying to lower the tension through his deputy Bülent Arınç.

Mind you, Turkey was busy with something completely different a few weeks ago. The agenda was government-Öcalan talks and the “peace process.” The PKK announced that the withdrawal of their armed militants began and the question was which political steps the government would take.

As always, Turkey’s agenda quickly changed. The country has a very different psychological and political climate compared to two weeks ago. Mass demonstrations without a leader, an ideology or an organizational structure are at the center of the debate now. They undermined the government’s authority, intensified social polarization and, as a result, made it more difficult to manage certain problems like government-Öcalan talks.

These developments are forcing a change in the conditions of government-Ocalan talks and the psychological make-up of both sides. The strategy of the PKK and their legal-political wing BDP to stay outside the demonstrations is noteworthy. The “professional demonstrators” affiliated with the PKK who have been taking part in such social events and seeing them as an opportunity are not to be seen. The PKK and the BDP are following a “wait and see” strategy in a very disciplined manner, just like the strategy of the PYD in Syria.

The PKK front does not want to give the government an excuse to stop the talks. They don’t want to lose the most favorable political conditions of the last decade. Regional developments favor the PKK, too. They have the psychological upper hand and do not want to spoil their chances in this period when Erdoğan has suffered his weakest moment at the apex of his power.

The PKK is testing both the power of the street – which they see as a strategic tool – and the durability of the government by watching the demonstrations. The coming series of elections will cause more politicization and polarization within society. Then, the PKK might use the power of the street to get what they want.

Overall, the demonstrations are eroding the government’s power. As street action increases and the effectiveness of the police decreases, the government, under the pressure of coming elections, might not want to make important legal regulations concerning the Kurdish problem. It is very difficult to be optimistic in light of such developments.