As it is unclear when Turkey will manage to end its political uncertainty through the formation of a coalition government, we face a new crisis of foreign policy concerning Syria. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been outraged by the advance of Kurdish forces in northern Syria, regarding the recent developments as a plot by the Kurds and the United States against Turkey. In fact, Turkey is utterly intimidated by the emergence of a “Kurdish corridor” along Turkey’s border with Syria after Kurdish forces captured Tal Abyad. Turkey’s security concern is not totally unjustified, since it is a major alteration of the status quo.
The Turkish government has long been suspected and even held responsible for aiding the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) against Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq, but the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) direct accusation of the AKP in regard to the latest ISIL assault on Kobane further increased domestic and regional tensions. Currently, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the HDP in parliament. The president and the AKP continue to declare it almost as an “enemy within,” meaning no political compromise between the governing and opposition parties is in sight. On top of everything, the situation in northern Syria is deteriorating in many ways. Finally, there are warmongers who are asking for military intervention in northern Syria.
Under the circumstances, the challenge is to avoid any prospect of Turkish military intervention, which will get Turkey into trouble not only in a regional but also a domestic political context. Such a prospect will lead to the militarization of the political atmosphere, inflame tensions with Kurds in the country and further sway politics in a nationalistic-conservative direction. Turkey needs compromise, but it should not be a compromise among nationalists, conservatives and the army. The general election can be used as a great chance for the restoration of democratic politics, but may also be abused to pave the way for a terrible backlash.
That is why a consensus and coalition between the AKP and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) is an urgent need against all odds. And that is why I recently suggested that such a compromise should be reached even at the cost of justice, or in other words, the terms of reconciliation should include “saving Erdoğan.” The inconvenient truth is that we are in a difficult bind, having to choose between uniting all efforts “to punish Erdoğan” through corruption probes, or focusing on a democratic restoration to save the future of the country. I know that democracy and justice cannot be separated in principle, but life often presents us difficult choices, especially in times of crises. Erdoğan should also acknowledge the fact that he cannot both save his exit from trouble and some dignity and his ambitions for an anti-Western authoritarian state. It is the clear message of the electorate, and any party that fails to read the message correctly is bound to lose and lead the country into domestic and regional chaos.
The HDP and other Kurdish political actors should also seriously acknowledge the challenges. Kurds’ concern for their brothers and sisters in Syria and for the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) success should be balanced by avoiding playing into the hands of warmongers in Turkey.
Finally, the Turkish and Kurdish democratic opposition should unite efforts to hinder a militaristic and authoritarian backlash. After all, politics is often a matter of priorities; if the Turkish opposition prioritizes the politics of punishment, the cost will be the Kurdish peace process, a further increase in tensions and even the possibility of war in Syria. If Kurds prioritize short-term political gains and regional prospects, the cost will be the same. The choice is ours, theirs or yours.