The Kurdish paradox

The Kurdish paradox

After a series meetings between the government and the main Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the pair has announced that they will prepare a “joint text” for the so-called “Kurdish resolution process.” Under different circumstances, it would be very good news, but because of the fact that Turkey is in an election process, it is rather confusing. I am among those who support the peace process unconditionally and avoid making a fuss about Kurds’ need to deal with the governing party.

Nevertheless, from the beginning two years ago, the peace process has been overshadowed by skepticism about a possible deal between the Kurds and the governing party. It was thought that Kurds might have agreed with the ruling party on the presidential system in exchange for Kurdish rights. Such a thought was protested by the Kurdish party, which said it has never considered separating peace from the democratization processes.

However, since then the debate has continued, especially revolving around some events like the Gezi protests, when many leftist democrats questioned why the Kurds did not participate in the protests wholeheartedly. I have never been among the critics, not because I believed that the “peace deals” could not be separated from the democratization process as Kurds claim, but I thought the opposite in the name of political realism. 

In theory, the best way to peace with Kurds should have been within the framework of general democratization, but in fact, Turkey is in the reverse process of de-democratization. Under those circumstances, I thought it was better to at least not risk negotiations with the ruling party.

Now things are getting even more complex, since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling party have determined the political target of the coming election as winning an absolute majority to replace the existing system with a “Turkish-style presidential system.”

As for the Kurdish party, it is supposed to campaign against the ruling party’s undemocratic ways and get more votes from democrats and leftists to cross the 10 percent election threshold. The same Kurdish party is supposed to avoid risking its relations with the governing party in the name of the peace process or negotiations. Kurds are clearly in a difficult position, but it is more than that; it is “mission impossible,” which may end up endangering both the Kurdish peace process and Kurds’ political credibility and their political/moral alliance with leftist democrats in Turkey.

In fact, the decision by the HDP to run in the elections as “a party” for the first time, rather than running as independents candidates, is being debated widely, even by democratic supporters of Kurdish rights. It has been argued that the Kurdish party is running a big risk, since in the event that it fails to overcome the 10 percent threshold, it will give the ruling party an overwhelming majority and, therefore, free hand in parliament to change the constitution and the political system. The idea of risk could work for HDP if those who are scared of such a prospect decide to vote for the HDP to halt the ongoing authoritarian tendency. However, it is obvious that even if the Kurdish party manages to transcend the threshold, the subject of “the big deal” will not change; the ruling party will expect the Kurdish party to compromise on its biggest aim, namely, accepting the native version of the presidential system in exchange for more rights for Kurds.

The other option for Kurds is to confront the ruling party, but it will lead to the end of negotiations. Finally, the paradox of Kurdish politics is not only about the elections but it will be even more pressing after the election under any circumstances. If Kurds fail to enter parliament, they will either play into the hands of the ruling party and expect Erdoğan and his party to be benevolent to Kurds, or Kurds will choose to launch civil disobedience and unrest; such a policy would lead to political chaos in Turkey. In the event that the HDP manages to get into the parliament, they will face the dilemma of compromising with the presidential system project or risking negotiations.

Finally, there is the problem of transparency; the HDP is asking for democratic support but is unable to discuss its politics, since the negotiations that it is currently engaged in are all secret and rather enigmatic. Both parties took the decision of secrecy so as not to endanger the peace process. It means that the HDP is in the odd position of seeking democratic support for secret decisions. In short, the Kurdish paradox seems to be very complicated and difficult to sort out.