The Kurds and the referendum

The Kurds and the referendum

As we all know, the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) not only silenced the main Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), but also all opposition supporting Kurdish rights and freedoms. It is not just that many lawmakers, mayors and local politicians are under arrest and charged with terrorism, but it is almost impossible to suggest any alternative to the government’s Kurdish policy without being accused of supporting terrorism and terrorists. Moreover, all those who are saying “no” to the presidential system ahead of the April 16 referendum are being defined as the collaborators of terrorists, including the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Nevertheless, it is quite curious that the Kurdish politicians of the governing party are silent rather than outspoken, both about the Kurdish issue and the presidential system. It must be because they are choosing to focus on Kurdish voters and are trying to convince them that the presidential system will benefit Kurdish rights. They cannot be outspoken about it, since such propaganda endangers the AKP’s alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Under the circumstances, they are trying to convince the Kurds that the coalition with the MHP is a temporary political tactic to ensure a “yes” vote in the referendum and that once the presidential system is established, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will feel free to pursue pro-Kurdish politics. The myth that “one can make peace with enemies better than friends” is being manipulated for the sake of ensuring Kurdish votes in favor of the presidential system. Besides, the belief in “making a deal with the powerful rather than walking along with weak friends” aids this propaganda. That is why some Kurdish circles have targeted the HDP’s political alliance with the Turkish left as the reason behind the failure of the party and have suggested using the “opportunity” of the referendum for a new beginning. That is to say that if the Kurds do not hinder the path of Erdoğan to build a presidential system as they did before the June 7, 2015, elections, he will soften his position to effect some sort of Kurdish solution. 

In fact, it is true that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) decision to return to armed conflict right after the June 7, 2015, election undermined the democratic victory and legitimacy of the HDP. Nevertheless, the AKP started to attack the HDP as a “terrorist” long before the PKK’s attacks started and even before the June 7 elections. Immediately afterward, the HDP announced that it would oppose the presidential system in advance. From the beginning of the so-called “Kurdish peace process” in 2013, it was often suggested that the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was willing to make a deal with the AKP over the presidential system.

At the time, the HDP needed to clarify its position concerning the presidential system under the pressure of not only its leftist, liberal and democratic supporters, but also Alevis and all those who opposed the idea of making a deal with Erdoğan. Finally, even if it were true that there was some sort of deal, it has long since been broken, as the peace process collapsed even before the PKK resumed attacks. 

It seems that the idea of a deal over a presidential system is in circulation once again concerning the forthcoming referendum. It seeks to not only convince the AKP’s Kurdish supporters but also those who do not vote for the governing party to steer clear of Erdoğan’s march to a new system. The strategy will work if as many Kurds as possible do not go to vote, as they do not even need to vote “yes.” I do not know if this strategy will really work well, but this is what not only the AKP’s Kurdish politicians are trying to ensure, but also their allies that back the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Massoud Barzani. 

Curiously enough, when I wrote about this in my column in Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, it did not receive any particularly response from Kurdish circles, other than some lunatic suggestions that I was making a “yes” call to Kurds. 

Interesting country, really!