The politics of ‘policing’ Turks and Kurds

The politics of ‘policing’ Turks and Kurds

I spent last weekend in Tehran, talking about Turkey’s regional and foreign politics. I have been to Tehran many times before for different occasions, but this was the first time that I saw Iranians display such a negative mood toward Turkey. The Iranians that I met in the formal framework of a workshop held by a Turkish think tank made their point by using the language of diplomacy. Some others that I met informally used the more sincere language of discontent. I was intending to write more on that topic, but I think we need to focus more on domestic policy nowadays, especially after the recent police bill and the government’s new steps for a deal with the Kurds.

First of all, the response of the government to the atrocities of the previous week ushered in the enforcement of more authoritarian measures. Parliament passed a bill which further empowered security forces and paved the way for the neglect of judicial oversight and political transparency.

Previously, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) was given extensive powers and immunity to judicial oversight. These are clear steps toward an intelligence and police state, as Turkey becomes a “model” neo-authoritarian political system. As for the new official ideology which replaced Kemalism, it can be defined as a “Turkish version of neo-Islamism” in regard to domestic politics and as an irredentist religious nationalism that is disguised as “humanitarian Ottomanism” in terms of foreign policy.

Under these circumstances, the Kurdish policy has turned into a total mess. On one hand, as Turkey’s Western allies help the Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the government has insisted on its hostility toward the self-declared Kurdish autonomous regions of northern Syria (including Kobane) and has accused the Kurds (particularly from the Democratic Union Party - PYD) of collaborating with the regime of Bashar al-Assad. While Turkey is supposedly engaging in a peace process with Kurds and the government negotiates with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, it has defined the PKK as a terrorist threat equal to ISIL at the same time that the main Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), is being cursed for its role in the recent atrocities.

Unfortunately, the government has not been able to see that the events were beyond the control of the HDP, and the real danger lies in that the party is losing initiative at the expense of the growing resentment of its Kurdish supporters. The government has already overloaded the role of the Kurdish leader in continuing the so-called process against all odds. The government seems to insist on playing the dangerous game of asking Öcalan and the Kurdish party to police the Kurds. That is why the government has once more sought the help of Öcalan to control and end revolts like the Kobane demonstrations, accusing the party of not playing its role in “policing.”

In fact, unless the government realizes the dangers of such a game, it will risk the legitimacy of the Kurdish leader and the Kurdish party in the eyes of politicized Kurds. I do not think that anybody will challenge the power of the eternal leader Öcalan, but there will be more claims that the leader’s message is being distorted and more complaints that Öcalan is being pressurized, perhaps prompting him to ultimately position himself in line with popular resentment concerning the cosmetic peace process.

In addition, the Kurdish political movement will face the dilemma of negotiating with an ever increasingly authoritarian government and of being seen as trading a democratic system for Turkey with some exclusive rights for Kurds. Indeed, it will be the final bet before the next general election, since the president and the governing party intends to acquire the support of Kurds for a “Turkish-style presidential system” as they call it. 

Still, I do not think that Turkey's troubles will allow us to even reach that point.