The truth about Kurdish politics

The truth about Kurdish politics

I was in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır last week with a group of journalists upon the invitation of the Islamic conservative Felicity Party (SP). It was a great chance to observe the mood there ahead of the forthcoming elections. Diyarbakır is a stronghold of the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Kurdish politics in general, so the election talks were mostly about the HDP and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The Republican People’s Party (CHP) has long been alienated from the region as they’ve been upholding secular nationalism for a long time, and right-wing nationalist parties, naturally, have no support there. For a chance, this time the SP has some strong candidates who have been conservative local power contenders for some time. Besides, the Kurdish Report, which is launched in Diyarbakır, is quite hopeful of their standards.

The ruling party’s supporters and sympathizers there seem to be unhappy with the AKP, firstly because they were frustrated by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rift with Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Massoud Barzani during the KRG’s independence referendum in September 2017. They are also critical of the party’s new candidates list. Still, it is difficult to predict how these will affect their votes and support. HDP supporters also seem disappointed by their party and are unhappy with its new candidates, especially at those who are nominated from Turkey’s western cities. Far from being nationalistic, they are still uneasy with the HDP’s non-Kurdish candidates since they think that it is unfair to neglect local ones who spent their lives struggling for Kurdish rights. In fact, it is an old debate within HDP circles; some think that the HDP’s alliance with Turkey’s marginal left-wing parties and circles is a liability rather than a leverage. Nevertheless, HDP voters do not seem like they will give up voting for their party in this election.

In fact, even before, I went to Diyarbakır and spoke with different people, and I observed that some Kurdish circles, both ruling party sympathizers and the HDP, seem to be hopeful about the possibility of a new beginning with Erdoğan. The ruling party’s skills to manipulate Kurdish hopes are well-known, and unlike some observers who discredit the possible success of this policy, I think that some Kurds are still receptive to the ruling party’s indirect propaganda which I call the “propaganda of whisper.” I have to admit that my last visit confirmed my previous thoughts. Some members of the ruling party seem to whisper to Kurdish ears that the AKP’s alliance with Turkish nationalists are temporary and that Erdoğan is planning to start the peace process once he ensures solid power.

It is not that Kurds are not good learners of history or are easy to trick, on the contrary, such manipulations are effective due to two basic reasons. One reason is that they may think that the ruling party is better and more powerful than others to solve the problem. The other is that they believe the Kurdish problem is so crucial that Erdoğan and his party will eventually need to solve it to consolidate his power. It means that they may be oscillating between low-esteem and overconfidence. On the one hand they need to rely on a strong power and on the other they think that the Kurdish issue is a central feature of politics that no one can consolidate power without pleasing the Kurds. It may be a very reasonable to think so but the ruling party could have been very unreasonable in the past. In short, I do not know what the truth about Kurdish politics is. Is it going to be determined by frustrations or hopes concerning the ruling party?