Erdoğan’s doubletalk on the Kurdish issue

Erdoğan’s doubletalk on the Kurdish issue

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is continuing to campaign on behalf of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), even though the constitution says he should be above party politics and maintain an equal distance from all political parties.

This can be taken as a clear indication that he is not confident the AKP will get the result in the June 7 elections that he needs to realize his dream of becoming an executive president. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) appears this time to be the spanner in the works as far as his plans are concerned.

Erdoğan, like many AKP executives, is also worried about the possibility that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) may increase its votes as a result of nationalist reactions to the government’s “Kurdish opening.” 

Like the AKP, Erdoğan is trying not to appear anti-Kurdish while appearing to be a Turkish nationalist at the same time. He could end up alienating both sides, though, and this is obviously a concern for him. Erdoğan is a master at oratorical doubletalk, and this is showing itself in this case.

Talking to a predominantly Kurdish crowd in the southeastern town of Batman a few days ago, he said the following: “Turkey does not have a Kurdish problem. Its Kurdish citizens have a problem. Solving this problem is everyone’s duty. We have to accept this fact.” 

Erdoğan, who has claimed on a number of occasions in the past that Turkey does not have a Kurdish problem, is basically trying to say “six of one” rather than “half a dozen of the other.”

Referring to the “Settlement Process,” the term the AKP uses for the process it started to solve Turkey’s long standing Kurdish problem, Erdoğan continued by declaring that it was wrong to see this in “Kurdish parenthesis” only. He argued that this process was an attempt to solve the problems of all citizens, including Kurdish citizens. 

As might be expected he is having a hard time convincing large elements of the public, given the fact that the negotiations in this process have HDP representatives - who are also mediating for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - on one side, and representatives of the government on the other.

In other words, this is not a broad-based democratization process that also includes other parties and groups from Turkey, as Erdoğan is trying to claim. The fact that the MHP, which has no say whatsoever in this process, looks on the whole affair as a treacherous anti-nationalist sell-out and a caving in to the PKK, proves this.

Erdoğan is aware, of course, that the AKP’s electoral base also harbors nationalists and not just religious conservatives. He is therefore trying to curry favor with them by saying that Turkey has no Kurdish problem. 

He is also aware, however, that the AKP also has an electoral base among conservative Kurds, especially in southeastern Anatolia, and is also trying not to appear anti-Kurdish. 

Erdoğan knows that if this impression spreads the votes that might go to the AKP could easily go to the HDP or to religious-based conservative Kurdish parties like the Free Cause Party (Huda Par).

This will mean that the AKP might not get the seats that Erdoğan needs in order to change the constitution on its own, without the need for compromising with other parties, for the sake of the presidential system that he dreams of.

There is also the specter for Erdoğan that the AKP, let alone failing to get the votes it need to change the constitution, may not even garner enough votes to form a government on its own, and end up having to consider a coalition or a minority government.

Erdoğan’s dream of the kind of presidency he desires may in fact have evaporated already. Many analysts say the AKP will win the elections, but not in a way that will serve Erdoğan’s purposes. Hence all the doubletalk from Erdoğan as he tries, some might say desperately, to touch disparate bases in order to increase support for the AKP, even if this goes against the constitution.