The AKP’s unending Kurdish peace bids

The AKP’s unending Kurdish peace bids

With just a few weeks left to the general elections, the political parties, as well as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have geared up their campaigns with daily public rallies and increasingly harsh accusations against each other. 

Erdoğan is seemingly holding the reins of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) election campaign, intensifying his public rallies over the last week. Some AKP officials argue that the party’s votes have increased by up to two points since Erdoğan rolled up sleeves in the last 10 days, according to unannounced opinion polls. There are two important pillars of Erdoğan’s political statements in his public rallies: Strong religious messages and nationalist rhetoric that denounces the Kurdish political movement. 

This recalls Erdoğan’s 2011 election campaign, during which he very strongly and insistently used the Alevi identity of his main rival, Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Despite a tense election campaign in 2011 that resulted in a landslide victory for the AKP, we have observed that the AKP carried out important opening projects towards the Kurds and Alevis. But obviously none of these have been completed, and the ongoing election campaign process does not give much hope for the post-election era. 

This is simply because the AKP is a party of unaccomplished processes when it comes to big social openings toward the Kurds and Alevis, as well as to important democratization processes. The first Kurdish peace process was launched in the late 2000s through secret negotiations with the leaders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Carried out for more than two years, the process failed after a controversial PKK attack on soldiers in mid-2011. 

A second process was launched in late 2012 with a more concerted and coordinated understanding, placing imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan at the center of negotiations and using the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) as a political interlocutor. 

However, the government has so far failed to address the HDP’s democratic demands and refused to fulfill the recently proposed 10-article manifesto, although Öcalan signaled that the PKK would convene a general congress to discuss the disarmament of the terror organization. 

The current picture emerging from the public rallies of Erdoğan and AKP officials suggests that these talks with the HDP and Öcalan had never even been carried out, and it was not this government’s officials who outlined important manifestos together with the HDP’s leaders. Erdoğan and the AKP harshly lash out at HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş and other HDP leaders for being under the “tutelage” of the PKK, accusing them of being pro-peace politicians for six months and of being terrorists in the remaining six months.  

Erdoğan is also trying to create questions in the minds of conservative Kurds by depicting Demirtaş and others as non-religious persons who will close the religious vocational schools and the state’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). 

Bearing this in mind, it seems that regardless of the results it will be extremely hard for the parties to resume talks from where they left off after the election. It’s highly probable that the AKP, if elected to form single-party government, will consider launching a new peace process with the Kurds because of regional necessities and other sensitivities. But of course in the event of the HDP’s failure to pass the threshold, the parameters will change drastically and it would be very hard to maintain stability in some parts of the country. 

The AKP may be good at accomplishing construction projects, building bridges, hospitals, etc. But it’s hard to say the same thing about issues concerning social matters like the Kurdish question, the Alevi issue, the democratization of the country, and the EU process. The party sees suspending these issues as vital for keeping its grassroots on board for a successful election performance, but it is apparently unaware that it is dealing an important blow to societal peace.