Erdogan’s game plan for next election involves Kurdish vote

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Is the Turkish government returning to the idea of ​​reconciliation with the Kurds? Does another “Kurdish overture“possible? The visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the beginning of July to the province of Diyarbakir, an important Kurdish region, has rekindled hopes that this could happen.

Some observers have come to the conclusion that this unexpected visit was the result of Erdogan’s realization that he would need part of the Kurdish vote to win the 2023 presidential election. And Erdogan was enough happy to announce that a mayor of Dicle district in the province joined the President’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

At the same time, a quick review of the reports indicates that violence against the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which defends the rights of the Kurds and other minority rights, continues.

On June 17, a young woman working in the Izmir HDP building, Deniz Poyraz, was brutally murdered. Less than a month after the hate crime, there were two more armed attacks against the HDP, one in the Aegean city of Marmaris and another in Istanbul. Threats to HDP strongholds in various cities have become almost routine.

Meghan Bodette, an independent researcher focusing on Turkish, Syrian and Kurdish issues, told Al-Monitor: “Multiple armed attacks against HDP and Kurdish targets in western Turkey are unlikely. individuals with similar profiles over the course of a month, be a coincidence. State and state-affiliated forces in Turkey have previously resorted to violence against Kurdish opposition parties, but mainly in predominantly Kurdish regions. Non-state actors have also targeted progressive Kurdish targets at sensitive times for the government – like the ISIS series [Islamic State] attacks between June and October 2015. “

The attacks are not limited to Kurds officially linked to the HDP. A Kurdish family who has lived in Konya province, in central Anatolia, for 24 years is viciously attacked by 60 ultranationalists. Family members in hospital told media even before the lynching attempt that they had been harassed by racist groups shouting, “We will not allow you to live here.

It was not just the violent attacks on the Kurds that made the news last month. Nine imams have been arrested to lead prayers in Kurdish. COVID-19[female[femininevaccination rate are lowest in predominantly Kurdish towns, with the health ministry continuing to refuse to launch a Kurdish vaccination campaign.

If Erdogan understands his dependence on Kurdish votes, wouldn’t a reconciliation process at least be underway? “These recent attacks may be an effort to intimidate the main Kurdish voters of the HDP as well as its progressive and pro-peace Turkish voters – the coalition that allowed the party to cross Turkey’s electoral threshold for the first time. As Erdogan faces competing factions in his government and his poll count dwindles, this type of nationalist and anti-opposition violence could become more prevalent, ”Bodette said. Most of the other experts Al-Monitor spoke to expect oppression against the Kurds to persist, or increase, as the elections approach.

How to explain the visit to Diyarbakir and Erdogan’s words about keeping his promises to Kurdish citizens as the violence and oppression against the Kurds continues? Three possible explanations for this disconnection are explored below.

The first is to understand why Erdogan visited Diyarbakir. As Erdogan launches the election campaign for 2023, one can expect an increase in the frequency of televised rallies of AKP officials in predominantly Kurdish towns. A senior AKP official, who is also Kurdish, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity: “Erdogan went to Diyarbakir, because he could. He is the only politician in Turkey who can go to any city and organize rallies and have crowds cheering for him. Now the whole world sees that the Kurds are not against Erdogan and the AKP embraces the Kurds. We fight terrorists and those who support terrorism, and we protect our Kurdish citizens from their attacks. “

Some see this thought as wrong. Abdurrahman Gok, a veteran journalist from the Kurdish region, told Al-Monitor: “Support for Erdogan among Kurdish voters is rapidly eroding. For example, before his visit to Diyarbakir, Erdogan said he would deliver good news, but the residents of Diyarbakir still have not greeted him. The people of the city did not join his rallies. On previous visits, there was curiosity in the city. Even people who did not support the AKP gathered in cafes to watch Erdogan’s speeches live. This time, nothing. In politically engaged corners of town, we saw no gossip about expectations before or after Erdogan’s visit about his speech. Most of the residents of Diyarbakir said: “There isn’t a word Erdogan can say to the Kurds, so we don’t want him to come to town. I think the AKP understands that it has lost the Kurds, and knows full well that a “promise of good news” is not enough to regain the confidence of Kurdish voters.

Gok said the AKP’s real strategy “is to find ways to further deprive the Kurds of their rights. It means creating means so that the Kurds do not vote. The policies of the HDP and its existence are criminalized. We don’t see an olive branch coming from the government.

The second explanation is that the mainstream media act as if the AKP and Erdogan can at any time relaunch the peace process with the Kurds if the HDP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with which the AKP is allied do not block. no such stimulus. Ultranationalist MHP rejects reconciliation with the Kurds. The HDP is presented as being the same as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by Turkey and the United States. Turkey’s efforts to decrease Kurdish support for the PKK, which is seen as a popular insurgency movement by millions of Kurds, overlap with political efforts to ostracize the HDP and push it out of the public domain. “While the HDP is deprived of its rights, we signal to the Kurds that only the AKP can deliver for you,” said the AKP official.

Yektan Turkyilmaz, researcher at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin, told Al-Monitor: “The visit aims at best to avoid further loss of voice of pro-government Kurds. Erdogan’s messages are addressed to Kurds who do not engage in a quest for rights. This campaign strategy for the votes of obedient citizens of various stripes became a model for Erdogan.

Turkyilmaz also raised a red flag that the Kurdish cause is a battleground between the MHP and the AKP where the Kurds find themselves stuck in the middle.

It is puzzling to imagine that the AKP is relaunching a peace process with the Kurds while the party is still in coalition with the MHP. The role and power of ultranationalists in government is difficult to assess. AKP-controlled media sometimes exaggerate the reach of ultranationalists.

Gokhan Ozbek, a freelance journalist and producer for the 23 Derece Independent News Center, analyzed data from three years of presidential rule and found clues that show the MHP’s limited powers. None of the 282 bills the MHP submitted to parliament became law. They were all rejected, just like bills from all opposition parties, only AKP bills were passed.

Ozbek told Al-Monitor that “different groups that support Erdogan within the state are fighting over different issues. While one subgroup may view an opening with the Kurds as valuable, other groups act to prevent such an opening from happening. This undercurrent leads to inconsistencies. Yet they continue to operate under the auspices of the AKP.

The third explanation for the dichotomy between seeking Kurdish voices and violence against them is the rise of Kurdophobia in Turkey. Faysal Sariyildiz, a former Kurdish lawmaker in parliament, told Al-Monitor: “Since the 1990s in Erdogan we had a politician who was good at planning, but a vindictive man. The policy he followed inevitably worsened this crisis. So now he’s in a dead end involving political trauma. We can no longer find consistency in its policy.

Sariyildiz said Erdogan has relied on ultra-nationalist rhetoric for so long that a significant portion of “society is poisoned by sexist, racist and Islamist rhetoric. Attacks on the HDP are to some extent carried out by government branches, but not all are carried out under government control. The hateful society can spiral out of control and engage in violence at any time. “


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