In a highly unsurprising manner, Turkey and Kurds are once again at loggerheads with each other. While the cease-fire agreement between Turkey and Kurds, specifically with the PKK, now stands shattered to ground, there is hardly any doubt that Erdogan regime makes virtually no difference between Kurdish freedom fighters and ISIL terrorists. As a matter of fact, we do not have a clear-cut definition of terrorism that might offer us a glimpse of what Ankara considers to be “terrorism.”
Absence of definition of terrorism notwithstanding, it is also quite strange to note Turkey attacking Kurds—a force that has been most successful against the ISIS. If, as we are made to believe, Turkey has been hit by the ISIS, the natural consequence of it should have been Turkey-Kurd alliance against the ISIS. However, what is actually happening is Turkey-Kurd war. From the standpoint of military strategy even, it does not sound a good decision on part of Turkey to open two fronts simultaneously; for, it might lead to a Kurd-ISIS (temporary) alliance against Turkey, although chances of it are minimum. Secondly, it again does not appear a sound military strategy to fight such forces simultaneously as have sizeable assets within Turkey to cause serious damage.
The important question to consider here is why has Turkey, all of a sudden, decided to battle the already battle-hardened Kurds? The answer, perhaps, lies not in any geo-politics, but in Turkey’s internal politics. A look at recently held election results offers a clear answer to this question. In this election, Erdogan`s AK Party received its first setback in a decade when it failed to get an outright majority. And for the first time, the Kurdish party, the HDP, received over 10pc of the vote, allowing it to be elected to Parliament.
The HDP’s success has left Erdogan’s rule in a state of quandary. The success of the HDP has not only limited Erdogan’s own political ambitions of empowering the presidency of the country at the expense of the parliament, but the success of the HDP has also led to a fracturing of the Turkish parliament, as currently no party holds a majority and coalition talks between the AKP and other have faltered.
For Erdogan now, the important question is how to reverse and pre-empt this possible Kurdish ascendance in Turkey? The easiest way available, especially to a party in rule, is perhaps to outlaw the opposition. Erdogan’s decision to fight Kurds is most probably the recipe to prepare the ground for delegitimising and outlawing the HDP in Turkey and thus win back his own votes to secure his position as Turkey’s “sole” leader.
Let’s see how this is going to happen. By forcing the PKK into a battle and radicalizing Turkish Kurds, Erdogan is trying to portray himself as a bulwark against “terrorists” of every stripe. As no coalition has yet been formed, Erdogan has the powers to call for fresh elections after the stipulated period is over. As it is, his AKP has shown no great hurry in negotiating with possible partners. In case elections are called again, the AKP could well win a majority, especially if the HDP does not cross the 10pc barrier or if the HDP does not, or is not allowed to, contest elections at all. In this situation, most of its votes would be redistributed to the AKP. This being the case, war against Kurds becomes a politically “rational” choice for the ‘great’ Turkish leader.
Such a scenario certainly benefits Erdogan. By doing this, Erdogan would not only be able to form a majority in parliament with the MHP, thereby side-lining the Kurdish political party and the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), but also come into a position to further limit the influence of Kurds in Turkish politics. To achieve this end, Erdogan has also been threatening to strip members of parliament of diplomatic immunity and prosecute them for ties to the PKK. The threat is obviously aimed at the HDP.
Speaking to a U.K based newspaper, a spokesman for the PKK, Zagros Hiwa, said that they are committed to finding democratic solutions, but “we have to defend ourselves against [the Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s attacks”. He added: “Erdogan has unilaterally and practically ended the peace process with such widespread air attacks against our positions”. Similarly, Demirtas, a charismatic former human rights lawyer, who led the HDP into the parliament, said that Erdogan was taking Turkey to war in revenge, seeking to discredit the Kurdish movement ahead of a possible repeat election. “The AK Party is dragging the country into a period of conflict, seeking revenge for the loss of its majority in the June election,” Demirtas added further.
A number of local politicians and journalists tend to believe that such a scenario is taking place in Turkey. Erdogan’s basic aim, under the given circumstances, is also to prevent Kurdish ascendance by any means to prevent the formation of a great Kurdish alliance that may threat Turkey’s territorial existence.
Erdogan’s fears do have some substance. Kurdish ascendance is not confined to Turkey only. As a matter of fact, in Syria, the civil war provided Kurds with an opportunity to establish a virtually independent state under the YPG, a group allied to the PKK. Iraqi Kurds are already running a semi-independent state of their own since at least 2003. Under this quasi-independent state, the Kurds have thrived. They have also resisted the incursions of the ISIS, and have provided Christians and Yazidis sanctuary from persecution.
That Kurdish ascendance is breaking sizeable ground also becomes apparent from the fact that when the ISIS besieged the border town of Kobani, it was heroic Kurdish men and women fighters who kept the extremist killers at bay. It was with great reluctance and after an international outcry that the Turkish government permitted some Iraqi Kurds to use its territory to come to Kobani`s aid.
The Turkish establishment has since been closely watching the emergence of these two quasi-independent Kurdish regions with growing alarm, fearing that they would encourage their Kurds to seek independence. The HDP`s performance in the recent elections only confirmed these fears—hence, Erdogan’s war against Kurds.
There is therefore hardly any evidence to prove otherwise that the war has been imposed upon Kurds who, since the conclusion of First World War and the breakup of Ottoman Empire, have been struggling to have a state of their own, but have instead been subjected to all forms of persecution. Latest Turkish attacks are only an addition to what has been happening for almost a century now. By subjecting them to persecution in the name of fighting “terrorism”, Erdogan wants to turn the public against the HDP, shore up support among conservatives in Turkey, and rule with total authority despite the loss of his majority in parliament. Turkish strikes against Kurds are a strong signal to the PKK that it would not be allowed to use political space created by the HDP in Turkey to start a new phase of insurgency in Turkey.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”