Monday,20 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)
Monday,20 November, 2017
Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan’s war for elections

Turkey’s engagement with the coalition against Islamic State may have nothing to do with fighting terrorism, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Erdogan’s war for elections
Erdogan’s war for elections
Al-Ahram Weekly

It was a strange time to commemorate Victory Day, which in Turkey falls on 30 August. The country is in the middle of a war, presumably against Islamic State (IS), although many doubt that premise and suspect that the government’s war against the terrorist organisation is a cover for another agenda.

Not least among the sceptics is US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter who called on Turkey to take serious and tangible steps in the fight against IS jihadists. His opinion is shared by all other members of the international coalition headed by Washington. They, too, believe that it was not enough for Turkey to grant the coalition permission -- after months of foot dragging -- to use the Incirlik Airbase in Adana for this war.

What Carter did not say outright was that the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) is not all that keen to fight Islamist extremists and that the primary, if not only, target of its fighter planes are locations of Kurdish fighters in northern Syria and Iraq and as well as suspected targets of Kurdish separatist militants in south and southeast Anatolia.

The JDP’s aim in this war is to win back voters from the Turkish ultranationalist camp. Then, aafter snap elections on 1 November, the government can manoeuvre to kick-start the peace process again.

Many observers maintain that there was no military justification for this war and that it was triggered in deference to the whims of the latter-day sultan of Anatolia. As for the chief motives behind the imperial whim of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, these have become clearer by the day.

In fact, on 28 August, Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan, Erdogan’s faithful servant and ever-vigilant eye in the government, made them explicit, saying, “We had warned against a loss of votes for our party in the 7 June elections. Now you have to bear the consequences. The JDP failed to secure a mandate to govern alone and the result is the collapse of the peace process.”

Akdogan was primarily addressing his remarks to Kurdish voters, as it was by passing the parliamentary threshold and placing 80 members in the legislature that the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had kept the JDP from securing an absolute majority.

The deputy premier called on the Kurds to “return to your senses” as “security and stability will not be restored unless we [the JDP] return to power on our own.” Akdogan subsequently denied that his remarks carried an implicit threat, but that did not convince those familiar with the pugnacious nature of his master.

Indeed, it is probably no coincidence that the media, and the opposition press in particular, leapt on an incident that called to mind Erdogan’s attempt to punch a bystander during his PR tour of Soma following the explosion in a coal mine in May 2014 that killed 301 workers. Erdogan’s swing was restrained by his cordon of guards who were protecting him from an angry, heckling crowd.

Recently, Erdogan phoned a family in Siirt to offer his condolences over the death of a soldier who was killed in an armed skirmish with Kurdish militants on 9 August.

It was the sister who picked up the phone and said, “You could not possibly understand the pain we feel unless your own son Bilal was returned to you in a coffin draped with a Turkish flag. Do all of our sons and brothers have to pay the price for the drop in the voting rate for your party?”

True to his renowned violent temper, the Turkish president shouted: “Did anybody force your brother to choose that job?”

Sadly, there is no sign that the bloodshed will end soon. Erdogan has vowed to fight terrorism to the end. “We will speak the language they understand!” he said. The “they”, here, refers exclusively to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and their response was quick and decisive. It came in the form of increased attacks against Turkish army and police.

At the same time, the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), an organisation founded by the PKK, has cautioned that its members will move to protect civilians in the cities if the government does not halt its operations.

Already, Kurdish militants have moved into some towns, which has led to a resurgence in guerrilla warfare following the two-year hiatus during which PKK forces laid down arms and retreated into Iraq to help facilitate the peace process initiated by secret talks between Turkish Intelligence (MIT) Chief Hakan Fidan and PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. The PKK leader is serving a life sentence in Imrali Prison in the Sea of Marmara.

Moreover, some 30 predominantly Kurdish areas have already begun to implement their own security measures, independently from the central government, effectively declaring a semi-autonomous government. According to some reports, the PKK has begun to arm civilians in its areas of influence, which forebodes escalating violence.

Many place the blame for this squarely on Erdogan and his ruling party, which have come under increasing criticism for jettisoning the Kurdish peace process in favour of a war against the Kurds, which ultimately benefits IS. Even when Erdogan was still prime minister, the JDP government came under suspicion both at home and abroad for actively supporting IS and other jihadist groups in Syria.

Mahmut Tanal, parliamentary representative for the opposition Republican People’s Party (RPP), has recently suggested that the ties might be closer than had previously been believed when he submitted a memorandum to parliament calling for an investigation of Erdogan’s daughter for allegedly offering financial and material support to the terrorist organisation, and a rumoured marriage proposal to her from an extremist emir.

All this may well be exaggerated, but it does highlight the dozens of questions revolving around government’s secret relationship with jihadists in Syria, directly or indirectly connected with IS, and how they were supplied with arms from across the border with Turkey.

The denials issued by Turkish officials have done little to lay such questions to rest. One of the most recent was the statement issued by Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgiç in response to former Iraqi President Nouri Al-Maliki’s charges regarding Ankara’s support for IS.

Bilgiç described the accusations as a manifestation of Al-Maliki’s delirium caused by guilt for the part he played in Iraq’s loss of about a third of its territory to the terrorist organisation, thousands of deaths and millions of displaced persons.

True, Turkish fighters finally bombarded some IS positions for the first time Saturday. But the vicious fight against Kurdish nationalists will remain at the top of Erdogan’s agenda, as he had planned.

The consequence, of course, is a third regional war on top of the war against Bashar Al-Assad and that against IS. As a Turkish-language news broadcast reported, the JDP policy has added a new complication to an already amazingly complex combat arena, and threatens to propel the Turks and Kurds over the precipice.

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