Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan and the Kurds

Ankara’s complicity in the siege of Kobani is backfiring, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Turkish government is mired in confusion, is pursuing policies that have already floundered and has presided over the erosion of any separation between powers, says Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu. And the reason this has happened? Kiliçdaroglu lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey’s head of state, he says, refuses to recognise the constitutionally stipulated neutrality of his position, insists on dictating policy and controls the head of the ruling party and prime minister. Kiliçdaroglu argues that Erdogan’s actions are courting successive waves of strife, and that his only response is to use the state’s machinery of repression to stifle all opposition. Yet across Turkey, increasingly angry voices are expressing their discontent with the situation, giving many observers cause for concern over the country’s future.

Erdogan’s response was to refute the claims of the opposition and denounce them as“conspirators”. He insisted “his government” — he appeared momentarily to forget that Ahmet Davotoglu is prime minister — will stand firm and put an end to the “rioting and destruction”. He vowed to “retaliate” against the “hired saboteurs” by bringing the full arsenal of the law down upon them.

As Erdogan spoke the entire south-eastern part of the country was placed under curfew, the first time in 22 years. Turks had almost forgotten the word. Today they can only raise their eyebrows at the irony of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), whose leaders long scoffed at the “generals” for using such “a feeble ruse”, imposing a blanket curfew.

Such is the level of anger in south-eastern Turkey, which has a high concentration of Kurdish inhabitants, that the people thumbed their noses at the state in its present, Erdogan-led incarnation, defying the curfew despite the risks.

The powers-that-be in Ankara, having long claimed that the removal of the military from the political arena was one of their greatest achievements, responded by ordering the military onto the streets. It is now the AKP that issues orders to the military police to silence demonstrators protesting against Ankara’s complicity in attacks against — and the looming massacre of — their fellow Kurds in Kobani.

According to Tufan Ergüder, former security director of the Hakkari province, this recourse to the military signals that the police are unable to control a situation in which dozens of people have already been killed. He blamed the hamstrung condition of Turkey’s police forces on the collapse of morale among officers caused by the waves of dismissals and transfers — characterised by many as a purge — that followed last year’s police investigations into corruption among senior AKP figures.

The situation is explosive. On 11 October, in the largely Kurdish city of Gaziantep, Turkish ultra-nationalists, who refuse to acknowledge the existence of a Kurdish question, staged marches in which they sported the emblems of the right wing Nationalist Movement Party and signs and banners proclaiming Anatolia was indivisible and had no room for more than one official language.

Equally ominous is the fact that Kurdish leader Cemil Bayik, in addition to reiterating charges that the AKP government is responsible for ISIS’ siege of Kobani, may well have hammered the final nail into the coffin of the Turkish-Kurdish peace process. He told Germany’s ARD station that he no longer held out any hope for the two-year-old negotiating process. Bayik, one of the five founders of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and a member of the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), also said that the Kurdish paramilitary units that had withdrawn to northern Iraq had now returned to Turkey. “The fighters will fight to protect our people. This is their job,” he said.

Bayik’s remarks put paid to “the brotherhood between us [the Turks and the Kurds]”, long one of Erdogan’s favourite expressions, regularly wheeled out when he wants to curry favour with Kurds in Turkey or win their votes. It is also significant that the Kurdish leaders remarks, broadcast in German, came two days after Angela Merkel criticised Ankara for “doing things it should not have done”.  The remark was interpreted as implying the Islamist-oriented AKP government had offered support to ISIS. Not that this comes as news. It is hardly a secret that the Turkish government offered ISIS whatever it took to secure the release of 49 Turkish hostages.

Will Erdogan yield to outside pressures and take part in the US-led international coalition?

This is unlikely. As Hürriyet has reported, Ankara refuses to commit Turkish military forces to operations on the ground in Syria. How can Ankara attack those with whom it negotiated for the release of the hostages and, as part of the down-payment, promised not to fight them? Why would it commit troops to battle jihadists who crossed the Turkish border into Syria to join ISIS as the Turkish authorities looked the other way? We should not forget that these same authorities are busy erecting hundreds of hurdles to prevent Kurdish volunteers from Turkey from crossing the border to come to the aid to their fellow Kurds under siege in northern Syria.

CHP Chairman Kiliçdaroglu had called on the government to at least commit to a limited ground operation to rescue Kobani and repel the ISIS peril. He then asked the government to submit to parliament a new memorandum on Syria that, instead of allowing foreign forces to be deployed from Turkey, offered logistical support to the international coalition’s aerial operations.

The CHP leader’s suggestions were rejected. The argument cited was that to help the Kurds was to reward Al-Assad, since Syria’s Kurds are ostensibly Al-Assad’s allies. Ankara is caught in a conundrum of its own making. It remains determined to topple Al-Assad and to defeat Syria’s Kurds yet at the same time wants peace with Turkey’s Kurds. How does it plan to reconcile these two aims? The AKP has yet to produce an answer. No one should hold their breath. The aims are clearly irreconcilable.

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