2018-06-26

Turkey’s Kurdish issue clarifies political future of Erdogan


The presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey remained tense until the end. Numerous forecasts pointed to the possible victory of Erdogan only in the second round, while the opposition was to take the parliament. The voting results surprised many. While Erdogan could get 52% of the votes already in the first round, then the coalition of the ruling Justice and Development Party and nationalists won a confident majority of 53%, leaving the opposition far behind.

The main surprise of the parliamentary race was unexpectedly good performance of Erdogan's allies - the National Action Party (MHP): instead of the expected 3-5%, extreme right-wing nationalists were able to get 11%. Among the reasons for such a developed difference between the forecasts and real successes of nationalists is the dominance of the topic of the Kurdish issue during the pre-election race. It is known that many Turkish nationalists were unhappy with the flirting of the main opposition People's Republican Party (CHP) and its candidate for President Muharram Inge with the Kurdish electorate. Together with the problem of terrorism and the threat of the establishment of a Kurdish state in Syria, the discontent of a significant number of right-wing electorates migrated to the camp of Erdogan's supporters.

The election results will have a very significant impact on state policy in resolving the Kurdish issue. 

First, as the nature of the election campaign showed, the number of supporters of precisely tough measures to resolve the issue related to Kurdish nationalism in Turkey and the region is growing in society. It is proposed, in particular, to continue military operations in the country and on the borders of Turkey against the elements of the terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers' Party.

Secondly, among the supporters of a stricter course on the Kurdish issue are many representatives of the security forces, especially officers in the armed forces of the country. This is important to take into account, since, on the one hand, the members of the right-wing MHP must enter the cabinet of the new government, and it is already known that they intend to get the relevant ministries, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. On the other hand, considering the politicization of the army and the growing influence of political ideas among middle-level officers, the forthcoming government will be more inclined to listen to radical circles in the army in the matter of fighting the PKK.

Kurds, even if they are divided along ideological lines, demonstrate an extremely high degree of cohesion and preparation for political struggle.

Finally, as elections show, the ruling forces will not be able to ignore the problem, because the demographically Kurdish minority is gaining influence: as a rule, Kurdish families have on average more children than ethnic Turks. On the other hand, the Kurds, even if they are divided along ideological lines, demonstrate an extremely high degree of cohesion and preparation for political struggle. The Kurdish Party of Democracy of Peoples, even despite the arrests of many of its members over the past 4 years and the attempts of the state bureaucracy to restrict the Party's activities in the field, once again managed to overcome the electoral threshold, becoming the third largest party in Turkey by the number of votes.

The solution of the Kurdish issue is important not only for domestic political stability in Turkey as such. For a long time, it was the Kurdish question, incl. Ankara's struggle with the Kurdistan Workers' Party complicated Turkey's relations with the West. So, for the EU, the fight against terrorism of the PKK must begin with positive measures in the field of human rights and freedoms, in other words, if the Kurdish minority feels like citizens of the country, it will not be motivated to support terrorists. 

Ankara insists that without security it is impossible to invest in the backward regions of the east of the country where the Kurds live. Economic backwardness, in turn, makes any positive measures in the political field meaningless.

Relations with the West are burdened by the fact that both the EU and the US have different views on the activities of the PKK outside Turkey. Despite the fact that both Brussels and Washington consider the PKK a terrorist organization, PKK activists often hold demonstrations in European cities where the Kurdish diaspora lives, besides, activists of the organization manage to raise funds and recruit new members. At the same time, the United States closely cooperates in Syria with the local branch of the PKK - the Party of the Democratic Union. Moreover, cooperation involves the transfer of certain types of weapons. Ankara has been trying for years to explain to American colleagues that the weapons handed over to them will sooner or later be used against Turkish soldiers.

Finally, it is the Kurdish issue and the threat of the creation of a Kurdish state that makes Ankara conduct a dialogue with Iraq and Iran. The threat of destabilization of the southern borders and the penetration of the PKK fighters hardened by long-term battles from Syria forces Ankara to think more and more often of the need to start a limited dialogue with Damascus: it is the Syrian government that can be a real partner against the cooperation of the US and the Syrian Kurds of the PKK.

In the period from 2009-2013, Erdogan's team tried to solve the Kurdish issue on the basis of creating a positive agenda. The idea was to rethink the principle of the citizenship of the Kurds and Turks: the authorities tried to promote some new identity based on Islamic solidarity between the Turks and Kurds, they say, as Muslims they must live in peace and good-neighbourliness. 

In addition, the authorities attempted to engage in dialogue with the Kurdish minority through local religious leaders, the intelligentsia and tribal sheikhs, thereby attempting to deprive the PKK of legitimacy as one of the most popular political forces among the Kurds. All attempts, however, were defeated with the growth of instability in Syria, where the PKK began to gain influence on the ground, having gained the opportunity to build its quasi-state on the wreckage of the Syrian.


The likelihood of a return to peaceful and political dialogue is extremely low today. The election results show that the government will be inclined to take a tougher stance on the Kurdish issue. On the one hand, Erdogan will strengthen control over the state apparatus, including security forces, under the new system, on the other hand, the ruling party should listen to the extreme right-wing nationalists, thanks to whom Erdogan will control the parliament. All these factors indicate that for the next five years the Kurdish issue will remain an acute problem and a source of political instability.

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