North Africa, West Asia

Erdogan’s choice: between hubris and sustainable peace

Erdoğan and his cabinet have represented their win as ‘certain victory’ against all oppositional political movements. But this is not the whole reality.

Sarphan Uzunoğlu
8 April 2014

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was voted in by more than 40% of those who voted in local elections on March 30, 2014. Erdoğan and his cabinet have represented their win as ‘certain victory’ against all oppositional political movements. But this is not the whole reality.

First of all, quantitatively, while all other parties such as CHP, MHP and BDP-HDP (Pro-Kurdish opposition) gained in quantitative power with respect to previous elections, the AKP has lost more than 2 million votes throughout Turkey. The BDP-HDP, pro-Kurdish project, nearly erased the AKP from southeastern Anatolia and some parts of eastern Anatolia; which has actually ensured the de facto emergence of democratic autonomy that Kurdish Leader Öcalan has been trying to achieve.

There were in fact only two winners in this election process. These were the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Erdoğan accused those two parties of ‘ethnocentrism’ many times during his local election meetings in various Turkish cities. He knew that his chances for electoral expansion depended on the choices of Turkish nationalists and Kurds because he had already reached the maximum vote of the others in the 2011 general elections.

Erdoğan failed to observe that the Peace and Democracy Party had taken steps towards being a party whose policies belonged to Turkey. Despite the criticism of some leftist groups and republicans, Peace and Democracy ran a ‘balance policy’ which avoided them becoming coopted into Erdoğan’s polarization-based local election campaigns, through providing a sustainable pro-Kurdish and democratic discourse in eastern parts of Turkey. Thanks to the Kurdish Liberation Movement’s success in Rojava and emerging struggle in Rojhilat, Kurds have gained political power in areas that Turkish nationalists fight shy of. The BDP’s win in Iğdır is a challenge, according to wellknown public commentators on the status quo such as Cemil Çiçek.

The Erdoğan Government is aware that their legitimacy in north Kurdistan relies on peace talks with Kurdish Leader Abdullah Öcalan who is in negotiations on behalf of the Kurdish Liberation Movement. Öcalan’s cooperation involves the recognition of both legal and illegal Kurdish movements. Of course there are some oppositional Kurdish groups and some Kurds who are voting for Erdoğan, but Öcalan represents the most politically influential and quantitatively effective Kurdish population in the Middle East. Nor is Öcalan’s ideological influence limited to the Middle East.

Erdoğan knows that Kurdish politics will always be a liability for him in the EU process if he doesn’t persistently focus on peace, especially since Erdoğan has been accused, both nationally and internationally, of exacerbating civil war in Syria and corruption scandals at home. He knows that the BDP will grow beyond its existing limits both geographically and ideologically, given that Kurdish politicians are in the process of launching a more legitimate party, the HDP, in other parts of Turkey, thought to be a coalition between various democratic forces in the country. It might seem a little bit optimistic to hope that HDP will be effective against the AKP’s power. But it is clear that, given the existing power balances in Turkey, the stage is set for the BDP-HDP to expand their potential as long as Erdoğan holds back in terms of the Peace Process.

The only way Kurdish politics will be captured and restrained is through recourse to the old, destructive state policies and Erdoğan is aware that each step backwards will lose him more credit both nationally and internationally. After having lost millions of votes against the CHP and MHP, Erdoğan’s only chance is to strike as democratic and peaceful a posture as he can, if he wants to stay in power for another term.

But in this regard, his dreams of presidency are unrealistic. Many articles and reports have revealed that he provided open support through state channels for Al Nusra and similar groups in Syria. So, his position as the UN’s ‘Middle Eastern watchdog’ is nearly over and he is becoming more isolated in terms of his Middle East policies by the day. Even, his popularity in Egypt and amongst the Muslim Brotherhood has suffered a lot in the last year, especially after his reconciliation with the Egyptian Army. The tape recordings about Turkey’s foreign policy regarding Syria and Egypt, have profoundly undermined his legitimacy and that of his fellows ministers, especially Foreign Minister, Davutoğlu. Presidency in Turkey has always had international standing. Erdoğan’s existing international reputation is a barrier and he is surrounded by constraints on all sides in his foreign policy preferences, especially after the publication of the article by Seymour M. Hersh on his support for radical Islamist groups in Syria.

Before 2012, Erdoğan was a policy maker for many groups in the Middle East. He still has agenda-setting power in his own country, but in countries like Syria and Egypt, and in terms of a Kurdish movement which cannot be limited to national borders, he is no longer able to control the agenda.

As long as he insists that he is still as powerful as he was before 2012, he must continue to lose power and quantitative support in his country as well. There is only one question left for us: Is Erdoğan going to choose the way of peace with Kurds and Syria; or is he going to keep on living in the delusion that his advisors and his partners created for him.

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