The ruling Turkish party, AKP (Justice and Development Party, Turkish: Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) is under the gun for changing direction and embracing the status quo. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has recently adopted more nationalist language and pro-state and pro-military policies on crucial issues, including the Kurdish issue and the military’s role in politics. With local elections approaching (March 2009) he is seen as drifting towards a stronger alignment with the military.
The AKP (which describes itself as moderate, conservative, and pro-Western) has been raising its nationalist voice in the run up to these elections. But is it a shift in party politics or rather campaign rhetoric designed to garner more votes?
For Professor Eser Karakaş of Bahçeşehir University this transformation should be read within the context of the upcoming local elections. “I am not sure whether the AKP has shown a reversal. I think the mayoral elections in March may be influencing such a change,” he said. Sabri Sayarı of Sabancı University said the AKP and the Pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP, founded in 2005 and headed by Ahmet Türk) were looking for more votes in the Southeast in local elections. Turkey’s southwest is largely controlled by the DTP but Erdoğan’s AKP performed strongly in the region during the July 2007 general election.
This was partly due to the fact that he had raised hopes in 2005 when he said the state had “made mistakes” in handling the Kurdish issue. Steps to ease bans on Kurdish broadcasting and education followed, and vast sums were poured into Kurdish regions.
The AKP’s goal now is to win some of the DTP-held municipalities in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish-origin dominated southeast region, with Diyarbakir as the main prize. They could claim ‘the AKP is the cement of Turkey’s integrity. Here is the result. All, including Turkish, Kurdish and Circassian citizens, gather together under this roof.’
But the DTP does not want Erdoğan’s AKP moving in on their turf. Kurdish support for the AKP has been fading ever since the government yielded to army pressure to resume cross-border operations against the PKK in northern Iraq. The generals want a freer hand, prompting worries of a return to the human-rights abuses of the 1990s.
Then on 02 November Mr Erdoğan visited the eastern province of Hakkari to deliver a speech at a congress of local AKP branch. In Hakkari, where the DTP has a strong municipal presence, DTP supporters held street protests and closed stores objecting to Erdoğan’s presence there.
Erdoğan responded angrily to the protests. “What have we said? We have said, ‘One nation, one flag, one motherland, and one state.’ They are opposed to this. Those who oppose this should leave”.
Erdoğan received support from pro-state intellectuals for his stance against the Kurdish protesters but was harshly criticized by liberal intellectuals. Ahmet Türk, the head of the DTP, criticized Erdoğan, saying, “isn’t this land the homeland of all of us? Erdoğan is serving the imperialists who want to divide the country.” Read Der Spiegel interview with Ahmet Türk.
Although many observers believe that Erdoğan is making these statements to win the upcoming regional election in the Kurdish region in March 2009 why would the Kurds support him when he has said that those who do not accept the concept of “one nation” should leave the country? The closer the AKP aligns itself to the to the military, the less likely it is to win in the Kurdish region.
Liberals turning on one-time hero. Hürriyet Daily News.com. 11 November 2008
Turkish government closes the Kurdish “opening-up”. Hürriyet Daily News.com. 11 November 2008
Terror in the Mountains. The Economist. 16 October 2008
AKP Unable to Decide on its Kurdish Policy. Eurasian Daily Monitor. 04 November 2008
Turkey 2008 Progress Report, Commission of the European Communities, 05 November 2008