Analysis

Turkey's Erdogan Loses His Cool and Launches All-out War Against the Kurds

The failed coup attempt this summer has given Erdogan the opportunity to cleanse Turkish public institutions and political bodies of anyone liable to threaten his absolute rule.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the United Solidarity and Brotherhood rally in Gaziantep, Turkey, August 28, 2016.
Umit Bektas, Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a long list of people to settle scores with. It includes the names of any journalists who ever criticized him; private companies that were suspected of supporting Fethullah Gulen, the exiled cleric whom Erdogan accuses of planning the failed military coup in July; names of human rights activists; and, of course, anyone who supports the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

Some HDP supporters have already been arrested; others are awaiting trial. Many fear a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

Fifty-three of 59 pro-Kurdish parliamentary members have been detained, and the prosecution issued arrest warrants for 12 party leaders – including its coleaders, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag. They’re charged with supporting the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist group, and/or distributing propaganda supporting terror.

The European Union and the U.S. government have expressed “deep concern” in light of these mass arrests. But Erdogan doesn’t get excited by “concern,” which he deems as interference in Turkey’s internal affairs or as part of a global conspiracy to topple him.

Demonstrations against the detention of a pro-Kurdish lawmaker in Diyarbakir, Turkey, November 5, 2016.
Ilyas Akengin, AFP

Turkey is a vital partner in the war against the Islamic State, and essential to Europe because of the refugee agreement meant to stem the flow of migrants into the continent. No one is weighing sanctions against Turkey because of Erdogan’s policy, and the president can continue his hunting campaign without bother.

The allegations against these leaders were not compiled recently. Some of them participated in the funeral of a communist activist in 2012, and another accusation is tied to an “incitement” speech made by one of the party leaders. But most of Erdogan’s fury dates back to the June 2015 parliamentary election, when the HDP crossed the high electoral threshold and entered parliament for the first time.

Its success was a historic turning point in the history of the ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which had ruled unrestrained since 2002.

Until that point, no opposition party had managed to curb the party’s power or affect its absolute majority in parliament. The entry of the Kurds dealt an unsettling blow. The AKP’s ruling majority was lost, and it was forced to form a coalition with its rivals to form a government.

Turkish Kurds look towards the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani
Reuters

Erdogan lost his cool. Such cooperation meant restricting his ambitions to form a presidential regime or to enact constitutional reforms according to his dictates. He torpedoed coalition negotiations and declared early elections exactly a year ago. But the Kurds still managed to enter this parliament, too.

While the incumbent party won a majority, it was insufficient to generate a constitutional revolution. It was clear that it would have to get rid of the pro-Kurdish party in order to form a supportive parliament.

The failed coup attempt this summer gave Erdogan the opportunity to move not only against anyone suspected of planning and executing revolution, but also to cleanse public institutions and political bodies of anyone liable to threaten his absolute rule. So, besides tens of thousands of officers, soldiers, bureaucrats, journalists, judges, prosecutors and businesspeople who found themselves in jail, Erdogan launched a political and legal fight against the pro-Kurdish party – even though they had condemned the coup attempt and expressed support for the government.

The Education Ministry fired 12,000 Kurdish people recently, in an unprecedented move that deeply damages the educational system in Kurdish districts. They were accused of participating in a rally for reconciliation between the Kurds and the state last year. At the same time, the government shut down the Turkish-Kurdish news agency JINHA, founded by Kurdish women. JINHA was considered the only news agency in the world operated solely by women.

Erdogan’s attack on Kurdish political institutions is very similar to Israel’s fight against its Arab institutions. The discourse is almost identical.

This week, for example, the Turkish, pro-government Daily Sabah published an editorial in which it called on Kurds to establish a new leadership. “The main victims of the HDP and its deputies have been Turkey’s Kurdish citizens, whose interests they no longer represent. Since the beginning, they have supplanted the interests of Kurds to the whims and schemes of the PKK, stifling the Kurdish people’s right to freedom of expression,” the editorial stated. “It has become obvious to many that their priority is not the welfare of Kurds. ... Politicians who respect the rule of law and democracy, and want to base their policies on their Kurdish ethnic identity need to launch a new movement to defend the interests of their constituency.”

Like in Israel, the Turkish government also “knows" what’s best for its minority and who can properly represent it.

The political campaign against the Kurds is but one front of three that the Turkish government is waging against the Kurds. The other two are military-oriented: One is against the terror attacks that PKK members carry out across the country, mainly in southeast Turkey; and the other, in Syria, is against Kurdish Syrians deemed by Turkey to be collaborators and forming a PKK branch.

In 2015, it was still possible to anticipate a political solution and reconciliation. But for now, it looks like such reconciliation is far from being reached. It’s all-out war – until Erdogan decides that he has won.