Op-Ed: To Transform Turkey, Erdogan Needs Chaos
Everybody is struggling to understand why Turkish authorities would arrest lawmakers of Turkey’s third largest opposition party unless they wanted another cycle of violence. It cannot be more obvious than this: The latest crackdown on Kurdish politicians is an open invitation to a civil war in Turkey.
When this comes at a time of heightened tensions, it becomes even much more perilous. The Turkish army is already battling Kurdish militias in Syria and pounding bombs on PKK targets in the southeastern Turkey. The war was dragged into urban areas in Kurdish towns and cities, inflicting heavy civilian toll. Towns are reduced to rubble. Tens of thousands of people fled for their lives. And the future seems bleaker than ever.
Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2003, the army and the PKK have fought a number of short wars, including some in northern Iraq. But today’s conflict is different. The pro-Kurdish party HDP has been representative not only for Kurdish nationalists but also for conservative Kurds who once voted for Erdogan. HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas, who is now in prison close to Greece, is a charismatic leader once viewed as a hope to solve the country’s three-decade-old conflict.
Arresting him is equal to arresting everyone who voted for him. His arrest is a full-scale affront to the will of millions of people who believe the solution to the Kurdish issue lies in politics, not in the mountain. His arrest is a brazen declaration that the government does not care about his electorate, millions who put him and his colleagues in elected positions. His arrest means opening the door for another vicious cycle of violence that has already consumed Turkey since last summer.
How many more Kurds and Turks should be killed until they realize that this is an endless cycle?
Many politicians, both Kurdish and Turkish, benefitted from the violence in the past. It is astonishing to see that politicians can still play the same card over and over again. Fool me I-can’t-even-count-how-many-times.
We have seen this movie before. In 2011, Erdogan renewed his campaign to whip up nationalistic sentiments in a bid to unleash the PKK violence. He set his eyes on MHP voters, the nationalist party. When Ahmet Altan, now imprisoned journalist, pointed that out, Erdogan started a legal battle with him. He was so determined to destroy the MHP that at least 10 sex tapes of senior MHP officials were leaked just weeks before the elections. He repeatedly exploited these sex tapes during his electoral campaign. He failed to pull the nationalist party under the electoral threshold.
Erdogan’s nationalistic campaign was so vitriolic that the PKK significantly escalated its attacks. In Hakkari, for example, just weeks after the 2011 elections, the PKK killed 26 Turkish troops, prompting a massive counter-campaign by the Turkish army in the Southeast that would continue for months until peace talks the next year.
Unable to secure nationalistic votes, Erdogan now wanted to strike a deal with Kurds. He thought the peace process could be a good way to get Kurds on board in his presidential ambitions. But buying HDP’s backing was not as easy as they thought it would be. “We won’t make you a president,” Demirtas declared as he started his electoral campaign — one of the most memorable moments in recent Turkish politics.
HDP was a success story. They received 14 percent of the vote in 2015 June elections, and the Turkish government lost its single-party majority. Erdogan was furious. The government resorted to an old yet “working” tactic. In one month, the war resumed following a two-year long hiatus. Conservative Kurds who voted for HDP in June switched to vote for AKP in a snap election in November. A significant number of nationalist votes also went to AKP from MHP. Erdogan regained the single-party majority in the Parliament.
Now it seems that Erdogan is headed for a presidential referendum, perhaps the most important voting for his career. He does not leave anything to chance. He successfully contained insurgents seeking the leadership of MHP earlier this summer. MHP leader Devlet Bahceli is nothing but an AKP proxy. Now he wants to make sure that he will have nationalist and conservative votes as he plans to go to the referendum in April next year.
For Erdogan, now it is a perfect time to fan the flames of a nasty civil war. Nothing can work better than the arrest of Kurdish politicians, the shutdown of their media outlets and nationalistic jingoism.