The recent local elections in Turkey attracted several claims of irregularities, but one of the undisputed outcomes of the polls was the fact that the Kurds have become a political power to be reckoned with, both in Turkey’s southeast and beyond.
The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) took the provinces of Mardin, Bitlis and Ağrı from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and increased the number of cities it won from eight to eleven. The party even sought to make a dent beyond its traditional Kurdish-majority provinces by fielding candidates under the banner of a newly launched sister party, the People’s Democracy Party (HDP), in western Turkey. The HDP casts itself as a liberal, Left-wing party and featured Turkish intellectuals and artists on its ballot. Although it failed to capture the imagination of liberals in cities such as Istanbul or Ankara, it is making inroads into Turkey’s western provinces.
Kurdish votes may be on the rise but so are fears of violence. It has now been a year since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), embarked on a new reconciliation process to end thirty years of conflict between the PKK and the state. Although the process initially sped along with the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters to Iraq, recent months have seen little progress. In fact, according to police and gendarmerie intelligence reports, the PKK’s armed groups have actually returned to Turkey from Iraqi Kurdistan, and have brought arms and ammunition for a possible summer surge.
As Turkey gears up for another heated election cycle, this time for the presidency in August, all eyes are on the Kurdish vote. If Erdoğan runs for the presidency he will need the Kurds to help secure the post as the first publicly elected president. The opposition, however, does not think the Kurds are entirely behind Erdoğan. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, hinted in a recent conversation that his party may seek to find a candidate who will appeal to the Kurds as well.
Things don’t look good for Erdoğan if he intends to barter for the Kurdish vote through Öcalan, according to Altan Tan, the BDP’s Diyarbakır deputy, who recently said: “He [Erdoğan] bans Twitter and YouTube, he does not do anything to put the peace talks in a legal framework, he praises police brutality and after all this people still think Öcalan will say yes to him simply for his personal freedom? We are not Erdoğan’s lifevest.”
Will the Kurds compromise and cooperate with Erdoğan for the sake of Öcalan’s possible liberation, or will they stay focused on more political wins? As recent corruption allegations and leaked tapes fade into the undercurrent of Turkey’s political stream, Kurds will have to decide who they will choose as a partner for peace. Their decision may shape not only Turkey’s future but also that of other Kurdish populations in the Middle East.
All views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Majalla magazine or Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
This article was originally published in The Majalla.