Biji serok Erdoğan!

The select crowd gathered in Diyarbakır saluted President Erdoğan over the weekend. Why now and does Erdoğan’s move dovetail into his recent domestic and foreign policy moves?

Henceforth jubilated in Kurdish the select crowd gathered in Diyarbakır saluting President Erdoğan. Diyarbakır is the unofficial or cultural and historical capital of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish populated provinces in the East and Southeast. That was a well-choreographed closed venue not an open air meeting. According to certain street interviews shared in the social media many among if not most of the city dwellers in Diyarbakır were either agnostic at best or negative towards at worst to the president’s presence in their town. Why now and does Erdoğan’s move dovetail into his recent domestic and foreign policy moves?

Republican People's Party (CHP) is not only the main opposition but also THE founding party of the republic. At the same time, it is one of the two locomotives of the self-labeled “democratic” alliance. Although its leader Kılıçdaroğlu is an Alevi, a Kurd and furthermore hails from Dersim (scene of a massacre in 1937-38), CHP was wholly absent in the East and the Southeast in the last decades.

Although now far from its long gone popularity, AKP was by default the second option for most of the Kurdish voter who do not adhere to the HDP. Then, Erdoğan changed horses and allied with the ultra-nationalist MHP. CHP, was always shy positioning or re-modelling itself as a contemporary social democratic movement even though it is a full member of the Socialist International since almost half a century by now.

CHP is also famous for being a cemetery of “Kurdish Reports”: It used to regularly order reports to be compiled on the “question” and then safely file them in the party archives for them to gather dust along the years. This time around though CHP kick-started its “Eastern Desk” and dispatched one of its brightest tenors Oğuz Kaan Salıcı to “the region”. It is an unfortunate choice of vocabulary perhaps reminiscent of “East India Company” or “Drang nach Osten” and the “region” inspiring the “zone” of late great Tarkovsky’s classic “Stalker” (1979). CHP’s effort though is sincere and valuable. Salıcı during his three-day tour managed to strike all the right chords with the Kurds to give him due credit. Whether that will generate into party policy or lead to an evolution of the party, that we will see.

Erdoğan sensed the growing the risk and dashed unexpectedly to Diyarbakır. In speeches he delivered there, he accused the CHP and the HDP with the most abominable terms possible as is his custom. He even managed to raise the stakes to the point that it was the HDP which ended the dialogue process even though it is a fact it was he himself who had rejected the so called Dolmabahçe agreement of February 2015 pretending that he was not informed of its content beforehand. He defended the muscular security interventions and the appointment of caretaker administrators to replace the elected mayors aggressively as if the inhabitants of “the region” would be grateful for those unilateral steps. Almost simultaneously nine imams were being arrested for conducting the Friday prayers in Kurdish, street musicians were being taken under custody and their instruments were being confiscated in the touristic heart of Istanbul for singing in Kurdish and a party sign in Kurdish was being taken down forcefully etc.  

Yet also almost at the same time, Amberin Zaman reported that a delegation of three brought the message to Qandil that “if they ended their armed fight inside Turkey and withdrew all their fighters from Turkish soil, Turkey would end the operations in Iraqi Kurdistan (IKR).”

Turkish Armed Forces keep on pushing deep into IKR and by default the KDP to fight against the PKK as the latter runs out of options to turn to. All the while, the probability of a new military incursion into the East of Euphrates in Syria becomes nigh. The tone and the volume of the public objection to Erdoğan’s authoritarian policies are stronger across the board among the Kurdish voters regardless of where they reside in Turkey. If the AKP’s Kurdish voters do not turn around full circle to vote for the HDP, they still display their discontent by not going to vote as they did in the last İstanbul municipal elections which turned out a most bitter loss for Erdoğan.

Erdoğan is hostage to MHP by his own design. According to the latest serious opinion polls, MHP’s vote glides steadily down towards five per cents. It is also an open secret in Ankara that MHP acts as a “de facto” clearing house for the state apparatus and especially for the security and the intelligence branches. It raised few eyebrows when Erdoğan recently suggested that he would not possibly deliver the government to incompetent hands -even if these win the next elections, that is.

Switching gears to a docile mode in behaviour in foreign policy worked for Erdoğan to shield his regime from the US and the EU’s criticism and turned him to an epitome of a transactional partner. He almost enjoys a “carte blanche” when it comes to military operations in Iraq too.

Domestic politics too “per se” are transactional, one may hasten to protest. Yet, the yawning gap between his words and his deeds became so enormous that no more rabbits are expected to come out of that hat anymore.

The “democratic” opposition too has a bold nationalistic streak when it comes to foreign policy. As Erdoğan needs the MHP stick to hobble along, Kılıçdaroğlu too needs to keep his partner İYİP which is a runaway faction of the same MHP close. HDP co-chair Sancar underlined for the umpteenth time that his party does not need an electoral alliance for the parliamentary elections and should not be considered “in the bag” when it comes to the presidential elections. In other news, not a day passes that the public at large discovers yet another tentacle of the widespread corruption network within the state and other scandals like firearms were being distributed to the AKP branches.

In short, all signs show that Erdoğan will try to clutch any straw possible and also that the politics will get nastier the more the 2023 elections draw nearer. Turkey’s national economy is in red alert mode and shows signs that it can go belly up at a moment’s notice. In sum, it is indeed very hard to tell what lays around the corner. The only rudimentary suggestion I may have is that one should hope for the best while preparing for the worst.  

September 13, 2021 The new cold war