PKK and AKP aligned in Turkish election campaign against leftist Kurds
Although President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his decision to take Turkey to a re-election with a written statement late August 24 2015 , the campaign’s kick off had to wait at least one week after the Kurban Bayramı holiday (Feast of the Sacrifice) on September 28. The incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) waited till October 4 to announce its manifesto for the November 1 re-election, the first ever in the country’s history. An ‘anti terror’ mass rally in Istanbul on Sunday September 20 was a kind of dress rehearsal for the upcoming election campaign for the AKP.
Three things became clear. First that Erdoğan would again campaign for his party as intensively as before the June 7 general election, despite constitutional clauses that require him to be impartial. Second that the targets of AKP’s campaign would be the same: to get an absolute majority in parliament in order to form a single-party government and to introduce a unique presidential system à la Turca (Türk tip başkanlık modeli) with less checks and balances for Erdoğan.
To reach these targets it was required that the leftist pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party HDP gets less than 10 percent of the votes. The HDP, under its charismatic leader Selahattin Demirtaş, surpassed that high election threshold with 13 percent of the vote in June. Because of that the AKP failed to get an absolute majority and form a single-party government for the first time after winning three consecutive elections since November 2002.
The third noticeable thing in the election campaign that started on October 5th, was a continuation of the smear campaign against HDP as being responsible for the more than 120 soldiers and policemen killed by the PKK since mid July. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made this perfectly clear during the ‘anti terror’ rally. “You will make sure these people stay under the election threshold on November 1 and you will bring the AKP back to single-handed power again.”
Tens of thousands shouted: “Martyrs never die, the homeland cannot be divided”. President Erdoğan added: “We will not show mercy to terror and terrorists, we will enter their caves and chase them. The life of a martyr cannot be compared to anything. But I have one demand from you. I want you to make a historic effort for the November 1 election. Send 550 domestic and national deputies to the parliament. You know what I mean.”
For everybody it was obvious what he meant: HDP candidates are indirectly responsible for the PKK terror victims too, and the terrorists are not part of the nation, they are ‘traitors’ supported by foreign enemies.
A second actor that was trying to push the HDP back under the 10 percent election threshold was the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, PKK). This extreme leftist Kurdish nationalist militant organization has since 1984 waged an armed struggle against the Turkish state for cultural and political rights and self-determination for the Kurds. The PKK was declared illegal in Turkey and is on blacklists of terrorist organizations in Turkey, the U.S., the European Union, and NATO. PKK leaders were as angry and disappointed as the AKP when Kurdish politicians of the HDP were successful in the June 7 elections and won no less than 80 seats in the 550 seat parliament of Turkey.
So why this unholy alliance against Kurdish politics by two actors who are seen as arch enemies: PKK and AKP?
Although Erdoğan and the pro AKP media portray the HDP as the ‘mouthpiece of the PKK terrorists’, it is actually a kind of ‘new left’ coalition of Kurdish nationalists, liberals, democrats and modern leftists who campaign for equal rights, not only for the Kurdish minority, but for all minorities and women. Erdoğan was infuriated when HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş said “Sayın Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, asla Başkan olamayacaksın” (We will not let you become – a Turkish style – president). Many of those who voted for the HDP agreed with this popular slogan.
PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who was captured and imprisonment in 1999, disagrees with Demirtaş. Öcalan said to visiting Kurdish politicians on Imrali island, where he is serving a life sentence, “We can agree with Erdoğan on his desired presidential system”, daily Milliyet reported in February 2013 in its scoop of printing the notes of the meeting.
This seems to reflect the mindset of many in the Kurdish movement that is dominated by the KCK (Group of Communities in Kurdistan), an umbrella organization of leftist Kurds that acts as the urban wing of the PKK. They probably wouldn’t mind that Turkey turns into a more authoritarian regime as this could work in their favor in convincing more Kurds that they should campaign for autonomy. Besides that they are against liberal democracy as KCK states in its documents. Turkish analyst Taha Akyol pointed out that the structure of the KCK is ‘not democratic but totalitarian’. “In the constitution it has published under the name “KCK Convention,” it openly rejects the idea of “Western democracy” and instead favors “communal democracy,” of a kind that considers individual freedoms to be degenerate. It is essentially a totalitarian system that is a mixture of forms like the Stalin-type “people’s democracy” or Gaddafi-style “communities” models.”
Although the pro Kurdish HDP is faced with this powerful coalition of PKK and AKP it was unlikely that they would succeed in pushing Kurdish politics again under the election threshold. Why would the Kurds who traditionally vote for ethnic Kurdish parties – 6 percent – turn their backs on the HDP? Because of the AKP propaganda and their renewed war on the ‘terrorist PKK’? What about the 7 percent extra who voted for HDP? One percent were young, new left voters in cities, who participated in or were sympathetic to the Gezi park protests in 2013 against the Erdoğan government. The other six percent were conservative Kurds who voted AKP in previous elections, but were angry that Erdoğan refused for a long time to help the Syrian Kurds in Kobani in their struggle against extremist Islamic State, and their impression that Erdoğan has never been serious about the off-and-on again peace talks to end the three-decades long insurgency.
Look at the results in the 12 mainly Kurdish provinces of Turkey during the June 7 election where the HDP won: Tunceli (60.91), Diyarbakır (79.06), Mardin (73.26), Batman (72.58), Siirt (65.81), Bitlis (60.36), Şırnak (85.36), Hakkari (86.4), Van (74.82), Muş (71.32), Ağrı (78.22), and Kars (44 percent). In all those provinces the Turkish army has killed hundreds of Kurdish militants in the previous months . Erdoğan and his media tried to convince the voters to give his party an absolute majority in parliament again on November 1 to form a strong and stable government to ‘kill all the terrorists’. Many Kurds however saw this flared up ‘war on terror’ mainly as a political ploy to get more votes. Two horrendous suicide attacks in Ankara on Saturday October 10, that targeted leftist Kurds and Turks, and killed nearly one hundred people was seen by anti government activists as well as pro AKP politicians and media as a provocation to influence the outcome of the elections in one way or the other. The voters will ultimately decide who’s narrative to reward. The AKP which says Turkey need a strong one-party government to fight against terrorism and chaos. Or the opposition parties who say that the AKP should lose votes to make sure that democracy survives.