Official reaction to the escalation of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) violence -- killings, destruction, urban terror -- and the related patterns of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) -- meeting and openly hugging the armed rebels -- is signaling a new period. It brings the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the ultra-nationalist National Movement Party (MHP) closer together in terms of agreeing on the measures that are necessary to find a solution to the Kurdish issue, despite the hopes of ever finding one diminishing.
‘We have told the judiciary what needs to be done’, said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday, in an AKP meeting. The subject was the political fate of nine BDP deputies. Read ‘told’ as ‘instructed’ -- since there is good reason to believe that the prosecutors and the Court of Appeals will interpret it in this way.
The prime minister’s statement should be seen in the context of what the senior figures of the MHP and even some from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition --have been saying in recent days. The BDP, the political wing of the PKK, stands as obstinate and confrontational as ever: if the BDP deputies in question lose their parliamentary immunity, it has threatened to quit the commission set up to draft a new constitution and maybe even Parliament.
Erdoğan’s words must be taken as yet another step towards arbitrariness, and clashes with many of the AKP’s arguments that the judiciary is now independent. But, let us leave it at that. Because what the impacts of such a move -- removing parliamentary immunity -- will mean to the climate leaves no doubt of further deterioration. It reveals a choice which will push Turkey back to the 1990s, where all hopes for reform were drowned completely in blood.
Can this be seen as a further element of proof that the AKP intends to leave reform politics on the critical Kurdish issue. This, if placed in Erdoğan’s strictly personal agenda, may work well, if he plans to rise on the nationalist-conservative wave of votes. (The early local elections in the fall of 2013 will give him enough clues to help secure a victory as the next president with executive powers.)
Objectively, Erdoğan has to decide his stance. He stood for a long time in limbo. It has to do with the party he chairs. Based on a social coalition dominated by the pious and the conservatives, its cadres have remained largely divided on how to tackle the Kurdish issue and the PKK threat. Ever since the switch to an active pro-solution stance with a turning point in 2005, Erdoğan has had one eye always on the opinion polls. The ending of the Kurdish initiative after a series of blunders at the Habur border gate (a spectacular return of selected PKK members and their subsequent jailing), he concluded that the choice of reconciliation was a loser for his leadership. He pulled the brakes, but again let loose to allow for the Oslo talks, which were sabotaged by a PKK leak, and a strong return to fighting due to mutual mistrust.
In reality, the leadership of AKP, now dominated by rigid thinking about Kurdish demands, seems to have calculated that as long as sustainable, the warfare will have to go on. Its risk of decreasing the popularity of the AKP under Erdoğan is much lower than if it had gone on with reforms. So, I dare to claim that the spiral of violence and destruction will continue until the public “is ready” for a solution.
But, little attention is paid to the magnitude of damage this reasoning will cause for the stability and social fabric of Turkey. How will it affect the internal chemistry of the AKP? Will the party accept a de facto ‘front’ with the MHP? Where will the citizenry be left with the finalization of the democratic process? Can it mean an end to the efforts to write a new constitution? How much more will it solidify the voters around the BDP? The entrenchment of a hardline seems decisive, and its consequences will be very bad. It will either lead to the digging of own political graves or back to old-style oppression.
Relatedly, the sense of suffocation in the media is also alarming. One of the strongest signs is the hate campaign conducted by a daily, Yeni Akit, which targets well-known colleagues by accusations of being ‘PKK allies’ or ‘Armenian lackeys’. Hasan Cemal (Milliyet), Ali Bayramoğlu (Yeni Şafak), Ahmet Insel (Radikal), Ahmet Altan (Taraf) and Mehmet Altan are all pointed out as “enemies of the public,” which reminds me of the climate in 2006 which led to the murder of Hrant Dink. Yet, Yeni Akit’s editor remains a very popular and accredited guest at official visits abroad. Journalist organizations will have to pay more attention to this hate campaign as a serious part of general deterioration.