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September 16, 2012, Sunday

The new ‘other’: the Kurdish political opposition

Last week I started to explain how the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is going through a shift in its identity in response to the new challenges that it encounters in Turkey.

The AK Party that positioned itself against the Kemalist authoritarian state had to be a democratizing force, and it was indeed such. Breathing space could only be acquired through democracy and the support of democrats.

Now the Kemalist tutelage regime seems defeated in politics, in the judiciary and in the military. It is no longer in a position to harm the ruling party. The political wing of the Kemalist block, the Republican People's Party (CHP), has been defeated in three general elections and as such is unlikely to put any significant political constraint on the AK Party. As for the judiciary, with the Sept. 12, 2010, constitutional referendum, the balance of power within it shifted in favor of the conservatives. High courts are now in harmony with the ruling party that extends its arms to protect them. It was not a slip of the tongue last week when the prime minister, in speaking about removing the judicial immunities of deputies from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), said, “We told the judiciary what needs to be done.” This indicates the new form of relationship between the ruling party and the judiciary.

As for the military, it is quite similar. The high military brass is now very accommodating towards the ruling party in return for the government's protective arms. It is a welcome development for the military to be under civilian control, but the problem is that it has become even more difficult to criticize a military that is under the control of the AK Party government. Regarding the Uludere incident in which 34 civilian villagers were killed by Turkish warplanes and the Afyon incident in which 25 soldiers were killed by an explosion, the government has barred criticism and accused critics of harming the military.

In short, the AK Party now rules the country without much opposition, constraint or institutional resistance.

There is only one force that is capable of harming the ruling party: the Kurdish political movement with its political and armed wings -- namely, the BDP and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). It has the means that include acts of terrorism to make the AK Party appear “unsuccessful.” As displayed this summer, the BDP with its provocative political style and the PKK with its acts of terrorism are capable of destabilizing Turkey.

The ruling party takes this force as offensive to its very existence. This new attitude towards the Kurdish opposition is justified on two grounds. First, the AK Party leadership thinks that the party tried to resolve the Kurdish question via democratic means as reflected in the “democratic initiative” of 2009. The initiative did not work due to the provocations of the Kurdish nationalists in Habur in the early stages of the democratic opening. Then the PKK sabotaged the process with the Reşadiye assault, in which seven Turkish soldiers were killed.

Second, the ruling party after understanding the difficulties of the “democratic initiative” sought negotiations directly with the PKK and its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, and started the Oslo process. This was also sabotaged by the PKK with the Silvan assault.

So the government concludes that the Kurdish political movement is not interested in the settlement of the question by democratic and peaceful means. Moreover, the AK Party regards the PKK as an organization whose main objective is to topple the government. The recent wave of violence is viewed as a PKK attempt to weaken the government's standing in Turkish politics. To justify this perception the AK Party points to statements of the PKK leadership along these lines.

The result is that the ruling party, feeling the threat of the Kurdish political movement, wages a total war against the PKK and its political and social extensions. Lifting the immunities of the BDP deputies, the likely closure of the BDP by the Constitutional Court and the massive operations of the military at the moment are all part of this strategy.

The Kurdish opposition constitutes the “new other” of the AK Party because it presents an existential threat. Against this threat the AK Party no longer needs to be democratic but rather is nationalist. To counterbalance the PKK, like all governments previously, the AK Party puts on a defense shield of nationalism. So it is no surprise that there are frequent references to “treason” in the speeches of the government circles. The education minister even said that those who oppose the new education model introduced this year are only the PKK and its sympathizers (and Kemalists). For us it is a very well-known fact: Nationalism and the fight against the PKK are perfect cover-ups to silence opposition and manage the masses. It is a pity that the once reformist AK Party is now using these old tricks.

As the AK Party defines a new “other,” the Kurdish opposition, it does not need a language of democratization and a coalition of democrats but nationalism and a new coalition of nationalists, many of whom deeply disliked the old democratic AK Party.

Previous articles of the columnist