As we all know, a few months ago Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu declared his support for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government's initiative to put an end to clashes with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Political observers were wondering how the nationalist segments of the CHP would react. Surprisingly in the first month there was no serious reaction to Kılıçdaroğlu's support for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) initiative.
This lack of reaction could be because the AKP government surprised everyone when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suddenly revealed that the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had resumed negotiations with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and implied that significant progress had been made back in December. Soon after Erdoğan's declaration, the pro-AKP media cheered with high optimism that finally peace with the PKK was on the horizon. The media even went so far as to suggest that Öcalan and MİT had reached a deal that would lead to the PKK withdrawing its militants from Turkey in May.
As a political party, the CHP needed to take a position, and Kılıçdaroğlu made a smart decision to give credit to Erdoğan's government for the peace initiative. On Kılıçdaroğlu's behalf, it was a smart move because no matter what happens in the end, whether the negotiations fail or achieve success, it would not harm the CHP. Yet for the neo-nationalist (Ulusalcı) faction of the CHP it was not the case because such an initiative was a challenge to their ideology and their very existence. Nevertheless, because everyone was caught by surprise by Erdoğan, the neo-nationalist segment of the CHP could not develop a counter strategy and preferred a wait-and-see policy.
However, a month after the initial announcement, people slowly realized that the parties were far from reaching a deal to withdraw PKK units from Turkey. In the last two months, the PKK leaders released many statements rejecting the idea that the PKK would withdraw its units form Turkey. Further, signals that came from various sources indicate that there are disagreements between MİT and Öcalan on certain issues. When the neo-nationalists realized that, unlike what Erdoğan implied, peace is not on the horizon, they rebelled against Kılıçdaroğlu in order to take the party out of the hands of the current leadership, which proposed a new CHP to defend democracy.
After it became clear that peace was not on the horizon, CHP deputy Birgül Ayman Güler delivered a speech that sparked major criticism of the CHP, which in turn, put Kılıçdaroğlu in a difficult position with his cousin Huseyin Aygün, a deputy who is very close to the PKK and Kurdish nationalist circles, and the neo-nationalists. Over the last month, the neo-nationalists have ratcheted up the trumpeting of anti-Kurdish rhetoric to question Kılıçdaroğlu's leadership in the eyes of CHP constituencies.
Because of the neo-nationalist pressure from within, at last, Kılıçdaroğlu signaled a move away from his original position of crediting the AKP's initiative. “If I were the prime minister I would not send a delegation to Imralı Island to solve this problem. Rather I would bring this problem to Parliament to solve it there,” Kılıçdaroğlu said during a TV interview.
This is certainly a contradiction for Kılıçdaroğlu. He stepped back from his first position. Perhaps because he too realized that peace is not on the horizon and if the AKP government could not finalize this process, neo-nationalists within his party would seriously damage his leadership. It seems that Kılıçdaroğlu sees in the future that if the PKK resumes fighting in the spring, it not only harms the AKP in the eyes of conservative/nationalist constituencies, it would also harm the CHP in the eyes of neo-nationalist constituencies.
For Erdoğan, such a risk is not so great because the AKP would absorb such criticism from its conservative voters without letting it affect the unity of the party. However, the CHP is less likely to be able to do the same because, unlike the AKP, the CHP is not a unified party and Kılıçdaroğlu's initiative to establish a “new CHP” has yet to be embraced by a large segment of CHP supporters.