The results of the national elections held in Turkey on June 7 were surprising enough. The ruling party AKP which has been strongly backed by the President of the Republic, Tayyip Erdogan, during the electoral campaign lost 8 points in comparison to the last national election in 2011 and thus lost the governing power. AKP’s votes have declined from 49 per cent to 41 per cent, a significant loss of power for a hegemonic party which has been ruling the country for 13 years.
Of course AKP, with its leader Erdogan, have been more than an ordinary political organization: they have been representing the interests of a newly developed “Islamist” capitalist class which gained strength in the last decade mainly by virtue of government tenders in the construction sector and large infrastructure projects. They have been controlling large clientelistic networks used as distribution channels of the economic surplus among those segments of the population supporting the party.
But more importantly, Erdogan and AKP’s leaders have been controlling a considerable part of the state apparatus (such as the National Intelligence Service) and thus seeking to identify the interests of AKP with those of the Turkish state. In this way Erdogan has been attempting to build an authoritarian hegemony penetrating into almost every domain of social and economic life.
But the more important and extraordinary point about Erdogan and the predominant figures of AKP is that in some moment of their 13 years in power, they have begun to carry out the program of the military establishment with respect to the Kurdish question.
The military establishment and crucial segments of the state bureaucracy controlling the decision making mechanisms concerning national security issues are still independent actors in Turkey’s politics. Erdogan and leading figures of AKP have allied themselves with them and remained faithful to the program of the Turkish state which is based on a strong denial of the Kurdish people’s collective rights. Indeed the main reason behind the weakening of AKP in the national elections was that: it has lost the majority of Kurdish votes, a crucial point to which I shall return below.
Although as the President of Republic he should have remained neutral according to constitution, Tayyip Erdogan has participated in many rallies in support of AKP during the electoral campaign. He asked the voters to “provide him with 400 MP’s” he needed for a “presidential system”. Once he would be a “President” endowed with many anti-democratic powers, he would have all the legal means at his disposal to consolidate the authoritarian hegemony to which I referred above. And he would also be able to carry out the historical program of the Turkish state about the Kurdish issue more decisively with the new executive powers he would obtain.
The first significant result of the national election is that Turkey’s electorate have said “no” to this authoritarian plan. The ruling party AKP couldn’t maintain its parliamentary majority, let alone win a strong majority necessary for establishing a “presidential system”.
Out of 8 points that AKP lost in comparison to the last national election in 2011, some 3 points went to the ultra-nationalist party, MHP. However the rest, about 5 points, went to the pro-Kurdish party HDP (The Peoples’ Democratic Party). Thus HDP has been able to pass the 10 percent election threshold for the first time and won 80 seats in the parliament. This was a great success for HDP and for the Kurdish population in Turkey.
Most of the Kurds voted for HDP to defend their national rights
HDP obtained 13.1 per cent of the total votes which amounts to about 5.6 million voters. Some 2 per cent came from the traditional supporters of a statist party CHP. Those were mostly middle class Turks who have strongly opposed the “presidential ambitions” of T. Erdogan. If HDP could not succeed in crossing the 10 percent election threshold, T. Erdogan would most probably be able to implement his “Presidential” plan.
According to the estimates of serious public opinion survey institutions, about 11 per cent of HDP’s votes came from the Kurds. In the most important Kurdish centers in the southeast, such as Diyarbakır and Van, HDP won a decisive victory. In the Kurdish region in general, with the exception of a few cities and towns, large portions of the Kurdish population who had hitherto opted for AKP changed their minds and voted this time for HDP. One may reasonably estimate that in the Kurdish region the proportion of the population represented by AKP has declined to about 25 per cent. Whereas in all the previous elections held in the last decade, about 50 per cent of the Kurdish population living in the predominantly Kurdish region had opted for AKP and the other 50 per cent for pro-Kurdish parties.
And not only in the Kurdish region. A significant portion of the “conservative” Kurds living in big cities in western Turkey, such as Istanbul and Izmir, have also shifted their support from AKP to HDP. We may reasonably conclude that Kurdish national consciousness has been emerging throughout Turkey.
Why such a major shift in political choice of the Kurdish population took place?
We may enumerate some determining factors as follow:
A peace process has been launched by PKK’s (Kurdish Worker’s Party which was pursuing guerrilla warfare for 28 years) imprisoned leader Öcalan and the AKP government in late 2012. AKP government (and the Turkish state more broadly) had to launch such a process because all the military and police operations aiming to repress the Kurdish struggle had failed and no other feasible option was left. During these police operations about 10,000 Kurdish politicians, elected mayors and activists were arrested and imprisoned for many years.
The most favorable result of the peace process has been a de facto cease-fire which prevented further deaths from both sides and opened the way for democratic struggle. However the AKP government and Erdoğan, then the Prime Minister, didn’t meet any major demands of the Kurdish opposition.
These demands were quite modest in comparison to those of most national liberation movements. The Kurds were asking the right of education in their mother tongue, decentralization and empowerment of the local administrations in the Kurdish region, establishment of a kind of “truth and reconciliation commission” which would reveal the perpetrators of the massive human rights violations realized by the security forces in the Kurdish region during the 1990’s, and a general amnesty for the PKK’s leaders and fighters so that they could participate in civil life and political activities.
The response of the AKP government to the peace process was twofold: on the one hand it constructed several fortified military outposts, dams and other facilities to control the passage of the Kurdish guerillas in preparation for an eventual resumption of the conflict. On the other hand, the government used the peace process to delay the recognition of the Kurds’ basic rights as much as possible while claiming that “we have initiated a peace process, ended the oppression of the Kurds and now PKK has to lay down the arms if the ‘terror’ has to come to an end”. After a while the peace process turned to a propaganda device as if the government was bestowing a favor upon the Kurdish population.
The second most decisive factor which caused the Kurds to change their political choice is the policy that the government adopted regarding the developments in Rojava, that is, Syrian Kurdistan.
While a cruel civil war was sweeping Syria, the Syrian Kurds living on a narrow band along the Turkish border managed to establish three autonomous cantons on their land. This possibility of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria disturbed the Turkish state very much and the AKP government, which assumed the duty of protecting the “red lines” of the Turkish state, allied with the Salafi terrorist groups to prevent it. The government supplied such groups as Jabhat al-Nusra and then ISIS (Islamic State) with arms and ammunition and trained and treated their militants and allowed them cross the borders to seek refuge when need as well as to be transferred to other parts of Syria.
As we witnessed during the defense of Kobane by the Kurdish fighters affiliated with YPG (the military branch of the Democratic Union Party-PYD, a sister organization of PKK), while the Kurds were fighting against ISIS, the AKP government did not hesitate helping ISIS by every means. Though in those days the western part of the country was not aware of this fact, the Kurds living in the region knew very well what was going on.
The massive Kobane demonstrations which broke in all parts of Turkey’s Kurdistan following Erdoğan’s statement that “Kobane is about to fall” was a harbinger of the Kurdish population’s shifting choice in the national elections. They rightly felt that they have been betrayed by the government of their country.
I think these two factors and some others that I can’t describe here at length have determined very much the way Kurdish people have used their votes. What the election results have made clear is that the Kurds in Turkey are getting more united, more organized and more conscious of their national rights and interests. A very fortunate democratizing effect for the whole country…