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Turkey’s post-election nightmare and possible Syria quagmire


By Mustafa Gurbuz

As it is now confirmed by various sources that Turkey has agreed to allow the United States to use the Incirlik airbase to attack ISIS bases across the border in Syria, can we assume that there is a new consensus between Washington and Ankara?  

This agreement in fact is an outcome of recent developments in Turkey’s own domestic politics. Since the electoral defeat of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in June, PM Davutoglu has been actively seeking a coalition partner to form a government, preferably with the main opposition party the Republican Peoples Party (CHP). On the other hand, President Erdogan wants early elections in November.

He hopes to repair his reputation as the savior of the country’s stability after the leaders of all the parties have proven incapable of forming a coalition.

In this case, Erdogan plans to remove Davutoglu from the AKP leadership and bring in a malleable associate. He knows that he cannot be an executive president de jure because of constitutional constraints, but he can still be an all-powerful leader, and one thing that might secure this goal is instability. More turmoil in Turkey, more calls for Erdogan-rule.

By offering Incirlik to Washington, Erdogan not only highlights his unique position, but he also takes steps towards further involvement in northern Syria.

Despite denials by American officials, the Turkish government has publicly hinted that a “security line” will be established beyond Turkey’s border in return for granting the right to use the Incirlik. Rumors in Ankara circles indicate that Erdogan will push further for US consent for a “no-fly zone.” He may not get what he wants in full, but a small Turkish security zone in northern Syria is possible.

Such active involvement by the Turkish military will certainly aggravate the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Turkey’s peace deal with the PKK has effectively come to an end. PKK is under attack from the air. It is attacking the Turkish army in return. Police raids on PKK urban activists are on the rise. An escalation of violence is on the horizon.  

In this mayhem moderate voices within the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) will be silenced, as violence takes precedence, and as a result, HDP’s popularity with its 13 percent of votes in the recent elections shall be damaged.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas took a bold stance when he criticized PKK’s recent attacks on the Turkish police. “Blood,” said Demirtas, referring to the suicide attack that killed 30 pro-Kurdish activists in border town Suruc “cannot be repaid by blood.”

For most Turkish nationalists, Demirtas and his HDP play “good cop” who are no different from PKK radicals. The Kurdish constituency, however, often finds HDP’s peace message to the PKK sincere, distinguishing moderate and radical elements.

It is true that Demirtas is not so powerful to challenge PKK’s hegemony, but it is unwarranted to deny ongoing competition for the leadership within the Kurdish movement. 

Attacks against the HDP have always been concurrent with attacks against Huda-Par, the legal party associated with the Kurdish Hizbullah.

Bombing HDP’s rally in Diyarbakir and the gathering in Suruc were followed by the murder of Huda-Par members, portrayed as “hate crimes” against ISIS militants in the news media.

Whoever is behind these attacks and whichever narrative one may believe, the gap between political parties is widening day by day and forming a strong coalition is becoming a remote possibility for Prime Minister Davutoglu.

Mustafa Gurbuz is a policy fellow at Center for Global Policy at George Mason University and a research fellow at Rethink Institute in Washington. He is Associate Editor of Sociology of Islam and the author of Transforming Ethnic Conflict: Rival Kurdish Movements in Turkey (Amsterdam University Press, 2016).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


Hersh | 27/7/2015
Davutoglu and Demirtas should outmaneuver Erdogan by forming an government with CHP and making sure that both the Turkish military and PKK stand down, then launch new negotiations. Erdogan can't stand against a AKP-CHP-HDP government, they would have enough votes to make any changes they want in Turkey, even if a few die hard Erdoganists left the party in protest.
Hans Guderian | 27/7/2015
It is time HDP denounces PKK and asks for Turkish voters to give bigger support to put an end to violence and moving on as a better country. More than a million Turks voted for them with this hope. They can do more. Erdogan is at his limits. Do not let him get the upper hand by advocating terror.
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