A few days ago at a funeral for one of the young Turkish soldiers killed in the recent fighting with the PKK, something unusual happened. Local Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies and officials elbowed their way to the front of the mourners’ line by the coffin of the young captain being laid to rest. That of course was not the unusual part, as government officials in most places seem to do this sort of thing. The unusual part came in the reaction of the crowd of mourners and the young captain’s older brother, lieutenant colonel Mehmet Alkan. They booed the AKP deputies, telling them “You have nothing to do here. Get out!” Another mourner called out “I am a relative of our martyr and I am not standing in the front row. What are these marauders doing there?”
In a series of grief-laced shouts, the lieutenant colonel asked, “Why do those who have been saying ‘solution’ since yesterday now say war? This son of our homeland was just 32 years old. He couldn’t get enough of his country, his beloved ones yet. Who is his murderer?” As others tried to restrain him, he continued: “Those who say that they want to become a martyr are hanging around in palaces with 30 bodyguards and armored vehicles. There is no such thing! If you want to become a martyr, then you should go there and do it!” (Mr. Alkan was referring to AKP Minister of Energy Taner Yildiz, who recently told the press that his goal is to become a martyr for his religion, nation and country, “if God wills it”).
Another mourner for a soldier at another funeral shouted at the AKP Minister of Health, “If we had elected him president, it wouldn’t end up like this, right?” (The health minister had recently said in a speech that Turkey’s failure to put a strong presidential system into place was the cause of the chaos in the country). At yet another funeral of a soldier – a young private -- a mourning cousin called out “The president should be proud, as he has managed to make brothers kill each other!”
Losing little time, pro-AKP Internet trolls took to Twitter and on-line forums to denounce the mourners, targeting especially the lieutenant colonel who lost his younger brother. They accused the grieving mourners of disloyalty to Turkey, adding that lieutenant colonel Alkan was probably an Alevi or a Gulenist or even a terrorist. For AKP Internet trolls, being an Alevi is apparently an insult and criticizing the Dear Leader is evidence of disloyalty to the state, which speaks volumes about the kind of politics some quarters pursue these days. Taking their cue, the Turkish Armed Forces opened an investigation against the lieutenant colonel.
These were unusual events because in the past, everyone in Turkey was in the habit of solely blaming the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for all violence. Even today, the norm is to exclusively blame the PKK for the approximately 35,000 deaths since the insurgency began in 1984 -- as if the large majority of those deaths were not PKK fighters and Kurds killed by the state, and as if that same state had not subjected its Kurdish minority to a decades-long pressure cooker of repression, denial and forced assimilation.
These mourners, in contrast, appeared to be blaming the AKP government for the resumption in violence. It seems that the old trick of declaring a war and waiting for the rally around the flag effect no longer works so well on the population that must bear the costs of such policies. On the state’s side, no sons of ministers or wealthy families die, as these typically pay their way out of military service. On the Kurdish side, most families seem to have lost someone. Many ministers of parliament for the People’s Democracy Party (HDP) have lost close relatives in the conflict. In general, it is the poor and disempowered of Turkey who are forced to bear the brunt of the conflict.
It also appears that most people in Turkey want peace and more rights rather than a resumption of the war. Credible opinion polls indicate that were the newly called election held today, the only two parties with a statistically significant rise in votes (but still just a modest 2% or so) would be the HDP and the Republican People’s Party (CHP). These are precisely the parties calling for peace the most loudly, including HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas’ unequivocal call for both the state and the PKK, “without excuses,” to silence their guns. In contrast, the AKP (which many see as having to chosen to abandon the “solution process”) and the National Movement Party (MHP – which generally favors a military solution to everything) would lose votes relative to what they got on June 7. President Erdogan’s popularity has now apparently dipped well below 40% compared to the 54% he got in the Presidential election. If the economy continues to worsen (as it tends to do during a domestic and foreign war), the AKP may bleed away even more supporters – after which Mr. Erdogan’s ambitions for an executive presidency may finally be buried along with the young soldiers and Kurdish guerrillas.
David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He is the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and author of The Kurdish Nationalist Movement (2006, Cambridge University Press) and co-editor (with Mehmet Gurses) of Conflict, Democratization and the Kurds in the Middle East (2014, Palgrave Macmillan).
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.